8 things we learned about B2B e-commerce from speaking to the owner of a high street retailer

Hokodo

“I do pretty much everything online,” Mark Walter, owner and founder of The Green House, says about purchasing and paying for stock for his business. 

If you’ve been paying any attention at all to Hokodo over the last few months (and if not, why not!?), you’ll know we’ve been preoccupied with one topic in particular: B2B buyer demands and expectations. We surveyed 500+ business owners and buyers for our Definitive Guide to B2B E-commerce Buyer Demands; took a closer look at industries like automotive, construction and foodservice; and picked the brains of the B2B E-commerce Association, OroCommerce and Greenwood Consulting.

The cherry on the cake is this conversation we had with Mark, who shared his first-hand insights and experiences from the frontline of B2B e-commerce as a buyer and business owner. Here’s what we learned.

1. All stock for The Green House is purchased online

The Green House is a high street retailer in Rye, England, which sells a variety of plants, antiques and plant accessories such as pots, watering cans and feed. When Mark needs to replenish the goods in his store, he chooses online suppliers every single time.

Our survey found that 93% of B2B buyers prefer digital purchasing channels, but that only 36% make 76-100% of their purchases online, putting Mark at the top end of e-commerce advocates. But it hasn’t always been this way.

“Right in the beginning, I did a lot of business with suppliers who were a bit like me – a bit stuck in the dark ages. My plant supplier was based in a town that's about an hour's drive from here. So I would get in the van, drive to him, pick up all my plants and then drive them back.”

Unfortunately, Mark’s offline suppliers soon shut up shop, giving him the opportunity to explore online options. Mark’s trajectory from doing most of his buying in a face-to-face setting to now procuring all stock online epitomises a broader shift to e-commerce in B2B.

2. Limited storage space forces Mark to make frequent orders

“I've only got a small shop and I don't have much storage space. So I tend to work on very quick turnover and reorder,” Mark explains about his stock purchasing habits.

Like many high street retail locations, The Green House has limited space to keep stock and products that are not displayed on the shop floor, meaning that Mark has to place frequent orders to keep the store abundantly stocked.

However, high purchasing frequency comes with a non-negotiable need for flexible payment terms… (damn, we’re good at segues).

3. Payment terms are essential for The Green House’s working capital

Remember when I told you that Mark had to start looking for a new supplier online? I hope so, it was only a few paragraphs ago. 

Well, Mark soon found an e-commerce website that enabled him to purchase plants directly from growers in Europe, but after filling his basket with £2,000 of greenery and heading to the checkout, Mark encountered an issue.

“The problem was that they didn't offer credit facilities,” Mark explains. “I literally didn't have the capital to pay for them upfront. It was frustrating because I could see my stock dwindling.”

As Mark’s stock thinned and his frustration grew, he continued to browse the plant wholesale website, until one day he noticed a new deferred payment option in the checkout. 

“One day I looked in the basket and there was this option to pay with Hokodo and it was just a lifesaver, you know? It was very serendipitous.” (I promise we didn’t ask, pay, bribe or manipulate Mark into saying any of that).

Since then, the availability of trade credit online has grown, and Mark often gets offered 60-day terms – but there are still many suppliers that are unable, or unwilling, to offer credit.

4. Ordering directly from manufacturers often requires upfront payment 

Much of the time, Mark can find the products he needs on marketplaces and wholesale e-commerce sites, which often offer some type of credit to defer payment. But sometimes he is forced to go directly to manufacturers, who aren’t as likely to provide payment terms.

“That does affect my purchasing power,” Mark says, explaining that The Green House stocks a prestigious brand of premium watering cans, but that the manufacturer of which offers no credit. The high price point of this product means that Mark simply can’t afford to place a large order.

“It's frustrating because I might have a busy weekend coming and I know I could sell 20 watering cans, but I can't buy them because I don't have any credit with the manufacturer, despite my pleas.”

Access to payment terms makes “a big difference” to Mark – partly because the barriers to entry are much lower than other types of business financing.

5. Trying to get a loan or credit with a bank is a nightmare for small businesses like The Green House

“There isn't really much out there for someone like me who runs a fledgling business,” Mark shares with us, revealing just how difficult it is for SME retailers to get their hands on a bit of life-saving cash. He couldn’t believe the hoops he was asked to jump through just to get a simple overdraft. 

“I looked at it and I thought, it's just too much trouble.” 

Mark also highlighted that if you are a business owner with a poor personal credit rating, it will impact your chances of getting a bank loan for your business. Even if said business has a perfect credit score. Make it make sense!

6. Mark buys from a small number of trusted suppliers

When it comes to suppliers, Mark places a lot of value on trust, reputation and relationships. He says he orders from no more than 10 merchants on a regular basis, many of whom he has been using for many years.

“They are the ones I go back to repeatedly because I trust them and I know them. I know I'm going to get good service and I know that the goods are going to arrive. And if they don't, then I can find out why.”

And how does he choose who to trust? These days, it often comes down to the online experience.

7. Wholesalers with a poor online experience should be avoided at all costs

Usually, Mark can tell if a supplier is going to be reliable from their online customer experience. If an e-commerce site is intuitive and easy to navigate, with all the product, pricing and shipping details clearly displayed, there’s a good chance they’ll be trustworthy and dependable. On the other hand, if a website is difficult to use, with missing or misleading information, you’re probably better off steering well clear.

“There are some wholesalers that I prefer because the online experience is so much simpler and more fluid. And there are some that are a bit awkward and hard to navigate. So, that does make a massive difference when I'm purchasing,” Mark tells us. “There are a couple of wholesalers that I avoid because the websites are so difficult to navigate.”

8. Mark implores merchants to be more flexible and forgiving with their trade credit policies

To wrap things up, we asked Mark what he really wants to see from The Green House’s suppliers. If he could ask them for just one thing, what would it be?

“To be more flexible with payment terms. Flexibility is really important for a small business like mine because the retail environment is so unpredictable. I could have the most incredible weekend where I sell thousands of pounds of stock and I think, great, I can pay off this bill, that bill. But then the following week might be absolutely dead for no apparent reason [...] so when it comes to paying and your 30 days are up and you're panicking, it'd be nice to be able to say, ‘Listen, you know, I need another 15 days’, which I have done with Hokodo in the past. You've always been extremely accommodating with that and I do really appreciate that. It does make a big difference to how I feel about my creditors.”

Oh, stop it, Mark – you’re making us blush.

Want to learn more about the e-commerce experiences and expectations of business owners like Mark? Check out Hokodo’s Definitive Guide to B2B E-commerce Buyer Demands now.

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