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April 20, 2016
Case Study

B2B Marketing: Customer-focused site design for book ecommerce drives order volume up 211% in three years

SUMMARY: A better B2B shopping experience is what drove BookPal, a B2B ecommerce firm specializing in bulk book sale, to redesign its website. The idea driving the entire effort boiled down to: while BookPal sells to schools and businesses, its customers are individual consumers.

By creating a simple, persona-focused experience, BookPal was able to drive order volume up 211% in three years.
by Courtney Eckerle, Managing Editor

THE CUSTOMER

"A lot of the larger bookstores weren't at all addressing the needs of business customers. They were gearing up for that one copy as fast as possible to a consumer's home," said Tony DiCostanzo, President, BookPal.

The couple of companies that did have a B2B component, he added, were "sort of hiding it behind request a quote forms and other more convoluted processes."

Ecommerce firm BookPal's mission was to make it simple for a company or school system to buy books in bulk — from 25 to 2,500 — through a very easy-to-use website experience.

Originally, the company started out serving the health care, military and corporate spaces, but soon realized that there was a great need for the service in school systems. The team also expanded into leadership training development with corporations.

This expansion though, required a streamlined ecommerce experience for all customers.

CHALLENGE

Since BookPal is a younger company, being nimble is an important factor in keeping up with a growing customer base.

"[We are] constantly looking at ways to further improve how we interact with those customers," DiCostanzo said.

BookPal initially launched its business with a website that lacked flexibility. For example, customers could not see the final cost of bulk orders, with volume discounts that vary by title, until checkout. DiCostanzo and his team wanted a site that would cater to B2B customers while integrating the ease and simplicity of B2C practices.

CAMPAIGN

BookPal launched a site that allowed quick access to relevant content for key customer segments on the home page, used white space to emphasize important aspects, utilized social media and product pages with interactive tables highlighting per-unit costs based on the order size entered by the buyer.

Step #1. Conduct a website audit

As the founder of the business, DiCostanzo added that this is essentially his third company, and "I've always taken a much more bootstrap approach to financing growth."

He explained that rather than raising money and pumping it into the company without all the right knowledge and experience in the space, "I've taken a much more organic approach. So, through various events over the years that have led to our growth and supporting our growth, we've funded larger and larger projects."

An example of this was in 2011, when BookPal had an unexpected opportunity arise where the company supported the Army in shipping books, primarily engineering focused, to Afghanistan as part of an Army Corps of Engineers humanitarian aid project.

"Essentially, through the occupation of Afghanistan, we were helping to rebuild the engineering resources for the various universities in Afghanistan. It represented for us a nice growth opportunity and freed up some cash through the significant size of the orders," he said.

The Army had reached out to about 20 different firms trying to find one that could support shipping books into a military zone.

Ultimately, according to DiCostanzo, "We were the only ones that said we could do it. Through that, we essentially used some of those profits to invest in a more enterprise-based website, and that led us to researching platforms on the market."

At this point, the team decided to invest in an audit with the objective of discovering what they were doing right and uniquely in the space, and what areas needed greater attention.

"We went through a fairly substantial needs analysis looking at what our existing website technology provided, where the shortcomings were, and then ultimately looking at the unique nature of our B2B business and our school education and corporate customers, what we did uniquely online that we could do better, where could we enhance that B2B experience," he said.

Step #2. Establish customer personas

Essentially, DiCostanzo added, the audit process boiled down to thinking about the B2B website experience from the standpoint of the customer.

View the Creative Sample


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"We put ourselves in the mind of a leadership training and development contact at a large corporation, a teacher, a school system, and started to walk through the site experience from their eyes to determine how to make that process as easy as possible and as valuable, in terms of making that purchase decision," he said.

Building out and establishing customer personas started out with an analysis of the thousands of orders that BookPal had received in the year and a half prior, to look at who its main customers were.

"That helped us to solidify the importance of each persona and customer group in terms of how we prioritized their perspective in making the ultimate design and functionality decision. We did a more financial based analysis to look at actual order data," DiCostanzo said.

That led to building out who BookPal customers were, based on "a factual decision process rather than a gut reaction," he said. "We obviously had some level of knowledge about who our customers were as far as having interacted with them on a day-in and day-out basis, but we wanted to be able to quantify the percentage of the business that each segment and persona represented."

Some examples of the personas BookPal currently caters to are: Business, Education, Health and Religion, among others.

Step #3. Integrate B2C elements into the B2B experience

The team analyzed what those customers would experience on other traditional retail sites.

"We looked at, 'What is the experience like for that person when they shop … Nordstrom, a Pottery Barn and other retailers in the consumer space?' So that, ultimately, the decisions we made on our own site from a design and functionality standpoint would be very familiar to them when they approach our store having tremendous experience shopping at other retailers," DiCostanzo said.

DiCostanzo and his team have integrated a lot of B2C elements meant to cater to the broad range of customer personas.

This includes social media — BookPal has a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and, a few weeks ago, even began using Snapchat to see if it could potentially be an appealing platform for customers.

"We do play in that social media space, I think, more predominately than other B2B retailers," he said.

Ultimately, he added, bringing in any new social media platform (or any inbound piece) will come down to engagement and "our ability to deliver content that resonates with the audience."

DiCostanzo said understanding how customers use these platforms will provide increasing returns as younger members of the business community continue to escalate in their jobs and play more active roles in their companies.

"We recognized that it may be a multiyear strategy to be on some of these environments, but we're starting to see increased engagement. We're starting to see which ones resonate the most with our customers," he said.

