With the global B2B e-commerce market poised to reach US$6.7 trillion by 2020, it’s not surprising that the level of growth and transformation we are seeing throughout the sector is both rapid and widespread. Some of the fastest-growing trends, which we can expect to have a significant impact on the sector over the coming months, include the following:
1. Major investment from wholesalers
Although B2C retailers have previously been the dominant force in e-commerce, the landscape is changing dramatically as more and more wholesalers, manufacturers, and other B2B companies begin to make more substantial investments in e-commerce and related technology systems. In fact, the present pace of B2B investment is such that wholesalers and manufacturers are currently on track to outspend their retail competitors on processes, interface, and infrastructure within the next few years. By 2019, as predicted by Forrester Research Inc., manufacturers and wholesalers will together account for 30% of spending on e-commerce technology (their combined spending total in 2013 was 20%), while online retailers will account for only 28% of spending (a significant drop from their spending share of 41% in 2013).
It’s important to note here that, for many of these B2B companies, this increased spending on e-commerce technology is not solely about increasing revenues. A driving factor in many of these companies’ spending decisions is the associated cost-savings benefits that come with increased online capability, including a reduced need for staff and greater ease in conducting transactions.
2. Increased focus on mobile commerce
B2B sellers are becoming increasingly aware that legacy software and infrastructure alone are no longer sufficient to meet the needs and expectations of today’s buyers. As mobile technology becomes more and more sophisticated, buyers are strongly relying on their smartphones and other mobile devices to provide an important touchpoint during the procurement process. Over half of B2B buyers already use their mobile devices to research the products and services they plan on purchasing for their jobs, and the number of buyers who go as far as completing the purchasing phase on their devices is growing.
In response to such clear statistics, B2B sellers are getting serious about boosting their mobile capacity and solidifying their omni-channel strategies. A survey conducted by Forrester in late 2014 indicated that over 40% of B2B sellers in the US were planning to invest in mobile point of service (mPOS) technology, naming that as a key priority for the future of their businesses.
3. Prioritizing the customer experience
B2C sellers have long known the importance of a positive customer experience, and while B2B sellers have been slower to catch on to this critical lesson, research shows that they are now fully aware of the need to put the buyer at the heart of their activities. The same Forrester survey mentioned previously reveals that a striking 92% of US B2B organizations agreed or strongly agreed that they needed to rethink how they approached customer service—such as by investing in initiatives that improve personalization and provide the customer, regardless of channel or touchpoint, with a consistent face—suggesting that even if B2B companies aren’t yet playing the customer service game properly right now, they will be very soon.
And that’s as it should be, because, after all, there is increasingly little difference between B2C buyers and B2B buyers. Both are individuals looking for a user-friendly experience that they can navigate easily and that will provide them with all the information and details they need to make their purchasing decisions. Simply put, in the B2B world, creating an intuitive customer experience is no longer an option, it is a necessity.
4. A shift from bespoke to mass-market e-commerce platforms
When first making the transition into e-commerce, many B2B companies created bespoke platforms for their online activities, a step which they felt gave them greater control and flexibility in meeting their customers’ needs. Now, however, these same companies are often finding that the maintenance and upgrades required to keep these custom platforms current can be a major drain both on time and on financial resources.
The alternative, which is being embraced by a growing number of companies, is the adoption of open-source systems that come complete with out-of-the-box functionality. A large number of these platforms have been developed in recent years, and what they sometimes lack in personalization or adaptability, they tend to make up for in ease of use and maintenance, cost, and accessibility. Usage of these platforms amongst B2B companies, particularly smaller or new businesses, is expected to increase significantly in the years ahead, with older bespoke platforms gradually being weeded out over time.