E-commerce evolution has always been a thing of awe and respect: it is fast, it is incredibly competitive, it is global… and it is ruthless if your brand or business can’t keep up with it.
That’s why saying that 2024 will be a year in which B2B e-commerce will take a giant leap forward regarding new technologies, trends, and solutions is a bit of an obvious statement. It kind of happens every year. But, truth be told, this coming 2024 will be – indeed – a historical year: it might as well become the first year where AI-driven solutions will be taking daily operational decisions in the B2B complex global market.
This means that 2024 will be the year where the foundational technological principles behind a fully autonomous AI-driven e-commerce will be first experimented and implemented in a global massive scale.
And this is no easy feat… Are you ready for this scenario? For this brave new world? Join us today as we lay down a roadmap for 2024 so you can always stay ahead of the curve!
B2B global e-commerce is quickly shifting towards AI-driven and self-service
Perhaps the most important thing to understand if you are in B2B nowadays and want to remain to do so in 2024 is that B2B global commerce is currently shifting really fast and really hard. The way B2B was done, until recently, was more in line with the traditional ‘salesman’ approach than with the current B2C e-commerce technologies and techniques.
In fact, direct-to-consumer or B2C businesses embraced e-commerce long ago – alongside all the technological improvements and capabilities it brings – while B2B companies – perhaps due to its wholesaling nature – remain using physical catalogs, phone calls, and even in-store visits. But then came the Covid, and the traditional physical sales techniques were no longer possible.
And that’s not all. The Covid-crisis forced digitalization was only the herald of a greater change: a generational shift defined by the emergence of the Millenials as decision-makers.
This new generation of CEOs and C-Level managers is native to e-commerce solutions and requires to be treated in a way that sometimes is almost indistinguishable from traditional B2C e-commerce. At the end of the day, they grew using Amazon, eBay, and other online stores and marketplaces, and the way that B2C is conducted is the way they want their B2B to be done.
Add to this the AI breakthroughs we have seen in the past 2023, and you can pretty much realize that, indeed, B2B e-commerce globally will be facing a transformational year during this coming 2024.
But when, what, and above all, how should you face these changes? What does your B2B organization need to keep track of if you want to succeed in 2024? To help you answer this complex question, Intershop has created the Digital Trends Report “B2B e-commerce in 2024: A brave new world”, a document that gathers all the main trends, technologies, and strategies you need to keep track of, implement or explore in order for your B2B organization to remain profitable, competitive, and relevant.
Obviously, there is no better place to review this vital topic than reading the report itself – which, by the way, you can do for free by clicking on the link above – but in this article, we do want to provide you with a surmise, a kind of roadmap, that will allow providing – in a short three pages span – with a clear overview of these main trends for B2B e-commerce.
And later, you can grab a cup of coffee or tea – or whatever you fancy – and deep-dive into the full report, with the advantage of already knowing what to search for. Isn’t it nice?
Let us begin!
The seven main trends to keep track of in 2024
Fundamentally, we can narrow down your road map to success in B2B e-commerce during 2024 to seven main trends you need to keep tabs on:
1. Predictive commerce
2. AI-driven self-service portals
3. Digital immune system
4. Composable commerce
5. Sustainability in B2B e-commerce
6. Cooperative commerce
7. Autonomous commerce
Of course, each and every one of these trends will merit an article – and much more – but for the purpose of this road map article, we will bundle together several of them into three main areas. Why? Because we want this article to be your guide, your cheat sheet, to later tackle the in-depth information we have added to the Digital Trends Report more efficiently.
That being said, we will bundle together predictive commerce and AI-driven self-service in our first section, as both respond to the same catalyst: the Millennials and the shift towards B2C functionalities in B2B e-commerce.
Our second section will be cooperative commerce, composable commerce, and autonomous commerce, as these trends are the core of the foreseeable future: AI-driven autonomous commerce.
Finally, in our last leg and third section, we will go over sustainability in B2B e-commerce and digital immune systems, for these two trends are something that, not being entirely new, remains incredibly relevant, and B2B businesses wishing to be successful need to keep track on the evolutions and innovations 2024 brings in both fields.
Predictive AI applications and more self-service
One of the main changes that 2024 brings is the increasing use of self-service solutions based on AI.
This is due to the generational shift of the Millennials. The Millenials – and other digitally native decision makers – are accustomed to using bot chats to ask about products and services and actually prefer to interact with AI bots than with human sales representatives. In fact, a recent study by HubSpot revealed that 67% of customers prefer self-service over speaking to a company representative.
This trend will only continue to increase as more and more generations that are native to e-commerce join the ranks of C-Level and above positions inside global organizations.
In fact, the same report also mentioned that 50% of sales leaders say reps will follow a hybrid sales model. This means that companies and brands are becoming increasingly aware of the changing preferences in the industry decision-makers.
But that’s not all; in a recent McKinsey report, we have another pair of crucial clues to unravel the formula of success for B2B businesses during 2024:
B2B e-commerce has taken the lead as the most effective sales channel: rated first by 35% of respondents, ahead of in-person sales (26%), video conference (12%), email (10%), and telephone (8%).
Winning B2B companies invest in sophisticated marketing tactics, going beyond account-based marketing and disproportionately using hyper-personalization in their outreach (defined as providing unique messages to individual decision-makers based on their needs, profile, behaviors, and interactions – both past and predictive).
