B2B Dinosaurs Are Reinventing Ecommerce, But Are You Paying Attention?

B2B Dinosaurs Are Reinventing Ecommerce, But Are You Paying Attention?

In B2C ecommerce, the digital Jones’ — your competition — are increasingly difficult to keep up with.

But just who are they?

Surprisingly, they’re your B2B ecommerce counterparts. 


Because B2B is fast producing some of the most innovative user experiences and reshaping the ecommerce industry.

When business buyers are treated to something special from a vendor, it redefines the expectations the buyer has for future ecommerce experiences elsewhere. B2B buyers by day are B2C buyers by night, on lunch breaks, and weekends.

Some companies are even eliminating the second “B” and selling directly to consumers. Your customers may begin to judge their experience with you based on those they have with innovative wholesale companies.

That means you may have to improve the user experience to continue impressing customers.

To do that, let's examine how two dinosaurs who are acting like startups and redefining traditional B2B ecommerce sales channels.

Mondelez International: Customizing Cookies

It’s not every day a 103-year old company reinvents itself.

But that’s exactly what Mondelez International, which makes consumer packaged goods including Oreo cookies, did with its marquee power brand. For the first time in the brand’s history, Oreos were sold directly to consumers for a holiday campaign.

Why mess with success?

The company could see the writing on the wall several years ago as consumer preference began to shift. Besides a strong desire to buy online, Mondelez identified B2C as a potentially smart way to capitalize on trends like 3D manufacturing and customization.

The company started small, running an experiment with a cookie-making tool it called the Trending / Vending machine at SXSW.

The machine allowed people to create their own Oreo cookie based on things that were trending on Twitter. Each trend corresponded to a particular flavor combination and allowed for more than 10,000 custom combinations. A personalized Oreo would then be created as the Oreo lover watched.

As Lauren Fleischer, a brand manager at Mondelez, explains:

“People stood in line two hours for a chance to create their own Oreo cookie. We knew right then there was something to this trend toward customization.”

Next, the company launched an experiment dubbed The Oreo Colorfilled project to see if it could scale B2C customization.

The idea was to create an ecommerce store, let consumers to create the packaging artwork, and buy Oreos direct from Mondelez. It would require a monumental effort that included building a new supply chain, creating the infrastructure to accept payments from consumers, and inventing cost-effective packaging that would protect Oreos on FedEx trucks.

The project — which the team pulled off in two months rather than two years as expected — was a resounding success.

Besides an overwhelming number of orders, customer creativity is on full display as the custom packaging has included marriage proposals and pregnancy announcements.

“People who love Oreo are co-creating with the brand in ways they never have before,” Fleischer says. “We’re so excited by the response and seeing this level of creativity from consumers.”

It can’t all be good though, can it?

What about the grocers, convenience stores, and other longtime business partners on which Mondelez has relied to buy and distribute Oreos to customers? They certainly wouldn’t look kindly on Mondelez establishing a B2C channel that bypasses them, right?

Either way, a B2C channel simply cannibalizes B2B sales, doesn’t it?

“This is different because we’re not actually competing with grocery stores,” Valerie Moens, a member of the Mondelez corporate affairs team, says. “The Colorfilled B2C project where people can customize their order is a unique experience they can’t get in a brick and mortar store.”

In other words, Colorfilled monetized brand new customer experiences that wouldn’t have happened via the traditional B2B model.

Additionally, Mondelez argues its B2C ecommerce isn’t a strategy designed to bypass or replace its traditional B2B relationships. Instead, the company says developing ecommerce chops allows it to better partner with B2B customers in new ways that actually strengthen existing relationships.

“We’re actually adding Buy Now buttons on many of our products and videos,” Moens says. “When a consumer clicks the button they are redirected to a local retailer, one of our traditional B2B partners, to make a purchase.”

ALERT: Learn how you can creatively use to Buy Now buttons to grow your business here.

It means the better Mondelez becomes at B2C ecommerce, the more sales it can drive to traditional B2B partners with its new skillset.

W. W. Grainger: Making It Easy on New Customers

Your customer personas are clearcut. You know exactly to whom you sell, what they like, and what makes them tick.

