While technology has disrupted just about every industry, the B2B commerce world is seeing an exceptional amount of transformation to adapt to modern challenges. These changes are significant, but the groundwork to move forward has been developing for decades, and the coming shift will be rapid and encompassing. Technological innovation is driving transformation that, according to Forrester, will push U.S. B2B eCommerce transactions to $1.8 trillion—accounting for 17% of all B2B sales in the country—by 2023.
As consumers who are used to superior experiences in their personal life increasingly expect more from the brands they choose to purchase from, B2B businesses are looking to digital means to reach those customers, give them what they’re looking for, and ultimately get more sales. While the digital transformation in the B2B eCommerce is vast, the shifts are being led by 5 trends that are shaping forward-thinking innovations that are igniting growth.
1. Traditional B2C Channels Continue to Make Progress in B2B
Marketplaces have been finding their place in the B2B world. While Amazon’s eCommerce B2B until, Amazon Business, has existed for a while, they have committed to growing this area because the market potential is about twice the potential of their current retail business. Amazon Business has a long way to go to catch up to retail, but the unit is growing quickly: they reported sales of $10 billion in 2018 and are expected to reach more than $30 billion by $2023.
It’s not just Amazon, other marketplaces like Alibaba, have also dipped their toe into B2B and have allowed businesses an opportunity to reach other businesses and begin building long-term relationships.
There’s no doubt B2B marketplaces will continue to accelerate—consumer’s preference to use marketplaces for purchases will likely grow this area. This means manufacturers will need to assess how their eCommerce business fits in with various marketplaces: which marketplace works best for their product, how they need to support any sales through a marketplace, and what other channels they need to connect them with customers.
It's not just the marketplace model that B2B companies can take a cue from their B2C counterparts: B2C businesses have long invested in omnichannel and low-touchpoint selling, and B2B eCommerce companies should take note. This means that businesses should invest just as much in their online presence as their brick-and-mortar, including the development of a web presence and social platforms in addition to online stores. Those businesses that have established online stores need to begin taking it further and offering customers self-service platforms where they can make their purchases but pair it with resources where they can interact with sales reps and seek advice before committing to large orders. The key to omnichannel isn't to throw everything at the wall and hope it sticks—businesses need to understand their customers and figure out where customers are most active, then meet them there and provide them value.
2. COVID Has Accelerated Digital Transformation in B2B eCommerce
These unprecedented times have created a major disruption in every industry, and especially eCommerce. As consumers are being encouraged to stay at home globally, businesses have needed to adjust their business models. Here are some of the ways that the global pandemic has specifically changed B2B eCommerce:
The rise of remote working means less face-to-face procurement
As many companies shift to remote work, the likelihood of salespeople and customers meeting face-to-face has drastically declined. This has positives and negatives. On the positive side, this gives businesses unlimited reach—even industries that have long preferred face-to-face sales have been forced to work remotely, and this means that the customer pool can drastically grow for businesses. Businesses that already have a low-touchpoint procurement process are also benefiting—a McKinsey survey showed that 40%-60% of consumers intend to continue spending on digital and low-touchpoint solutions.
On the negative side, businesses that weren’t prepared for remote situations are forced to quickly find solutions. Businesses that thrive on face-to-face situations have been forced to quickly pivot and find digital solutions to help provide a similar experience.
More online demand means pressure on global supply chains and logistics
For some it's too much inventory, for some it's not enough—either way, global supply chains, and the logistics that get those supplies delivered are in upheaval. Businesses are forced to cope with the rapid shifts and figure out how to make rapid changes to stay on top of the rapid changes to purchasing.
Emphasized the importance of investment in a digital shift
The reality is that those companies who were already invested in eCommerce were the ones who were better positioned to succeed when the pandemic hit. Of course, nobody could have predicted that they needed to be ready, and those that weren’t ready still have the opportunity to take advantage—as long as they have commitment and buy-in from the top down throughout the entire organization.
