When it comes to ecommerce, a lot of attention is given to the large retail marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart and their robust business-to-consumer (B2C) systems. However, when you look across the entire ecommerce landscape, it’s the world of business-to-business (B2B) commerce — companies selling to other companies — that dominates the market.
A 2019 study by Forrester Research forecasts that the U.S. B2B ecommerce industry will reach $1.8 trillion by 2023. In contrast, the entire business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce industry earned $453 billion in 2017.
Clearly, the B2B ecommerce landscape is growing, and its potential is vast. For manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, and other B2B companies selling to organizations like businesses, hospitals or schools, there are some key trends you must be aware of if you want to stand out.
1. Going digital: B2B companies need an ecommerce strategy
First things first — you’ll notice that we’re talking about B2B ecommerce in particular, and not simply B2B commerce in general.
There used to be a belief that B2B customers would always go the traditional route. First, they would use a website to browse the company’s catalog; then, they would call the sales rep and place an order over the phone.
However, the entire B2B commerce journey is quickly moving to the digital world. Forrester Research found that in 2017, 38 percent of B2B buyers were making more than half of their purchases online. This number is expected to grow to 55 percent by 2020.
This shift is largely due to the growing number of young people entering the workforce. Adults in their twenties and thirties are very accustomed to conducting their buying processes online, from the initial search right through to the decision and purchase. In 2015, Google found that close to half of all B2B buyers are millennials, nearly double the number from 2012.
As a result, it’s becoming crucial for B2B companies to appeal to the buying patterns of this younger demographic.
2. B2B ecommerce solutions must do more than just sell
When a company makes the important decision to move its B2B sales online, they should ideally look for a digital platform that can do more than just process orders. As the marketplace evolves, the best B2B ecommerce solutions will also:
- Provide customers with personalized recommendations
- Offer customer-specific pricing
- Integrate with key business workflows
- Facilitate fast and easy re-ordering
- Accept credit cards or other business-specific payment types
- Digitize and automate repetitive manual tasks
The more value you can get from your ecommerce solution, the better.
3. B2B buyers expect a great customer experience
In many ways, the prominent B2C platforms like Amazon or Netflix have changed customers’ expectations. Consulting firm Big Commerce says: “Sellers must meet expectations for a B2C-like digital experience, while also accommodating traditional B2B workflows and processes.”
People have become accustomed to convenient, personalized customer experiences in B2C scenarios. Similarly, they want the B2B buying process to be straightforward and tailored to their needs. Big Commerce confirmed: “They [consumers] expect a positive user experience, ease of purchase, and to be able to easily find the information they need online.”
Going forward, the most effective B2B strategies will increasingly provide these unique customer experiences.
4. Mobility is a key part of the B2B process
In 2014, Forrester said 69 percent of B2B companies expected to stop publishing print catalogs and instead focus on mobile-friendly versions that can be viewed on tablets or smartphones.
Indeed, a number of B2B companies are developing their own ecommerce apps, often in the form of “Progressive Web Apps” (PWAs). PWAs are a hybrid between websites and mobile apps, leveraging the benefits of both. In its 10 Ecommerce Trends for 2019, Absolunet says of a PWA: “It’s a site, it’s an app — no, it’s both!”
In terms of benefits for buyers, PWAs create fast-loading mobile experiences that are discoverable and accessible to everyone via the mobile web.
5. Content helps drive the B2B experience
Producing content is an important part of a strong B2B strategy. Think about it — if a buyer has never done business with your company before, how can you help them:
- Find your website or mobile app?
- Discover your products or service offerings?
- Learn about your product features and benefits?
- See that you understand their pain points, priorities, and needs?
In each case, the answer is the same. You give them helpful content, in the form of ebooks, blog posts, videos, infographics, how-to guides, and so on. Great content helps people understand the value of what you have to offer. It also shows potential customers your thought leadership and gives them confidence that you understand their problems and what they need.
6. Tech giants are influencing the B2B game
As smaller companies move into the ecommerce space, it’s important to stay informed about larger industry developments. For instance, some of the largest tech companies are paving the way for major B2B ecommerce breakthroughs:
- In 2018, Adobe purchased Magento Commerce, a market-leading commerce platform, for $1.68 billion.
- Amazon is making an AI-based, real-time product recommendation engine available to merchants who use the Amazon Web Services (AWS) console.
- Walmart, America’s largest retailer and second-largest marketplace after Amazon, has made product syndication tools available to its suppliers in order to have the most up-to-date product content on its platforms.
7. Customization for B2B and B2C customers is crucial
For companies that engage in both B2B and B2C sales, there’s another important factor to keep in mind — the importance of customizing the buying experience for these two types of customers. Your ecommerce strategy will require separate, personalized platforms for each audience. Depending on your sales model, you may need to:
- Hide your bulk or wholesale pricing from retail or B2C customers
- Require customers to register in order to access your B2B site
- Provide different price lists to B2B customers based on their negotiated pricing, geographic area or membership tier
Embracing B2B trends
Whether you’re new to the B2B ecommerce game or you’re a long-time player, it’s essential to keep up with industry trends. By investing in an ecommerce solution that supports integration, customization, and personalized experiences for buyers, you’ll set yourself up for success in a rapidly growing marketplace.