Common B2B Mistakes, Part 4: Shipping, Returns, Inventory

B2B merchants often have limitations on shipping and return options, which can cause buyers to look elsewhere for goods.

B2B merchants often have limitations on shipping and return options, which can cause buyers to look elsewhere for goods.

I have consulted with B2B ecommerce companies worldwide for 10 years. I have also assisted in the setup of new B2B sites and with ongoing support.

This post is the fourth in a series in which I address common mistakes of B2B ecommerce merchants. The first post addressed mistakes related to catalog management and pricing. The second described user management and customer service failures. The third post discussed glitches from shopping carts and order management systems.

For this installment, I’ll review mistakes related to shipping, returns, and inventory management.

B2B Mistakes: Shipping, Returns, Inventory

Limited shipping options. Many B2B sites only offer one shipping method. Customers have no option for faster shipping. Related to this is delaying an entire order due to a single, back-ordered item, wherein an order has multiple products and one of them is out of stock. Often the entire order is delayed instead of shipping available products right away.

One order, one shipping address. Business buyers often require items to be shipped to multiple locations. But many B2B systems allow only a single shipping address with each order, forcing buyers to create separate orders for each location.

Limited in-transit visibility. B2B orders do not typically provide in-transit visibility to show where the products are in the shipping process. It becomes more important for international orders where transit times are longer, and products can get stuck in customs or docking areas. This is gradually changing with logistics providers adding real-time sensor tracking, but it lags the level of in-transit visibility offered by B2C merchants.

No exact delivery dates. Business orders do not usually have an exact delivery date but, instead, have a date range. This impacts businesses that need the inventory. Additionally, there are typically no penalties for delayed shipments or incentives for on-time deliveries.

Complicated returns. Returns are complicated for B2B orders for multiple reasons. First, suppliers do not typically include return labels with shipments. Second, suppliers offer no pick-up service, even for large returns. Third, return refunds can easily take months, in my experience. Fourth, buyers rarely inspect arriving products — such as via a video call — to expedite the return process.

Limited online returns tracking. A business could order 100 units of a single product, and 25 of them arrive damaged or defective. Ideally, that business should be able to easily return these 25 products and associate a reason for each. Rarely do B2B sites offer such return and tracking capabilities.

No real-time stock levels. B2B ecommerce sites do not usually provide real-time stock levels to potential buyers. This, combined with no real-time lead times, gives buyers little idea as to when they can expect their orders.

Challenges with vendor-managed inventory. Business buyers often rely on suppliers to manage the buyer’s inventory. The process is similar to a subscription where the supplier ships products to the buyer’s warehouse at fixed intervals. But I’ve seen buyers share incorrect real-time inventory levels with suppliers. The result is confusion for both parties and either too much inventory or not enough.

Canceled orders due to out-of-stocks. Most B2B ecommerce sites accept orders without checking inventory levels. This often leads to canceled orders when the items are out of stock — usually after the buyer has waited days for the products.

Gagan Mehra
Gagan Mehra
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