B2B e-commerce is continuing to grow. According to Frost & Sullivan, the B2B online retail market is expected to reach double that of the B2C market, generating revenues of 6.7 trillion USD by 2020.
The benefits to B2B sellers of using e-commerce includes the ability to streamline and automate their sales processes, reduce manual errors, and decrease costs.
These changes mean that the way wholesalers and distributors run their businesses today is completely different from just a few years ago. To ensure your business keeps ahead of the competition, it’s vital to stay on top of current B2B eCommerce trends.
So, what will the B2B e-commerce trends be in 2018?
1. Omnichannel will continue to dominate
Omnichannel provides the choice to buy and sell through multiple channels both online and offline. In a recent Forrester survey, 60% of B2B sellers said their omnichannel customers increased spending once they were online as well as offline. The same survey found that omnichannel customers are more active, spend more, and are less expensive to support than single channel customers. In addition, several B2B companies interviewed indicated that customers that started buying online after buying offline for years actually increased their spending in legacy offline channels.
To optimize sales across all channels, B2B wholesalers and distributors must include a B2B e-commerce platform in their omnichannel strategy as a customer typically has many touch-points when researching and eventually purchasing.
2. Working in the cloud
With the large data requirements most companies now have and the need to be able to access it whenever and wherever needed, utilizing cloud technology is a no-brainer. According to the 2017 State of the Cloud survey, although many people already use the cloud on public and private networks, the largest growth in adoption this year has been companies moving to hybrid clouds.
Although cloud technology is not new it continues to improve and will become even more important factor for B2B eCommerce trends. Cloud technology provides scalability without expensive investment in physical infrastructure as well as flexibility, increased collaboration, and solid disaster recovery.
Bearing this in mind, any software you choose, must be able to run in the cloud.
3. Mobile Devices take over
It’s official, mobile devices are essential to everyday life. When was the last time you went anywhere without your mobile phone? We’re now using our mobile devices for everything. This is just as true in our professional lives. 84% of millennials feel that using a mobile device to conduct business is vital, followed by 76% of Gen X and 60% of baby boomers. These numbers will grow as more senior B2B buyers move on and younger ones take their place.
Many B2B eCommerce platforms are now fully responsive and can just as easily be used on a smartphone or tablet. By providing your B2B customers with a mobile platform they can access anytime, anywhere you’re offering the ultimate convenience which will not only increase orders but also increase adoption.
4. B2B e-commerce doesn’t mean sales staff are redundant
As B2B e-commerce becomes more prevalent and the online shopping experience is increasingly self-service, there is less need for in-person meetings. It, therefore, makes sense that there is less need for salespeople to be involved in the buying process. However, this is not necessarily the case.
As sales reps are freed from time-consuming, repetitive administrative tasks, they have more time to spend nurturing relationships with their buyers, consulting and partnering with them to help improve their business. They can have a greater impact on sales by advising customers on best practices and how to achieve better business outcomes. They can up-sell, cross-sell and dramatically increase sales revenue. In this new scenario, sales reps will need to be far more customer-centric, acting as a trusted advisor to their buyers.
5. ERP Integration is critical
While B2B e-commerce can provide many efficiencies for brands and wholesalers, taking orders 24/7, buyers doing self-service ordering and tracking and monitoring their orders themselves, to mention just a few, it is still common for the B2B e-commerce platform to be separate from the ERP system.
Integration may have been challenging in the past but now most B2B e-commerce platforms offer either easy or even out-of-the box integration via a plugin. To realize the full potential and efficiency of eCommerce, integration with your ERP means almost complete automation.
Buyers can see stock availability at the time of ordering. Orders are then synched directly from the B2B eCommerce storefront, to the processing and shipping of the order, and finally to providing tracking information for the B2B customer. Of course, you will still need someone to load it in to the truck!
6. Working from home is gaining momentum
Working from home is no longer seen as a perk of the job but as part of the job. Experts at the Global Leadership Summit in London, predicted that 50% of the workforce will be working remotely by 2020.
This is especially relevant in the B2B world where retailers, restaurateurs and shop owners may prefer to make orders from home after business hours. Having the opportunity to order inventory 24 hours a day is crucial to busy business people. It means they have control and don’t need to rely on the sales rep to guide them or visit them before they can order.
As more business owners work from home, the new technologies that offer convenience are becoming increasingly popular. That convenience is from both ease of use and accessibility from any mobile device including tablets.
7. Cognitive commerce is on the way for B2B
The new ‘smart’ generation of technology is here and already used by the huge e-commerce companies in the B2C world. Where B2C goes B2B is sure to follow. Cognitive commerce, where the software learns from your customers, gathers personalized data about them and then only offers them products that are tailored to their specific interests is just as relevant to B2B as it is for B2C
One of the main companies to with this technology is Amazon who use it to promote products based on what you have already bought, and display promotions tailored specifically to you.
We are now entering a third generation of computing, which allows you to learn everything about everyone that uses your website, and then apply that data in real-time.
8. B2B e-commerce is truly global
The accessibility B2B e-commerce provides means that distributors and wholesalers are no longer restricted to selling locally, they now have the possibility of selling their products to millions of potential international buyers. More companies are going online, there are emerging markets in Asia and Africa and new startups in far flung nations like Estonia.
While the global possibilities mean a significant growth potential for B2B e-commerce, it also means more competition for your business. Especially on price. Prices need to be high enough to make a profit, but not so high that customers turn to your competitors. Using a software that can provide different pricing to different customers will help you get the balance right especially if your customers are in different countries.
Being able to offer your B2B e-commerce platform and e-catalog in the local language, in local currencies, with the option to use preferred local payment methods can substantially help you conquer the global marketplace or at least dominate in your corner of the world.
9. Secure online payments
Making an online purchase through B2C e-commerce is simple. You decide you would like a new pair of shoes, type in your credit card details and they’re yours. Payments through B2B e-commerce are far more complex due to cash flow and dispersed spending control, which remain at the core of many common B2B payment practices.
Traditional accounts receivable offices have handled these complexities manually. But these ‘old’ ways no longer work when you move your business to a B2B e-commerce platform. Companies often offer each other 30 or 60 days credit, to help cash flow, but how will this work with online payments? And what about paper checks?
It makes sense that for any B2B e-commerce solution to be truly efficient it must incorporate an automated payment solution with full security. There are several companies offering B2B online payment solutions and this trend will continue.
10. Customer retention vs. customer acquisition
Finally, a B2B e-commerce storefront can be a great tool for customer retention. You work hard to bring new customers on-board. Moving contacts along the sales pipeline is often a time consuming and lengthy process, especially if your products have a high value.
It takes time and effort to build a relationship with your potential customer. After you have invested in developing a customer you want to ensure they stay with you and don’t stray to one of your competitors.
By including the option of purchasing via a B2B e-commerce storefront you can use it not just for your customer to place self-service orders 24/7 but also to develop the relationship. The buying experience can be significantly enhanced if it includes a beautiful e-catalog that shows your products to their best advantage and is easy to use. You can also provide personalized offers and information for the buyer to view their order history and status of orders.
On the other side providing a B2B e-commerce platform can be a great benefit to offer potential new customers.
So, what are you waiting for?