The future of B2B e-commerce has been shifting a lot recently. The pandemic combined with the global supply chain crisis has pushed many companies that naturally traded on B2C to jump into the B2B markets. They have done so in pursuit of more profitability but also – and perhaps more importantly – to achieve more stability. Diversifying the risk has become a must in our fleeting and complex times.
That’s why today we want to take a deep look at five key trends that could change the future of B2B e-commerce. But first, let us clarify the key concepts behind B2B e-commerce, understand the current state of business in the B2B e-commerce sector from a global perspective, and finally learn how it has changed in the past two years and what trends could define its future. Let us begin!
The roadmap for the future of B2B e-commerce
What is B2B e-commerce?
B2B e-commerce is a transaction or business conducted between one business and another, such as a wholesaler and retailer, done primarily online as an e-commerce operation.
This crude definition, although correct, falls short of what current - and future - B2B e-commerce can do. To be absolutely honest, B2B e-commerce is already becoming much more than ‘simple transactions between companies’, and it offers things like B2B servitization, entire niche-specific aftermarket marketplaces that combine B2B and B2C and even B2B with fulfillment logistics solutions, among many other things.
In truth, B2B has been boosted by the tools and solutions that online platforms – like Intershop for example - can offer.
And the two years hiatus of the pandemic proved that many things we used to do ‘offline’ - or rather taking a limited advantage of the real capabilities that e-commerce can offer - could be done better, cheaper, and with more profitability shifting our business into full-fledged B2B e-commerce solutions.
Current state of B2B global markets
This revelation of the true power behind B2B e-commerce has made B2B e-commerce a very lucrative pie: According to a 2020 research done by Frost and Sullivan - one of the most recent global forecasts on global B2B e-commerce - the total global B2B online gross sales volume for 2020 reached the mark of $6.7 trillion.
A figure that all experts agree has grown - in fact, ReportLinker reports a 21.07% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) during the forecasted years, 2022-2030 - although no recent research has been presented to put a solid estimate on how much has actually been this growth. But it is safe to say, B2B e-commerce is rapidly growing.
That’s why, in this new ultra-competitive scenario, B2B e-commerce trends have become incredibly important: many of these innovations or new practices aim at new players or profiles of new B2B businesses and henceforth will define the future of the entire industry.
1. The business consumers
Perhaps the main trend that is affecting all B2B businesses is how B2B buyers are slowly changing.
Current B2B buyers are increasingly looking more like B2C consumers. And this could severely affect the way B2B platforms operate.
One of the main reasons behind this change is the fact that the Millennial workforce is slowly becoming the main generation occupying decision-making positions.
And these buyers - these Millenial CEOs - are buying from B2C online retailers in their free time, and they’ve been doing this for years, becoming accustomed to the B2C e-commerce standards, and demanding from B2B platforms the same speed and flexibility.
Professional buyers are now looking for easier and more seamless experiences when buying on the job. Thus, the trend for B2B e-commerce demands faster login systems, more efficient and faster checkouts, and a more ‘marketplace look and feel’ that will allow a Millenial CEO to quickly peruse among all possible items, to reach the desired ones and make a bulk buy of them for its company, using its smartphone, in the middle of a lunch break.
And if you want to learn more about the digital transformation of leading B2B power players, let us share with you the ultimate content collection “All eyes on B2B”.
2. Big data and customer journey analytics
Big data has been a thing for a while. Yet, it seems that the near future of B2B e-commerce will be heavily dependent on Big data, especially to assemble customer journey analytics to help businesses create customized journeys for each and everyone of their B2B clients.
And this is, indeed, one of the key differences between B2C and B2B: B2B aims at customizing the experience to a degree that for B2C is just not profitable or realistic.
What are we talking about here? Well, is simple, if an e-commerce sells B2C it's only logical to lean towards standardization of process, to save money by treating all potential clients kind of the same way. This is because 99% of the time, all customers will buy with the same frequency and volume.
But if your business is B2B, one of your clients could potentially buy half of your stock in one single request, or have a particular season in which it consumes more of your product, and others could have the same season peak or not.
So, customizing each customer journey in the B2B world – where sales are measured by big volumes and bulks - makes all the sense in the world. All in all, using Big Data to acquire the customer journey analytics that will help you present a customized offer to each client, will bring you, among others, the following benefits:
Upgrade your brand's overall customer experience
Help your clients to enhance their supply chain management while doing the same yourself
Enable your B2B business to create personalized content and marketing
Identify common issues that your customers encounter during checkout
Reduce the number of abandoned transactions and increase your sales
Make key decisions about where your budget can be spent most effectively to bypass possible customer roadblocks that now, thanks to your customer journey analytics, you have been able to identify.
3. Contextualized real-time pricing
Another key trend for the future of B2B e-commerce is the personalization and contextualization of real-time pricing.
Regardless of the complex wording, what we mean is simple: to be able to adjust your prices for each B2B client taking into consideration temporal variables.
For example, if the product you sell is in high demand you can increase the prices automatically or, if you want to reward the loyalty of any given client, you could instead lower the prices of your products at the same time your B2B client sales reach their peak.
The idea is that, with the data harnesses via your B2B platform about each one of your clients, you could adapt the prices to match any given sales or marketing strategy.
4. More and diverse payment options
Contrary to B2C, B2B e-commerce lacks payment options. The B2C world has a lot of potential payment solutions outside of traditional ones.
Currently B2B businesses should offer at least these choices online:
- Credit cards
- Purchase orders
- Mobile wallets
But in the near future, payment options that are fully digital – like PayPal or cryptocurrencies - will surely be more in demand by B2B clients. True, perhaps we are going a bit further here than we should, because PayPal is hardly capable of handling current B2B standard operations due to their inherent payment caps.
But in the near future, it's not farfetched at all that we could see a PayPal for Business or something like it, with capabilities to handle over a million dollars in payments with competitive fees.
5. Faster and easier purchases
Finally, we reach the quintessential objective of any e-commerce: to improve the purchase process.
This is going to be the main trend for the near future: to ease and simplify B2B purchases. And we talk about this, we already talk about the present: mobile devices and progressive web applications are paving the way for order placement and ‘on-the-fly’ purchases.
Imagine a CEO - Millennial of course - that is traveling to Chicago and on the plane is currently searching for an o-ring manufacturer that could produce for him the o-rings needed for a new car assembly factory that will be established in Belgium.
He finds his dreamed B2B o-ring partner in a small factory in Brazil. The prices are competitive, and the Brazilian o-ring manufacturer's website is clean and fast, and it is also in English. He peruses through the website of the Brazilian factory, likes what he sees, and decides to place an order, while he is flying to Chicago.
The whole process takes him about 15 minutes, and a few clicks. This is the future of B2B e-commerce, and also, the future of a global manufacturing and production market, that e-commerce and e-commerce platforms and international logistics, have finally made technologically possible.
All in all, if you wish to remain relevant in the competitive future B2B e-commerce scenario, you will need to improve and adapt the technological capabilities and functionalities of your B2B platform. Otherwise, the global market will devour you.
That’s the only key to success!