B2B trends: Companies shift closer to B2C shopping behaviors
It’s no surprise that B2B customers have come to expect the same seamless, personalized buying experience whether they’re shopping for work or themselves. However, the problem rests in many B2B merchants not digitally transforming as rapidly as their B2C counterparts, making it difficult to deliver the experiences that business buyers now expect.
But change is necessary. And if B2B merchants want to capitalize on this opportunity and continue growing their businesses, digital transformation is the answer. Upgrading your commerce foundation provides the agility to act on customer expectations. It delivers improved operational efficiency and can boost your bottom line. In that sense, it’s a win-win for all. It’s why DHL predicts that B2B ecommerce revenue will reach $20.9 trillion dollars globally by 2027.
This year, Adobe and Econsultancy interviewed 814 B2B executives to discover what’s trending right now in B2B ecommerce. When it comes to addressing today’s evolving needs, digital transformation is the answer.
Trends show rising B2B customer expectations through digital channels
While the B2B customer journey has been slower to shift digitally, that’s about to change. A strong majority (76%) of B2B leaders have seen buying patterns evolve in recent years. Of those, 71% are experiencing a surge in existing customers using digital channels for the first time. And 65% are gaining new customers through digital channels.
These numbers align with the steady increase in online B2B sales. In 2021, for example, 73% of B2B companies reported conducting sales online, compared to just 55% in 2020. While some B2B businesses (roughly 10%) say they’re staying ahead of customer expectations, the majority of B2B digital experiences remain frustratingly slow as businesses continue to rely heavily on over-the-phone ordering. Now it’s a game of catch-up — and B2B merchants that can act soon will be in a better position to win.
B2B ecommerce case study: unique customer requirements
Before 2018, Yakima Chief Hops ran its B2B commerce website on a homegrown CMS with limited capabilities. Placing orders was painstakingly slow and unpredictable. Most of the time, customers had to place contracted orders through a customer service representative. If they were able to place orders through Yakima’s online portal, they still had to wait for quotes via email. The ordering process was also incredibly labor-intensive for Yakima to manage. With the industry continuing to grow, Yakima knew something had to change.
“Many brewers work around the clock, outside of normal business hours,” says Aric Gamache, VP of IT at Yakima Chief Hops. “If it’s two in the morning and they want to order hops, check their contracted inventory, or check the status of a shipment, we want to provide them with the accessibility and freedom to do so.”
“The majority of our customer base is digitally savvy and comfortable with online shopping. We wanted to better accommodate their buying habits as well as their business.”
Aric Gamache, VP of IT at Yakima Chief Hops
B2B shopping trends will remain online even after pandemic
While the pandemic certainly influenced the shift to online channels, it’s a trend that’s here to stay. McKinsey research indicates that 35% of B2B buyers are willing to spend $500,000 or more in a single transaction through remote or online sales channels. And 56% of B2B merchants say they will continue to emphasize digital experiences even when customers return to offline channels.
So, where should B2B merchants focus their efforts moving forward? When asked, 60% of marketing teams in B2B organizations reported deficiencies in 3 specific areas:
- Agility in responding to opportunities
- Collaboration with IT or technology
- Innovation in meeting customer needs
The good news is that these issues can be remedied through a digital upgrade.
Leverage digital agility to address customer and business needs: Ecommerce platforms today provide a variety of features to advance the B2B buying experience. For example, you can use progressive web applications to quickly launch a mobile-optimized storefront. Or integrate fast and personalized search functionality to make it easier for B2B buyers to find relevant products online.
On the back end, integrated B2B commerce capabilities let customers self-manage their accounts with your company. Through a self-service customer portal, you can set up multiple tiers of buyers with specific roles and permissions, track quotes and orders, define purchase approval rules, and manage their credit online.
Integration with IT or technology teams: A single unified back end — with native integrations and AI-enabled features — means fewer infrastructure woes and less overhead for IT teams. As organizations add new sales channels and storefronts to serve different customers, a single commerce platform with a unified back end allows IT teams to easily manage a growing product catalog, large orders, and traffic spikes — all while also delivering new, personalized experiences.
B2B ecommerce case study: A new B2B buying experience
While Yakima’s main goal was to make the buying experience more convenient for customers, they also wanted to cut back on labor costs by automating key aspects of the order management process. To do this, Yakima built a custom order management system and integrated it with their enterprise resource planning (ERP) and warehouse management systems to create a self-service portal.
Contracts are created in the ERP system, but they’re also visible in the ecommerce portal. Information flows back and forth automatically via custom enterprise integration services. When customers log in to the ecommerce portal, they can see contract details including negotiated pricing, remaining inventory, and consumption projections.
Today, more than 70% of all US orders are processed through Yakima’s ecommerce solution instead of directly through the ERP. This means huge labor and cost savings.
Considerations and potential roadblocks preventing B2B businesses from evolving
It’s clear that transforming digitally enables incredible opportunities, but the process isn’t without challenges. Legacy technology is one of the primary barriers holding B2B businesses back from delivering true CX innovation. In fact, 49% of executives say “poor integration between tech systems” is the biggest barrier to a great digital experience.
This impacts B2B organizations especially because data is often siloed across multiple organizations, acquisitions, and the value chain at large. B2B organizations also face greater complexity across:
- Supply chains: The pandemic has impacted the supply chain on a massive scale. Major bottlenecks are caused by a reduction in the production of goods and increased demand.
- Products (e.g., large assortments of complex SKUs): Managing a massive inventory is challenging. The more options, the more accurate search and product recommendations should be. You need to think more about categorization and navigation. As new SKUs are added in bulk, how automated is the process for uploading and updating those SKUs? Lastly, more SKUs can impact site performance and speed.
Integrating a fully digital ecommerce platform is the top B2B trend
In spite of the challenges, upgrading to a fully digital ecommerce platform provides benefits that are well worth the effort. That’s why investing or upgrading your technology foundation is a top operational priority for B2B merchants.
More merchants are investing in greater operational efficiency through automation, simplifying and standardizing their existing tech stacks, and leveraging AI — all to improve the customer experience.
The bottom line is that B2B companies must fast-track digital change — or be disrupted.
Dive into all the trends driving customer experience in 2022 in our full report, 2022 Digital Trends – B2B in Focus.