Digital process adoption has been around for over a decade. Yet, an increasing number of organizations continue to recognize the significance of strategic digital commerce to retain a competitive advantage. In fact, we noticed these trends back in 2017, far before the pandemic accelerated digital transformation in every industry.
With the advent of mobile devices, and now 5G, it’s never been easier to cater to a growing online customer base. In addition, while the world was dealing with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also drove a much higher demand for eCommerce as it was deemed the safe, quick, and also convenient alternative to shopping in-person.
For instance, the larger players in this space, including Walmart, Amazon, and Alibaba, increased their eCommerce infrastructure to meet new expectations from customers such as offering a wider variety of products online, including groceries, with same-day delivery. Further, many B2B organizations from manufacturers to suppliers worked on becoming more agile while embracing remote work.
On the other end of the spectrum, many brick-and-mortar and digital vendors were not prepared for lockdowns and shaky reopening phases. Moreover, the pandemic revealed the vulnerabilities in outdated business models and supply chains.
For businesses that could not reinvent themselves immediately. They were left behind. Along with the pandemic came new customer purchasing habits and expectations.
As cities, states, and countries started to reopen, businesses could no longer use COVID-19 as an excuse for incorrect product information, late deliveries, and lack of inventory.
What were the biggest eCommerce lessons in 2020? Well, life as we knew it changed dramatically. When the world was on lockdown, and even in between lockdowns, buyers and sellers went online to manage their lives, communicate with others, to work, to run their businesses, to sell, and to make purchases. Thus, it also drove a quick rise in B2B eCommerce.
According to McKinsey, over 75% of B2B buyers prefer interacting remotely with sales and purchasing online instead of in-person. Also, only 20% of these shoppers returned to in-person shopping.
Invariably, businesses in many sectors had to embrace quicker delivery times and curbside pickup. These are the types of trends that are not going away. McKinsey has also found that 96% of respondents intend to increase spending on digital channels and retain these models through 2021.
Let’s take a look at some critical B2B eCommerce trends:
Gen X consumers (those born in between 1965 and 1983) are now in most of the current leadership roles, and make more B2B purchases than Boomers, Millennials, or Gen Z. Additionally, they expect convenience, speed, personalization, easy navigation, and an enhanced customer experience.
Customers want to become more strategic with their purchases. They are also finding brands on new channels. Forward-thinking eCommerce sites are always trying to expand onto new channels and new markets.
Buy Rather Than Build
At one time, it may have made sense to build your own eCommerce platform so you can access all the features you need. Yet, today, a significant portion of the most advanced B2B eCommerce platforms are found off-the-shelf from highly-rated vendors. Forrester Consulting discovered that buying a vendor-supplied eCommerce solution saved 22% in integration costs, 16.5% in development costs, and provided a 16.4% faster time to market.
It makes sense since an off-the-shelf platform may also offer low-code functionality for quick and easy setup with minimum investment relative to building an in-house solution. OroCommerce is an open-source eCommerce platform that is customizable and provides support for a midsize-to-large customer base.
Persistent Security Threats
While a percentage of remote workers will return to the office eventually, the global transition to remote work is now permanent. However, this change also led to an increase in vulnerability to data breaches since many remote workers did not have secure home office configurations.
Therefore, it is crucial to implement a platform that offers features that support complex approval mechanisms, extensive product catalogs, and significant deal sizes without compromising cyber security even in a remote environment.
Marketplaces Are Taking Over
Throughout history, marketplaces have been the go-to places for shoppers, whether it was a bazaar or a shopping center. Today, B2B marketplaces are following the trend but in the digital space.
According to RBC Capital Markets, Amazon Business is expected to reach $52 billion in annual sales by 2023. Still, consumers are aware that Amazon and eBay aren’t the only marketplaces around. Other growing marketplaces include ePrice, Christian Lacroix, Walmart, Best Buy Canada, and more. iBe TSD research concludes that marketplaces will make up around 30% of all B2B sales.
PWA and Headless Technology
Online experiences are now integrated by 30 or more applications. Therefore, we see B2B eCommerce brands investing more into progressive web applications (PWAs) to power their mobile storefronts and external data along with headless architecture to improve the customer experience.
B2B consumers are already accustomed to self-service options from many online sellers. According to OroCommerce, 86% of customers prefer using self-service options to place orders, reorder, and manage order statuses without reaching out to company representatives.
Expect this trend to continue its upward trajectory in 2021. As a result, it’s crucial to offer as many self-service portals as possible for your B2B eCommerce marketplace.
Undoubtedly, an increasing number of businesses are migrating to the cloud because it is convenient, accessible, always-on, and more cost-effective compared to managing an on-premises infrastructure.
The IDC 2022 FutureScape report has determined that over 80% of enterprise organizations will transition to cloud-based infrastructure and applications.
Since the trend continues towards the digital space, consumers are wanting an increasingly personalized experience that feels organic. Further, they want well-designed B2B eCommerce sites with personalized recommendations and suggestions aligned with their needs. According to Smarter HQ, B2B customers will pay more for a better experience, and “better” means personalized.
AI and Chatbots
Currently, AI and chatbots are becoming more intelligent, intuitive, responsive, and more. Automating manual tasks using AI and chatbots allows B2B eCommerce owners the opportunity to run a 24/7 marketplace without having to hire additional staff. And that equates to more sales and more customer loyalty. AI can also be used to classify and recognize objects in images. Reducing manual work, and human error, is a win-win for buyers and sellers.
Prioritize the Customer Experience
A primary focus area for improving the customer experience revolves around accessibility and usability. How can your business do this? Well, it starts with faster page loading times, self-service portals, mobile access, and real-time order tracking.
Other important trends in 2021 for B2B eCommerce include omnichannel selling and employee productivity and safety.
Considering 2020 will be forever etched as an unforgettable year, it also conveyed the breadth of opportunities in the B2B eCommerce space. In this sense, 2020 opened up unexpected growth, new markets, new channels, and new opportunities for forward-thinking companies. Brands that delayed their digital transformation initiatives had to rethink their strategies.
Unquestionably, B2B eCommerce will continue to generate compounding opportunities and expansion into new verticals. Noting the 2021 B2B eCommerce trends above, digital marketplace prosperity is only a click or tap away.