This lays down the scenario for two powerful forces combined: the use of AI for predictive/profiling functionalities and the combination of this predictive capability with tailored marketing campaigns.
Something we could surmise with five core objectives that will hold the key to success or failure during 2024, for B2B organizations:
1) To implement advanced sales technologies.
2) To develop hybrid sales teams and capabilities.
3) To pursue hyper-personalization.
4) To create strategies to tackle omnichannel sales approaches using third-party marketplaces.
5) And to use the power of AI-driven tools to achieve e-commerce excellence across the entire marketing and sales funnel.
And precisely to achieve all five aforementioned objectives, the first trend of the Digital Trends Report “B2B e-commerce in 2024: A brave new world”, which is predictive commerce.
The use of predictive commerce tools and technologies will allow B2B organizations to achieve personalized recommendations, personalized search results or product discovery, dynamic pricing, and predictive analytics, among other uses you can read about in the Digital Trends Report.
B2B in 2024: cooperative, composable, and ultimately, autonomous
All reports, surveys, and market research papers point towards the same trio of characteristics for B2B during 2024: cooperative, composable, and autonomous.
The first one, cooperative commerce, is something we will increasingly hear about during 2024. And most of the time, it will be related to marketplaces or the use of marketplace technology.
The idea behind this is that brands – especially B2B brands – can transform their e-commerce site into a cooperative commerce site, allowing other brands and services that are complementary to their core products and services to sell and offer their solutions inside their platform.
This allows the brand to use powerful marketplace technology to sell its products while simultaneously creating and reinforcing a network of allied brands and organizations, pooling together their marketing resources to benefit the same marketplace. Thus creating far more traction than the one a single brand can achieve.
But, obviously, this is not the only benefit of pursuing a cooperative marketplace approach: other things like real-time pricing strategies and up-selling and cross-selling strategies become far more powerful and viable when you control a cooperative marketplace revolving around your brand.
Alongside the cooperative marketplace approach, brands and B2B organizations wishing to stay ahead of the curve in their B2B markets need to unleash the full power of composable commerce during 2024.
And this is a matter of balance. Nowadays, more than ever, B2B organizations need to find the Goldilocks zone: Using solid e-commerce solutions as a base but with the right granularity in them to allow for customization of selected business capabilities.
This combination of a solid foundation and the potential to develop further capabilities is the winning hand for B2B commerce in 2024. Start with the right granularity, be headless and not brainless, customize what you need and what is profitable, and ultimately, keep in mind your goal is to sell. Your goal is not to create a Frankenstein-style website capable of doing everything except… being profitable.
That being said, the two first – cooperative and composable – are perfectly achievable during 2024. The last stage – creating a fully autonomous commerce – is something that probably won’t be achieved in 2024.
But the end road is clear: B2B brands and organizations should start assimilating the idea of having their e-commerce run by AI-driven solutions capable of making autonomous or semi-autonomous decisions.
Please bear in mind this is no dystopian threat; on the contrary, this is an accurate prophecy that holds more positive – and profitable – elements than negative connotations. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of an AI taking care of our daily business operations, let me tell you something: Currently, AI solutions are already dealing with incredibly complex and delicate situations; in fact, Tesla proved that humans are more than willing to put their lives in the hands of an AI to drive their cars at deadly speeds in USA highways… and the AI has proven to be as successful – or even better sometimes – than the human drivers.
So, fear not about AI being capable. And start worrying instead about the capability of your human staff to adapt and make the most out of the AI.
AI-driven B2B e-commerce solutions: sustainable and robust
The final leg of our journey into 2024 B2B e-commerce trends, is marked by two regular suspects: sustainability and cyber security. In our case, cyber security has mutated into what is now being called digital immune systems.
The concept of developing a digital immune system for your B2B e-commerce platform has been experimented with a lot during this past year, particularly in complex, global B2B. The idea is simple: combine practices and technologies for software design, development, operations, and analytics to mitigate business risks – especially the risks associated with system failures.
And if prevention is not possible, the digital immune system should be able to speed up – as much as it can – the recovery of any system affected. Uptime is the key: an excellent digital immune system will keep your B2B e-commerce platform up and running as close to 99.9% as possible.
Now, regarding sustainability, AI-driven solutions could become the perfect companions for a more environmentally friendly B2B global e-commerce. And the AI applications to improve sustainability are endless:
Offer customized product listings based on their behavior that allows them to discover sustainable options for their preferred products or services.
Create special smart routes for a more eco-friendly delivery.
Control your resource consumption in your warehouse or physical offices to optimize and reduce the carbon footprint.
Help predict product sales peaks to better use the storage space, thus reducing the amount of fuel required by trucks or vehicles constantly replenishing stock.
And we can keep on almost endlessly. AI, in combination with sustainability, is indeed a mighty thing, and we are more than sure that 2024 will bring multiple successful examples of AI use to reduce carbon footprint.
But we have to stop here. Because we truly want you to enjoy and discover – at your own pace – all these trends and much more in our Digital Trends Report “B2B e-commerce in 2024: A brave new world”. Read it carefully and let me know what you think!
Finally, before we say goodbye for the time being, we want to reinstate one vital thing: you can rest assured that AI will prove, during 2024, that it is more than capable of forever changing the way B2B is done.
Are you ready to tackle this brave new world?