Now how about creating a brand new persona, a sketch of someone who hasn’t previously bought from you traditionally, and targeting them.

It appears as if that may be what industrial supply company W.W. Grainger was thinking when it created an easier way for people to checkout. You no longer have to be registered with Grainger to purchase something from its website.

While registered customers — or the businesses that routinely buy in predictable replenishment cycles — helped the company generate $10 billion in sales in 2014, they may no longer be the only type of customer relying on Grainger in the future.

The company is now an option for consumers who hadn’t previously considered Grainger and want to tackle certain projects themselves, validate a business idea, or simply buy in bulk. These may not even be people who have historically been Grainger customers.

Why would Grainger suddenly appeal to them?

Grainger now offers a guest checkout that can expedite the checkout process and potentially reduce cart abandonment. By reducing checkout friction, Grainger may now appeal to customers who previously purchased similar items elsewhere without having to provide personal details that can take time and test patience.

This isn’t to say direct to consumer will ever become a major part of Grainger’s revenue since most of its products are aimed at businesses that maintain, repair, and operate facilities. However, it is one way an 88-year-old company can utilize technology and appeal to new types of customers.

It’s a new channel that can provide incremental sales without any risk of cannibalization.

In addition to giving individual consumers a reason to choose Grainger, the guest checkout option also provides larger non-customers with a quick and easy way to sample Grainger without having to register. Should a guest decide to become a more permanent Grainger customer, he or she can register when they have time and enjoy the discounts and benefits that come with registration.

However, it’s not the only customer experience Grainger is reinventing to increase sales and make itself more valuable to customers. Grainger is also changing the way existing customers interact with the company via its mobile application.

The Grainger App

Grainger has made in-app purchases easier and simpler.

First, consider that Grainger’s customers often:

  • Run out of supplies while they’re on job sites
  • Lack access to desktop computers
  • Cannot immediately purchase what they need

As this case study illustrates, the path to purchase many of Grainger’s customers' experiences often includes multiple people, processes, and steps before a purchase can be authorized.

It’s a complicated procurement process that can take too long to execute.

However, Grainger simplified the process by aligning its app and order management systems so that many of the items featured on its app were pre-approved for purchase authorization. Purchases that aren’t pre-approved in the app, the study says, are quickly routed from employees on job sites to managers with purchasing authority.

Results from simplifying the in-app experience include:

  • Purchasing authorization process sped up by as much as 40%
  • 41% of all mobile sales are now made with the company’s app

Grainger’s mobile customers want to make their purchases quickly. This is consistent with research that indicates more than half of mobile consumers want to purchase within an hour of conducting research.

Ultra-Relevant PPC

Whether you’re using the guest checkout or the Grainger app, the company wants to make itself more relevant whenever you’re searching for products it offers. Grainger has actually figured out how to do this with automated real time PPC ads no one at the company even has to write.

Instead of targeting keywords and matching them with appropriate ads, as Google often requires of AdWords customers, Dynamic Search Ads can be constructed automatically and based on the type of content you have on your web site. If you have a lot of content on your website you might consider testing dynamic search or ads or using them as a supplement as Grainger does.

Google actually does much of the work for companies like Grainger by matching content on your site with relevant search queries. The ads are time savers and can appear as if they are custom made for search users who see content from your site that perfectly matches their search intentions.

Grainger recently used dynamic search ads to increase conversions by 1,000%.


In the U.S., B2B ecommerce sales are three times that of B2C ecommerce. While it’s a statistic analysts suggest will also be true of global ecommerce by 2020, you’re still likely hear stories spotlighting how business-to-business ecommerce catch up to B2C.

This may be true in some cases…

But right now creative companies, century-old business dinosaurs in some cases, are taking the lead and blurring the line between B2B and B2C in real time to create new channels that drive incremental sales while simultaneously using ecommerce to create additional value for traditional business customers.

You may not be competing directly against companies like these. But the ecommerce experience you offer is and will be judged accordingly.

Is your ecommerce experience dinosaur-proof?

(Header image via: Entrepreneur)

About the Author

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog and founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best-known brands, businesses, and marketers. Get more from Nick here.