B2B eCommerce: What’s Changed, and How You Can Keep Up
In a whitepaper in 2012, Oracle predicted that, “The next decade will be an innovative and demanding one for B2B eCommerce.” Nearly nine years later, we can say with confidence that they were right—and that there’s no stopping the evolution of B2B eCommerce in the next decade, either.
We’ve seen massive changes in the B2B eCommerce landscape in recent years—from skyrocketing market value, to shifts in the customer experience, and perhaps most importantly, a shift in buyer personas. To stay ahead of the game, businesses have relied on eCommerce software that helps enhance the buyer experience, while easing and accelerating order processing.
eCommerce Growth, and a Shift in Priorities
Growth in the B2B eCommerce space has been considerable, to say the least. According to Statista, the global B2B eCommerce market was worth $5.8 trillion in 2013. By 2019, that number had more than doubled, to over $12 trillion.
One factor driving B2B eCommerce growth is the change in demographics of B2B researchers and buyers. A decade ago, most B2B buyers were Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, who preferred personal interactions with sales representatives. But that has changed significantly as the Millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) has come of age.
In 2015, Google reported that 46% of B2B researchers were millennials, and by 2017, Forrester estimated that 73% of millennial workers are involved in purchasing decisions. Unlike previous generations, millennials grew up with the internet, and tend to be not only more tech-savvy, but also more tech-invested. These business buyers rely on digital channels to influence their purchasing decisions—a trend we expect will only continue as Generation Z starts to enter the workforce.
Much of B2B eCommerce’s growth may also have been spurred on by B2C eCommerce trends. After all, business buyers are private consumers, too. Seeing the ease of online shopping, from user-friendly storefronts, to clear and concise product data, to payment and shipping options, B2B buyers began to want a more “consumer-like” experience in their businesses, as well as their personal lives.
Creating a B2C Experience in B2B
Today, it’s not enough to simply have a B2B eCommerce web storefront. Amazon and other etailers have created a pervasive idea of what online shopping “should be like.” As a result, B2B sellers need to create a seamless shopping experience online, with the familiarity of B2C shopping and the information and options needed by retail buyers.
Personalization is a buzzword it seems we can’t get enough of, and B2B sellers are finding new ways to create tailored shopping experiences for different customers. One way to do this is through customer segmentation, which lets you match customers to customer “types.” When a customer logs in to your eCommerce store, the site matches their information to a specific segment, and automatically shows the right products, with correct pricing, shipping costs and payment methods for that customer.
Just like a B2C website, many B2B eCommerce platforms feature simple search navigation, rich product information, and on-screen shopping carts. Some even use historical buying data to suggest repeat purchases, making it easy for buyers to find their preferred products. But many also feature flexible B2B ordering options like volume-based pricing, multiple ship-to location functionality, and purchase order number fields, which empower buyers to quickly place large orders across store or warehouse locations and keep track of their orders internally.
B2B eCommerce in 2020 and Beyond
2020 was a year primed for supply chain digitalization already, with growing trends of cloud-based integrations, omnichannel connectivity, and automation leading the way. And while trade shows, in-person meetings and other traditional trade relationships were battered by shutdowns from the Coronavirus pandemic, eCommerce emerged as a critical component for moving forward.
For buyers, B2B eCommerce offers an easy way to see stock availability, explore product options, and submit orders, without leaving the office (or in some cases these days, the couch). For suppliers, online selling helped keep business afloat, while allowing them to manage and process orders quickly, even with lean teams.
This year has been a game-changer for B2B business across every channel, but especially in eCommerce. While we hope for an end to quarantines and social distancing soon, the impact of this time on trade relationships and digital commerce is sure to be long-lasting.
How to Stay Ahead of the Curve
Here’s what it all comes down to: if you haven’t gotten started with B2B eCommerce, you need to start now, or risk falling too far behind to catch up. If you have a B2B eCommerce website and sales strategy, now is the time to re-evaluate it, and make sure your online shopping experience is providing everything your buyer audience wants and needs. Here are a few things you can do to gain and keep a competitive edge online.