These shifts are unlikely to go away after the pandemic
The businesses who haven't bought into the digital transformation before the pandemic and are now just trying to lay low and wait it out until they can resume as normal are in for a rude awakening—the old normal isn't coming back. The shift to digital and eCommerce was already on the rise, the COVID pandemic just accelerated it. And accelerate it did: according to Forbes, there has been a 129% YoY growth of U.S. and Canadian eCommerce orders.
3. B2B Technology Is Becoming More Integrated
Smaller, more agile companies have long understood that it's important for every part of the business to know what the other is doing at every given time. Many agile businesses continuously upgrade their tech to stay up to date and have the latest integrated software that their teams can access anywhere. For larger companies with more moving pieces, this proves difficult: changing systems isn't easy, and many still run their business in an on-site environment. While the pandemic shifting employees to remote work has emphasized the issues with this, it has long been clear that businesses need to move to a more adaptable and agile model to stay up-to-date and relevant. Systems need to be able to easily connect and make operations more efficient so that the supply chain structure can quickly change and adapt as needed.
A solution for this is API-driven B2B eCommerce. An application program interface (API) sets the rules on how software should cooperate with other software, which integrates all the software that runs a company together and keeps everyone communicating efficiently. That means every platform can be connected from online stores, payment systems, ordering functions, marketing, finance, HR, supply chain, distribution, even full ERPs. This allows companies to innovate better, make changes quicker, and evolve to meet customer expectations.
4. Shopify’s Plan to Dominate as the B2B eCommerce Platform
In the last few years, Shopify—the dominant platform in B2C eCommerce—has made serious moves to begin accommodating B2B eCommerce as well. With the acquisition of mobile commerce first Handshake Corp., Shopify is steering its business to include a focus on mobile B2B eCommerce. Handshake Rep, the app developed by Handshake Corp., is designed to allow sales reps to access their company's product catalogs, check inventory, and enter orders from customers right on their mobile device. The app compliments Shopify's B2B efforts and will prove to be a useful addition to the enterprise level Shopify Plus.
5. Growing Need for Personalization
B2B eCommerce customers are taking cues from the B2C experiences and in response, the expectation for personalization is ever increasing. In fact, 77% of consumers have chosen, recommended, or paid more for a brand that provides a personalized service or experience.
This is making marketers who specialize in direct-to-consumer marketing in high demand. As B2B buyers expect the same attention that they get as personal shoppers, B2B leaders are looking for B2C marketers who can bring the sophistication of B2C marketing to their B2B eCommerce efforts.
These new types of B2B marketers have a better understanding of how to personalize marketing that speaks to buyers and builds relationships with them. To fully personalize the B2B eCommerce experience, businesses must take advantage of multiple technologies, including AI and machine learning, a better understanding of their customer data, and content to provide personalized deliverables.
Examples of good B2B eCommerce personalization may include:
Offers based on customer locations
For example: don’t offer summer products during winter months in colder locations
Recommendations based on their history of purchases
For example: let customers create a log-in where they can see their previous purchases and where your business can upsell or cross-sell based on them.
Follow-up content or personalized newsletters based on their behaviors
For example: if they’ve made a purchase, a business can provide instructional or educational content based on those sales. If they haven’t purchased, a business can provide content that leads to a sale.
Customized product catalogs, navigation experience, and checkout purchase
For example: the more personalized a business can get, the better. Businesses can be tagged by industry or other segments, and they should have a personalized experience throughout.
Looking to the Future
The one common thread throughout each of these trends? The future is digital, and this shift is an optimal opportunity for B2B organizations to get ahead of their competition. As eCommerce teams face immense challenges, it will highlight the need for teams to become more efficient and more organized. One place to start? Your marketing team. Sparkfive is here to help your marketing team optimize their energy to supercharge growth for your business. Check out our suite of products that will allow you to manage your marketing all in one place so you can easily scale your while staying nimble.