​How Woolworths reinvented its B2C model to meet the B2B market

The supermarket giant’s head of B2B reveals what it took to adapt to the growing B2B grocery buying segment

Woolworths Online’s head of B2B, Jae Eddison speaking at AdTech
Woolworths Online’s head of B2B, Jae Eddison speaking at AdTech

In recent years, Woolworths has transformed its online capabilities to better meet the rising trend in businesses purchasing groceries.

Speaking at the recent AdTech event in Sydney, Woolworths Online’s head of B2B, Jae Eddison, revealed how the supermarket giant’s online expansion has aimed to give customers greater choice, while offering a new level of B2B convenience.

Changing the brand perception from B2C to B2B

Australia’s B2B grocery market is a fast growing one, with 2.5 million registered businesses in Australia, 700,000 of which actively trading, representing a $7.5bn in potential opportunity.

The challenge for Woolworths was that its brand perception traditionally has been B2C, with a broad target market size and profile. On top of this, the brand had more challenging customer expectations and well-established competitors.

“With every brand opportunity there’s challenges,” Eddison told attendees. “Most people didn’t even consider us when shopping for their business. Then you have everything from schools to offices and Government departments. In each of these niche markets, there is different media that is consumed and different levels of expectations and requirements. So it was quite difficult to targe all these diverse markets in one fell swoop.”

To adapt to the B2B space, Woolworths began to push new online offerings, promoting Woolworths Online as the place businesses can purchase all grocery needs in a one-stop-shop, delivered to them to save time and money. The new digital platform also provided tailored business support, discounts and interest-free credit accounts.

“A lot of businesses were going to different suppliers for different purchases like meat, fruit or stationery,” Eddison explained. “But we could cater to all these needs and personally deliver to the business premises, and sometimes even take the goods straight into the kitchen.”

To date, more than 40,000 businesses have registered and Woolworths Online has seen double-digit revenue growth year-on-year. On top of this, the brand has seen a one-third increase in new customer value.

“When you have a small team, it means you can be quite agile and respond to our customer needs,” she added. “Our agile test-and-learn approach has enabled us to quickly establish a formula that works to achieve our targets across customer acquisition, conversion, retention and loyalty.”

Lessons learned along the way

Eddison said the B2B team learned some valuable operational lessons along the way. The first of this is utilising data.

“You need to take good hard look at your data,” she said. “One of the things we do when we bring a new agency on board, is we make them experience exactly what our customers do. It’s also important to do customer surveys and interviews. That way you can understand what the customer needs, not just what they want.”

Eddison also found customers who spend the most aren’t always the most profitable in the B2B space.

“Markets with massive volume opportunity tend to be more competitive and the average customer value is considerably lower,” she said. “It’s important to prioritise customers on potential customer value through accurate profiling and ongoing tracking. And often, the customers who demand the most are actually worth less. Don’t be afraid to say ‘sorry, but no’.”

Another piece of advice Eddison offered was to use your happy customer base to network, enabling them to help build your business moving forward.

“Ensure customers are happy with what they have today before you try to sell them more,” she said. “At the same time, try to maximise opportunity in the places you are already and leverage any local referral. Make optimisation a constant stream of work – reduction of effort can result in greater financial gains than just a focus on an increase in revenue.”

Importantly, Eddison stressed as a brand, you should never try and be something you’re not, as customer will see right through any fakery.

“Customers will come to you with some great opportunities and ideas, but you can’t cater for everyone,” she said. “You need to clearly define what you do and don’t do, and stay true to your offering.

“Sometimes you need to walk away from an opportunity before you invest too much time. Moving forward, try and establish a parallel path of R&D and growth – always consider and acknowledge your customer and staff input.”

When it comes to handling customer complaints, Eddison suggested making the most of all feedback, good or bad, and turn complaints into opportunities.

“Customers who complain are giving you the chance to win them back,” she said. “Don’t reward customers for complaining, work to fix the core issue and let them know and thank them once it’s done. You can then amplify the resolution by proactively contacting other customers who may have experienced similar challenges.”

Ultimately, customers want things made easier for them to get one with their job, she said.

“They want reliability of service, empathy, support, quality and easy access to information and in the B2B space that is really important,” she said. “Take the pain away and customers will come back to you.”

The new B2B Woolworths Online rollout follows a raft of new digital offerings, including a fully responsive disability accessible website, its new Apple Smartwatch app and a trial rollout of beacons across its click-and-collect stores.

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