July 28, 2011
Case Study

B2C E-commerce: Cross-linked internal searching eases customer confusion

SUMMARY: For companies with more than one division serving different markets, clear online branding is a necessity. Confusion caused by landing on the wrong website can lead to dissatisfaction and lost revenue. Once online brand confusion becomes an issue, there is no single best path to correct the problem.

Read on to learn how one company with B2C and B2B divisions solved its online branding confusion with a fix based around its internal site search technology, and in the process helped its customers find the products they wanted even when accidentally visiting the wrong e-commerce site.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


Online branding can present a serious marketing problem when a company with multiple divisions has a confusing online presence.

And when the issue involves e-commerce divisions serving different markets -- such as B2C and B2B -- with separate websites and shopping carts, customer confusion can lead to lost sales.

U.S. Toy Company has an almost 60-year history providing educational toys and supplies to a B2B institutional market and to a consumer customer base. The company has eight brick-and-mortar stores around the United States, two catalogs serving its two audiences and three completely different websites.

From the beginning U.S. Toy served the institutional market for schools, but in the 1980s it realized parents were asking educators where they could find the specialty toys offered by U.S. Toy. In response to this demand the company added a B2C catalog.

Even though the two divisions were completely separate within the company, they were both branded "Constructive Playthings" with a qualifier identifying the division. Because each catalog was sent to its target audience, and sales were made through separate 800 numbers, having both catalogs carry the same brand was not a problem.

That changed when the company began building its online presence. Because the B2C and B2B e-commerce sites were so similarly branded this created confusion where a visitor would go to the wrong site and not be able to find the merchandise they were seeking.

Read on to find out how U.S. Toy defined the entire scope of the problem and found a solution that helped it begin reclaiming some of the lost revenue.

Because this issue affects a wide variety of marketers, we published another version of this case study for this week's B2B newsletter article. This story covers the same effort from a consumer marketing perspective.


Constructive Playthings served as the brand for the B2B division throughout U.S. Toy's history, and when it added the B2C division the company decided to keep the branding for that catalog as well.

When it began building its Web presence, it created three e-commerce websites: one for each division, plus one called U.S. Toy that carried party goods and seasonal merchandise not offered by either of the other divisions.

The problem was the B2C and B2B websites looked very similar and shared the same branding, but they did not carry the same product lines. Visitors would find the wrong site and not understand why they couldn't find the merchandise they were looking for.

"It was really confusing," said Chad Coleman, Marketing Manager, U.S. Toy Company. "Constructive Playthings school division [had the] tagline, 'constructing quality in early education.' When you went to the other site [the B2C site], it literally looked like its twin. It said, 'Constructive Playthings' in the same block letters and it had the tagline, 'toys inspiring creativity, learning and family fun.'"

Step #1. Identify the entire scope of the problem

Sorting out the size of the total issue was the most difficult part of the entire process.

The online presence consisted of three e-commerce sites with three shopping carts:

o U.S. Toy offered novelty toys, party supplies and seasonal merchandise

o Constructive Playthings School Division was the B2B site serving schools and daycare centers, and offered learning toys and supplies like playground equipment and "wash your hands" signs

o Constructive Playthings Parent/Family Division was the consumer website offering classic and learning toys for small children and geared toward parents and grandparents.

Some products were offered at more than one website, but each site was a completely separate division at U.S. Toy.

Because each site had its own shopping cart, if a visitor on the B2C site wanted to purchase something only found on the B2B site they would have to open a new window and create a completely new shopping cart to make that purchase.

A confusing process for U.S. Toy customers who understood there were separate websites for each of the catalogs, and a maddening experience for customers who weren't aware of the two divisions.

And B2C customers who found themselves on the B2B site were in for a shock. Free shipping kicked in a much higher level than would be found on a consumer e-commerce site.

Coleman said, "As a consumer if you stumble on the [B2B] site, you'd be like, 'Free shipping at $400? What's this?' Then you'd get out of there."

There was even some online confusion for U.S. Toy's brick-and-mortar customers when they visited the e-commerce sites. The stores carry all the merchandise offered by the different divisions, but the website branded U.S. Toy only offers a very limited selection of products.

Even though this is a relatively minor problem in the overall scope of the branding issue, it does serve to illustrate just how deep the branding problem ran at U.S. Toy.

Step #2. Track customer dissatisfaction

Coleman said the company knew the online branding issue was a problem.
He stated it had been discussed internally, but U.S. Toy wasn't able to pinpoint just how large the problem really was.

It was able to track customers reaching the wrong website and voicing frustration through three methods:

o Post-purchase surveys
o Calls to customer service
o Internal site search logs

Comments from the surveys included, "My coupon code doesn't work" and "I can't find this site. I'm in your catalog."

