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Case Study: How we create consumer-like experiences for our B2B customers

Discover the key to success in the redevelopment of Shell’s B2B ecommerce platform.

Key Takeaways

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    In the world of ecommerce, customers expect B2B platforms to work as well as the consumer ordering websites and portals they use to order everyday items with ease. And, if your ecommerce platform doesn’t deliver that experience, you can’t build the customer trust needed to drive growth.

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    Understanding what customers want and need from a platform means taking a customer-led approach to development. To achieve this with the reimagining of Shell MarketHub, the team built strong strategic partnerships with customers to inform their design decisions.

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    The MarketHub team collaborated with customers at every step of the development process – from initial expectations to iterative testing – to make sure there were no surprises when the final platform was deployed.

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    The revamped version of Shell MarketHub (known as MarketHub 2.0) has had an immediate impact. Average basket sizes across orders are up, while personalisation has opened opportunities for new revenue through recommended products – proving the benefits of a customer-led approach.

To meet the evolving needs of customers, the Shell MarketHub B2B ecommerce platform underwent an extensive redevelopment.

Bringing in all the elements you’d expect to see from leading consumer ordering portals, MarketHub 2.0 has rapidly increased the number of products and services that users add to their baskets during an order and opened new revenue streams across existing customers.

It’s an ideal example of how moving to a customer-led approach can deliver a swift positive impact. And why working closely with our customers to better understand their needs, listen to their feedback and take an iterative approach to development is the key to success.

The challenge

A critical challenge for B2B ecommerce is the fact that customers expect platforms to deliver the same efficient and convenient experience they get from consumer sites like Amazon. However, achieving this isn’t always easy – as Romi Arman, Global Head eCommerce & Digital Transformation for Shell, explains. 

“We keep hearing how customers use their experience of B2C platforms like Amazon to benchmark things in their professional lives,” says Arman. “They expect things to be easy. They expect things to be intuitive. They expect things to work. But, in B2B, we come from a world where we expected B2B customers to memorise 10-digit product codes to place orders.”

How do we create an Amazon B2C-like experience for our B2B customers? Fast-forward to now, to MarketHub 2.0, we’ve started to achieve what we dreamt of building.

Romi Arman

And a poor ecommerce experience can create much larger problems for a business – especially when it comes to building lasting relationships with their customers.

“I firmly believe that, if you don’t get the basic experience right in ecommerce, then you won’t get customer trust,” explains Arman. “And, if you don’t get their trust, it’s hard to do all the fancy stuff you want to do in terms of cross-selling, bundling offers or selling digital solutions. So, if you don’t build that basic trust then you can’t really grow the business with customers online.”

It’s a challenge that will resonate with many large global companies. With so many businesses to manage, products to offer and teams of people to manage, getting the basics right can often be more complex than expected. Which is why a new approach was needed when Arman and his team sat down to reimagine the MarketHub platform.

The solution

Meeting customer needs with a refreshed B2B ecommerce platform means fully understanding what users wanted to see. So, strong partnerships with those customers are the key to success. It’s all part of what Arman refers to as ‘working from the customer back’.

“In the past, with our engineering pedigree at Shell, we’ve tended to start with the guys in the white lab coats when creating a product,” he says. “But now, we’re making the important move of pivoting from being product-led to being customer-led.” 

To redesign the MarketHub platform, Arman and his team started with the customer. Everything was geared around understanding what customers wanted from their ecommerce experience – then working backwards in a sense to make sure version 2.0 matched those expectations.

We started from the customer, understanding how they’d like the experience to be – then working backwards to redesign the platform, redesign the process and redesign the entire experience to match what the customer is expecting.

Romi Arman

As Arman explains, this meant recreating many of the elements that consumers take for granted in consumer-based ecommerce.

“It was important to create a system in which it was easy for customers to log in, search for products and place an order,” he says. “The ordering page looks exactly like how you’d see product images displayed on Amazon. Customers can place orders then track their deliveries, just as you’d track an Amazon parcel to your doorstep.” 

Alongside that, MarketHub 2.0 needed to make it simple for customers to make payments online and check their documentation (including invoices). Altogether, from working closely with customers, the team had identified the need for a much more streamlined and efficient user experience – all of which informed the development of the refreshed platform.

The process

Understanding what your customers want and being able to deliver on that expectation are two very different things. So, at every stage, Arman and his team anchored the development of MarketHub 2.0 around four core customer outcomes that they were looking to deliver:

To follow these principles, the MarketHub 2.0 team needed to forge effective strategic partnerships with their customers. Partly because they needed those customers to illuminate the way forward, which we can see in the process used to reimagine the platform’s user experience.

“For us, user experience isn’t about how we design for customers. It’s about designing with customers,” says Arman. “So, typically we work on what we call a human-centric design process. We spend time interviewing a customer to understand what their frictions are when using the platform. We then go back to the development team and design the ideal experience based on what we’ve learnt.” 

From there, the team would build prototypes for the platform that they put in front of customers to test as part of an iterative process.

“Only at the point where the customer is happy with it do we build the product out,” explains Arman. “And, as we go through the build, we continue cycling it through with the customer. So, by the time we get to the final deployed product, there should be no surprises for customers. It should meet all their expectations.” 

Shell MarketHub 2.0 generates around 100,000 orders a month. It doesn’t sound like a lot in B2B, but the value equates to around $19bn a year. To put it in perspective, it’s double the size of revenue of a company like eBay.

Romi Arman

The result of this focus on convenience and personalisation is that MarketHub 2.0 is driving new revenues. For example, average basket sizes on the platform have increased by around 30% since its redevelopment. It has also seen a positive response from users, with a customer satisfaction index (CSI) score of between 8.2 and 8.3.

“The highest CSI score we’d ever see in a B2B environment is 8.5, so that’s really good,” explains Arman. “On the whole, it’s a much-improved experience for customers compared to the previous platform.”

The importance of effective partnerships

So, what can businesses learn from the MarketHub 2.0 development experience? Arman warns against creating solutions that feel like ‘an aspirin looking for a headache’.

“I’d say you can never go wrong by starting with the customer,” he says. “If you start with the tech first, you’ll always miss the mark because the problem you’re trying to solve is not yet clear. And don’t assume you know what customers want. Ask the customers what they want, and they’ll tell you. You’re always going to be safer doing it that way round.” 

Once you build the experience and you gain the trust of customers, what more can you do with the same set of captive customers that you have?

Romi Arman

For Arman, this is the key to building trust with customers and establishing a partnership that leads to much bigger ambitions.

“This is where it starts to get interesting because you can begin to think about new digital solutions and revenue streams,” he says. “However, it must start with the customer. If you don’t understand their problems, you can’t provide solutions and you won’t be able to build that trust.” 

From greater personalisation to providing the building blocks for other digital solutions across Shell, MarketHub 2.0 has huge potential for future growth. And, ultimately, it offers an insightful case study for how B2B businesses can drive ecommerce success when they develop the right partnerships with their customers.

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