Provide an Exemplary Online Experience
Finding the right B2B eCommerce platform is key to creating a B2C-like experience for customers, with the B2B functionality they require. Today’s customers expect to be able to quickly find the products they want, understand availability, choose shipment timelines and send in orders, all in one place, just like they would on Amazon. If you also sell direct-to-consumer through your web storefront, you’ll want to find an eCommerce platform that lets you operate both stores from one portal.
We’ve designed our Nexternal eCommerce platform to do just that. Using our web storefront software, you can create and manage B2C and B2B options on one website. The B2B side will have the same look, feel, and ease-of-use as the B2C store. However, it will also enable you to create multiple customer types and define volume-based pricing for each customer segment, while giving customers options like multi-user accounts with buying group capabilities.
Enhance Visibility and Transparency
Product content plays a huge role in the eCommerce buying experience, so it’s imperative that you present the right information on your website. Integrated eCommerce automatically updates inventory availability, giving customers real-time visibility, while reducing the possibility of over-selling.
Not every seller can meet Amazon’s one-day or two-day shipping timeframes. However, with integrated eCommerce, you can provide customers with expected delivery dates based on chosen shipping methods, which are especially important for time-sensitive orders. Plus, with integrated eCommerce, you can provide automatic updates if anything changes during order processing and fulfillment. For B2B buyers, that accuracy and reliability can win you as many sales as delivery speed.
Integrate Your Systems
With continued, rapid growth in B2B eCommerce sales, chances are you’re managing more digital orders than ever before. While an increase in your digital commerce revenue is great, it can also become overwhelming—fast. Many companies still rely on manual data entry to move order information between disparate systems. These time-consuming tasks can create bottlenecks in order processing and fulfillment, and limit your scalability, forcing you to add internal resources to manage order spikes. What's more, manual, repetitive processes are more likely to produce errors—which can create significant, costly issues with B2B buyers.
Integrating your B2B eCommerce store with other internal systems, such as your ERP or accounting system, or your fulfillment, WMS or TMS software helps to eliminate these issues. For example, multi-carrier shipping software can process and print shipping labels and reports by the hundreds. By pulling the data directly from an online order, the possibility of errors (and therefore, returns and invoice disagreements) is greatly reduced. Plus, while software takes care of moving data along, your internal resources will be freed up to focus on other business priorities.
Like B2C consumers, B2B eCommerce buyers value rapid, low-cost delivery. By increasing your fulfillment speed, you can not only keep your customers happier, but also process more orders in less time, making it easier to scale your operations without increasing overhead costs.
Fulfillment automation solutions like TrueCommerce Pack & Ship integrate directly with your eCommerce channels, empowering your business to fulfill orders quickly, without sacrificing shipment accuracy. Shipping software helps manage large order volumes, even with a small team, while Packing features help packers choose the right boxes and fill them properly. Integrated fulfillment software can also send updates through your eCommerce system to create branded emails, letting your buyers know about any changes to their order delivery date.
Take the Next Steps
B2B eCommerce is likely to continue growing at a rapid rate over the next few years. By investing in integrated, automated technology, your business can take advantage of the expanding marketspace and scale to handle more orders, more quickly. And with the right platforms to support you, you’ll be able to create a superior customer buying experience, giving you the edge you need to stay ahead of the competition.
Wondering how TrueCommerce can help enhance your B2B eCommerce capabilities? Talk to one of our eCommerce experts today to see how our integrated solutions can benefit your business.
About the Author: Craig Ross is the VP of Sales for the TrueCommerce Nexternal eCommerce Platform. He has been on the Nexternal team for over 20 years and has been involved with the evolution of eCommerce from its infancy. Craig lives in Redding, Connecticut, and in addition to eCommerce, he is passionate about cycling, motorsports, skiing, and music.