A visitor with a non-working coupon was certainly on the wrong website because U.S. Toy's coupon codes were site-specific.

Step #3. Reconfigure the Web presence

U.S. Toys first attempt at differentiating the websites involved changing the URLs for the B2C and B2B sites:

o The B2C website URL went from www.constplay to www.cptoy.com
o The B2B site changed from www.cptoys.com to www.constructiveplaythings.com

Because the B2B division had been branded Constructive Playthings for longer than the B2C division, it was given a URL to match that longstanding brand name.

Since the new B2C URL was so similar to the old B2B URL, the older URL began redirecting to the B2C site. This way if a B2C customer typed in the incorrect URL by adding the "s," they would still reach the correct website.

The U.S. Toy branded site retained its URL.

After changing the URLs U.S. Toy attempted a limited paid search effort to promote the new URLs. Coleman said this was not very successful because of space limitations in the ads and the fact both divisions were still branded Constructive Playthings with only the divisional descriptor providing differentiation.

Step #4. Rebrand the websites

Realizing that simply changing the division's URLs did not help clear up customer confusion, U.S. Toy decided to rebrand the B2C website.
One source of confusion was when someone would search for "Constructive Playthings", both divisions would appear in the results with the B2C site listed first. Anyone who just clicked on the first Constructive Playthings without looking to see which division was listed in the search result might find themselves on the wrong site.

For the rebranding, the B2B site retained its look and feel and the Constructive Playthings brand name.

The B2C site kept the look and overall experience, but was renamed "CP Toys by Constructive Playthings" giving the division a new brand more in line with its changed URL.

Once the division websites were rebranded, Coleman wanted to make sure all U.S. Toy's marketing efforts provided information on the new branding and why the change was made.

These efforts included:

o Search
o The shopping engine
o Affiliate marketing partners

Coleman also began an awareness effort to let everyone in its database and on email lists know about the change in online branding.

Step #5. Cross-link internal searches between the e-commerce sites

Coleman almost by chance found a solution for the brand confusion U.S. Toy's online customers were facing during a meeting with the company's internal search vendor.

He explained, "Our account guy showed me another client of theirs that had sister sites and how they linked to each other with search results. As soon as he showed me that the light bulb went off in my head and I said, 'Oh, we've got to get this on our site."

Before internal searches were cross-linked, visitors could search on any one of the e-commerce sites, but couldn't see results from the other two sites. If a B2C customer was on the B2B site by mistake and searched for a product only found on the B2C site, the search would simply return no results.

With results cross-linked that visitor now is shown that the product is carried on a different U.S. Toy website and the link opens a new browser window.

Coleman did specify two elements with the cross-linked searches:

o Results needed to open in a new window. Since the new site created a new shopping cart, redirects wouldn't work

o Visitors needed to clearly understand they were leaving the current website.

If a visitor on the B2B site searches for "lego," a product only carried on the B2C site, the results page page prominently displays "By clicking on the items below, you will be leaving this site." There is also a short paragraph explaining the item was found at a sister site and by clicking the link a new shopping cart will be created.

Coleman said the company is considering creating a single site with one shopping cart for all three e-commerce units. He added IT infrastructure and warehouse issues are preventing the company from moving to a single website with tabs for each division.

U.S. Toy is planning on implementing a new e-commerce platform next year and expects to revisit the idea at that time.

And fine tuning the online customer experience is a work in progress at U.S. Toy.

"It's something that we're just continuously refining," stated Coleman. "We're not just resting on our laurels and going, 'Hey, we're capturing all of this revenue.' We do want to make sure it's the best experience possible for people."

With cross-linked searches implemented, 2% of B2C revenue can be attributed to cross-linked referrals.

A larger problem was B2B customers mistakenly finding the B2C site. With cross-linked search results, 17% of revenue on the B2B site is coming from the B2C website.

Overall, U.S. Toy's 2011 revenue is pacing ahead of 2010.

"The way we look at the results is this is money that would have been left on the table and is helping year-over-year results," explained Coleman.

The main result of this entire effort is U.S. Toy solved an online branding problem that had been an issue at the company, and as a result its customers can find, and buy, the products they are looking for even when they find themselves on the wrong e-commerce site.

And by rebranding the B2C website, that division was given much clearer differentiation from the B2B portion of U.S. Toy's business.

If you found this case study interesting or helpful in your marketing efforts, be sure to sign up for our free Consumer Marketing weekly newsletter.

Useful links related to this article

1. B2B site
2. B2C site old
3. B2C site new
4. Cross-linked search result

CP Toy by Constructive Playthings -- B2C site

Constructive Playthings -- B2B site

U.S. Toy -- novelty toy, party supply and seasonal merchandise site

U.S. Toy Company -- corporate site

SLI Systems -- U.S. Toy's internal site search vendor

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