GUEST COMMENT Five trends worth watching in B2B ecommerce
B2B retailers have generally been slower to recognise and adapt to the benefits offered by ecommerce than their B2C counterparts, but all the signs indicate that times are changing.
The vast majority of B2B customers now expect to be able to research products and make purchases online, yet it’s important to note that B2B ecommerce isn’t simply a case of channel shift – in a survey
published by Episerver, B2B companies claimed that an average of 31% of their ecommerce revenue is incremental.
With all that in mind, it’s no surprise to see significant strides being made in B2B ecommerce. Here, we examine the five trends that will have the biggest impact on the sector over the coming months:
1. Wholesalers will embrace B2B ecommerce much more than retailers
The days of ecommerce being dominated by B2C retailers are well and truly over. B2B procurers are used to shopping online for themselves, and they expect the same levels of simplicity and service when buying for their employer.
But when it comes to ecommerce, B2B and B2C aren’t currently on a level playing field. B2C has led the way for years and is still a long way ahead, forcing B2B retailers to splash the cash on the processes, interface and infrastructure needed to get their own ecommerce offerings up to scratch.
For B2B companies, spending on ecommerce isn’t just about increasing revenue. Investment is being driven by the associated cost-saving benefits – such as requiring fewer staff – and the desire to make themselves easier to do business with.
A good example is iWeb’s work with Caterite
, a catering industry supplier that adopted a Magento-based ecommerce system capable of allowing customers to quickly and easily order all the ingredients they need for next-day delivery. Features such as automatically generated lists of regular purchases take much of the hassle out of bulk-ordering products.
2. Mobile commerce is really taking off
Mobile commerce is another area in which B2B has lagged behind B2C – until now. Fuelled by the desire to make their service more efficient and convenient for customers, B2B sellers are finally focusing on mobile as a channel. The advantages of mobile are clear, especially for businesses that need to make orders on the fly and on the move. Research
from Forrester highlights just how significant the benefits can be. B2B buyers identified mobile devices as important touchpoints during the procurement process, with more than half choosing to research products and services via smartphone.
Clearly recognising this, just over two in five B2B sellers in the US revealed plans to invest in mobile point-of-service systems, while 39% of respondents worldwide said that offering access to their website through a mobile app was a top priority.
3. More focus on customer experience, in line with B2C
Learning from the successes (and mistakes) of B2C retailers is a common theme for B2B sellers. Another area in which B2C has led the way is user experience; B2B operators now recognise that an intuitive customer experience can be a key means of standing out from the competition.
But what do business buyers look for in an ecommerce site? To put it simply, they’re typically looking for the same thing as consumers: specific guidance on merchandising; detailed product descriptions written in plain, user-friendly language; and rich content such as high-resolution visuals, audio and video.
It’s also important to remember that customers want to make fewer clicks to find and purchase the products they need. B2B retailers can achieve this through offering tools such as shopping carts, customer-specific pricing, and highly efficient onsite search.
4. Switch from bespoke to mass-market ecommerce platforms
When first making the move into ecommerce, many B2B firms opted to create bespoke platforms. However, given the importance of continuously updating these platforms to ensure that they continue to serve customer needs in the best way possible, this approach can be a major drain on time and not especially cost-effective.
As a result, an ever-growing number of companies are now switching to open-source systems with out-of-the-box functionality. Much as the smartphone market is now dominated by Android and iOS, two platforms (Woo Commerce and Magento) control almost half of the ecommerce market. Expect smaller, more bespoke platforms to continue being weeded out over the coming months and years.
5. Growing importance of multichannel
An intuitive, joined-up multichannel sales system is about more than just offering customers a choice of purchasing methods – it can build affinity with your brand and even lead to an upturn in revenue.
Omnichannel customers typically spend more than those who only shop via a single channel. In a survey
conducted by Forrester, three-fifths of B2B companies reported that buyers spend more overall when interacting with more than one channel, while omnichannel buyers are also more likely to become long-term customers. All of which means that bolstering your ecommerce proposition could have a knock-on effect across your other channels.
Whereas B2B sellers have often been guilty of treating ecommerce as something of an afterthought in the past, it’s clear that this is no longer the case. As B2B ecommerce continues to grow in importance, we expect to see the channel stop simply copying trends in B2C and become a major source of innovation.Ian Gordon is business development director at iWeb