Going forward, DiCostanzo believes BookPal will have greater integration of social media and the actual storefront.

"We're going to keep some conscious processes in mind to integrate those very social platforms with the actual product pages and category pages so that that social element is pulled in more predominantly, rather than them being completely separate experiences," he said.

For those who are new customers, or who land on the site through AdWords or organic search, he said, BookPal wants to be able to "right away give them that robust experience and let them know what sites they can go to for that social engagement. I think by having just a button in the footer isn't sufficient for that."

One social media element that may be brought in is customer stories, which currently reside on the Pinterest page. This board showcases "a collection of stories on how our clients use the books they have purchased from us, he said.

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"We can highlight the story in sort of a summary form and link it over to the Pinterest page so they're actually engaging in both platforms," he said.

Adopting some of these more typically B2C practices makes sense in the B2B sphere, DiCostanzo said, because "ultimately they've driven revenue growth for the B2C store and giving [customers a] similar experience removes those friction points to making a purchase decision."

Even though B2B customers might be utilizing their employer's checking account versus their own, he added, "you want to give them an experience that resonates with what they're familiar with and rewards them for similar behaviors."

Step #4. Reconfigure website for simplicity

DiCostanzo and his team began reconfiguring the website to include elements that would ease the transaction for customers.

"Our main navigation, when we launched, was very product focused, rather than what you see now, which is more customer segment focused of business, education, religion as segment categories. We were more aligned with a traditional bookstore of books, DVDs and ebooks," he said.

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The team recognized that people weren't browsing for books or DVDs in general. Instead, "They wanted to see what was specific for their industry," he said.

For example, a teacher may want to get as fast as possible from the homepage to To Kill a Mockingbird in English Lit titles, "so we streamlined the menuing around that recognition, and that became a sort of follow-on project to the launch of the site. It simplified and enhanced the user experience as a result," he said.

Streamlining the site painted a picture of simplicity, DiCostanzo said, and "the things that resonated with us at the time were, from the moment somebody hit the site through the product pages, it became really important that the real estate that was being used added value to their decision process."

Many B2B sites tend to throw too much information at the customer, he added, which is why they decided to keep a lot of whitespace.

"I think that helps to really narrow down what's important about each particular page, and not overly clutter the path to get from browsing to ultimately purchasing. So, we definitely use that simplicity as a model for design decisions," he said.

When they began to look at individual elements, for example, the BookPal pricing model, he said, "We recognized that what we did was unique from a Nordstrom or a Pottery Barn. We had tiered pricing. We had a model where as they bought more copies, they would save on the price. So, it became really important to make that flow into the overall simplicity."

View the Creative Sample


Click to see a larger, printable version of the chart



The team cleanly automated the user experience, he added, so that as a customer changed the entered number of books on a product page, they could simply see a subtotal on the product page rather than jumping back and forth to look see the updated subtotal in their shopping cart. Then, they added in highlighting the column of the pricing that was relevant to that purchase.

"If they typed in 100, the 100 column would highlight. If they typed in 1,000, the 1,000 pricing highlighted, and it would give them what their subtotal was for that book. Those types of things really helped to remove the friction in the purchasing process as far as how much 75 copies would cost versus 125," DiCostanzo said.

Anticipate customer needs

Typically, BookPal has two different customer searches coming in. For example, based on analytics data, teachers or education professionals are aware of the specific title they need and want to get to it as quickly as possible.

The other customer is browsing and looking for ideas. Features that will appeal to that customer are informational content and product comparison.

"One of the things that's unique for BookPal's site, which is interesting because it seems to be fairly common in other industries, is product comparison. So being that they're B2B customers and they're considering, let's say, 100 or 500 copies of a book, product comparison is something that other booksellers never integrated; whereas, we did as a test," DiCostanzo said.

The use case, he added, is that occasionally, there are multiple versions of the same book — abridged and unabridged versions or versions with different introductions. By having the product comparison feature available, customers are able to look at different versions of a book side by side and determine which one best suits their need.

RESULTS

"Using the customer personas is really, I think, what helps to ultimately design a site that resonated with our customers," DiCostanzo said.

When advising a friend who is undergoing a website design, he added, "That was the one thing I continued to emphasize over and over again. I think a lot of people like to make decisions based on their own gut instincts. … You have to step back from it and get into the mind of the consumers."

The results BookPal saw from this website redesign were:
  • A 40% boost in conversion rates

  • A 19% rise in AOV in 90 days

  • A 15% bounce rate decrease

  • Order volume has increased 211% in under three years

Your website is "sort of like a house, there are always improvements to be made," DiCostanzo said, and he and his team are looking to improve many of these features, as well as add new ones.

"We're doing more to educate them on the nature of the various books in terms of the formats that are available … with the new design, we're going to be going to more of a one-click model so that they can jump between formats, and then we'll provide some additional educational elements like a pop-up menu that [for example] explains why the library binding should be considered, or what use cases the library binding should be considered in," he said.

Creative Samples

  1. BookPal main page

  2. Customer stories Pinterest board

  3. Website navigation

  4. Pricing model



Related Resources

B2B Rebranding: 18-month campaign increases website session duration 120%

Landing Page Optimization: Which ninja turtle is your page? [MarketingSherpa Blog]

Brand Marketing: 5 tactics to understanding customer experience [MarketingSherpa Blog]

B2B Marketing: How Citrix used an automated guidance system to double conversions of free trial users

B2B Web Optimization: 140% surge in mobile transactions through responsive design effort





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