What's Behind B&H Photo's Incredible eCommerce Experience?
In an era of ecommerce largely dominated and influenced by Amazon, retailers of all sizes are desperately trying to figure out how irresistible online experiences can be built across their physical stores and digital services to compete.
And so when we consider the fact that B&H photo – the largest non-chain photo and video equipment store in the U.S. – has only one store, yet still manages to generate $116 million in sales, it’s time to consider what this retailer is doing right, and what the lessons are to be learned.
Founded in 1973, New York based B&H photo has evolved to cement itself firmly in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, claiming the 225 spot in 2015 with ecommerce sales have grown to account for more than 50% of its total revenue, and is famous for a fan-base that any retailer would kill for.
So, what’s the big secret?
Well, there are actually several – and they all revolve around delivering the best possible experiences for customers across as many platforms as possible.
Take B&H Photo’s partnering with SiteSpect – a personalization platform that has helped the retailer remove the guesswork from figuring out what online shoppers want and sometimes even overlook when visiting the website.
In 2015, B&H noticed that Canadian shoppers were showing higher-than-normal rates of returns. These shoppers were complaining that during the checkout phase, they were being asked to pay higher prices than those displayed on the website. What was happening was that, despite the fact that the retailer was indeed posting a website option that shoppers could use to revise prices by currency, they were evidently failing to notice it.
Utilizing the digital wizardry of SiteSpect, B&H were able to quickly respond to these bad user experiences, and subsequently configure the site so that a large banner welcoming Canadian customers displayed every time a Canadian shopper visited. Problem solved.
It’s simple, but nonetheless impressive and valuable. SiteSpect enables all kinds of live, real-time manipulations of the content a website displays based on a customer’s lifetime value, geography, the device in use, and many other criteria. The software allows retailers to run traffic tests on variations of content, functionality and features in order to help figure out exactly what visitors prefer. As SiteSpect’s CMO Kim Ann King puts it to Internet Retailer: “We’re now past the period of merchants spending marketing dollars on acquiring traffic. We’re now in the decade of optimizing traffic.”
Big lines for B&H Photo include its ranges of home theater and security & surveillance systems. Ordering such systems online, however, presents a problem for customers when it comes to installing them at the home or at the business where they will be employed – namely in finding contractors qualified to do the job.
And so the retailer has utilized the services of EZBZ, described as “a social marketplace that acts as a personal concierge for consumers by connecting them with local businesses and services in real-time”.
EZBZ created a plug-in for B&H that enables its website customers to instantly locate local companies that provide installation services as and when they need them. Upon completing a transaction on the B&H site, customers are presented with the option of using EZBZ’s innovative widget to simplify the process of finding a local installer. What’s so neat about the feature is that by clicking the link, the item’s description – along with the customer’s location and price range – is directly dispatched to qualified installation providers within the customer’s locality. What’s more, the installers can respond directly via EZBZ, eliminating any further need for action to be taken by the customer in terms of making further searches or calls.
“EZBZ is all about connecting people with their local service providers. Partnering with B&H will immediately expose thousands of local installation providers to a brand new stream of opportunities and create a win-win at the local level,” said Shana Schlossberg, Founder and CEO of EZBZ.
Ecommerce experiences can never be truly solidified in 2016 and beyond, of course, without high-functioning applications that deliver across any device.
Raizlabs is the company responsible for creating the application shopping tools for B&H that take advantage of each of the most vital mobile platforms – iPad, iPhone, and Android.
B&H has a huge catalog of wares that consumers quite simply rejoice over. And within the mobile applications, Raizlabs have transformed this inventory into a range of easily navigable tools that photo and video professionals all over the globe can turn to to find the items they need, read reviews, and compare technical specs. A convenience-oriented checkout function seals the deal, with dynamic payment options including B&H Secure Checkout, PayPal Checkout, and Google Wallet Checkout.
“We were able to incorporate all of these payment options with a never before done checkout flow – swipe-to-checkout!” Explains Raizlabs. “Simply swiping up advances you through the checkout experience. Allowing you to add shipping methods, payment methods, or even pick up in store all in a very fluid and linear checkout experience.”
For the Apple Watch, B&H turned to AppPatner to deliver the wearable version of the store’s experience-dedicated service.
“We’re setting the stage for what e-commerce apps can and will do on this new platform,” said Justin LeClair, Co-CEO of AppPartner. “The Apple Watch is really a very different interface and it was challenging developing somewhat blindfolded. But the new gestures really lend themselves to what B&H customers want and need to do.”
So what is it that all those professionals, hobbyists and general consumers need to do?
Primarily, the B&H app for the Apple Watch has been designed to keep customers informed, and it does so in a number of ways. The “Deal Zone” feed presents daily price-slashed items. “Trending”, “Just Sold” and “Best Sellers” sections display the hottest and most fast-moving products right now. And the Cart Integration enables customers to add items to shopping carts right from their wrists.
“We at B&H are committed to accommodating customers wherever life takes them. That means offering everything from mailed paper catalogs to cutting edge mobile apps,” said Eli Weiss, Chief Mobile Strategist at B&H. “Although the new Apple Watch is undoubtedly cool, the main reason B&H developed the app is to provide an unparalleled shopping experience for all of our customers across as many platforms as possible.”
“As Many Platforms as Possible”
An unparalleled shopping experience for all customers across as many platforms as possible. That’s the overarching secret to the B&H ecommerce experience. As the world’s largest source of photography, video and audio equipment, the non-chain store needs to tick every digital box to keep the consumer serviced and happy. And from apps to integrations to wearables, that’s exactly what it’s doing.
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About John Waldron: John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in Cornwall, UK. He writes regularly across all aspects of marketing and tech, including SEO, social media, FinTech, IoT, apps and software development.