Traditionally, the online shopping experience has been dominated by the B2C market. In the early days of ecommerce, companies rushed to sell books, shoes and toys to consumers. But fewer websites were selling tractors, spare parts or restaurant supplies. The B2B market has been much more difficult to transition online as it involves more decision makers, more complex processes, and at times, intricate supply chain logistics. Many companies started their technology evolution with spending on enabling “back end” solutions as opposed to shopping “front end” solutions. But the times, they are a changing. The expectations for B2B have gone beyond those of B2C and companies and those hoping to remain competitive in the ecommerce world will need to up their game.
The pace of growth in B2B ecommerce has quickened in recent years. Several research reports point to a shift between 2012 and 2014. Sales growth has been steady ever since with analysts predicting ecommerce sales will be about $1.2 trillion by the end of by 2021. These past results and future projections are having an impact on B2B investment dollars. In 2018, Digital Commerce 360 reported less than 50% of business to business companies had an ecommerce site, but by this year, “70% of those without a B2B ecommerce site will have one.” The same research showed that one-third of these companies planned to increase their ecommerce spending between 10-25% and more than half of the companies planned to spend on both enabling technology and B2B ecommerce website design.
Changes in B2B Customer Expectations
One thing is for sure…businesses are made up of people. And these people, in their personal lives, are online consumers. It’s no surprise that the push for the B2B market to go online is born out of the expectations built by the B2C experience. In fact, in a study by Salesforce, 65% of business buyers (vs. 50% of consumer buyers) prefer digital channels over traditional channels.
The aging of Millennials, and the positions they hold in the business world, is one explanation for the increasing importance of B2B ecommerce sites. Their professional habits and processes most certainly follow their personal ones, impacting expectations for research, user experience, customer service, and so much more.
And it’s no surprise that these Millennials (and many of their GenX colleagues) are using mobile in B2B sales for research and purchases. Frost & Sullivan reported that 91% of the searches that B2B buyers perform are on a mobile device and 25% of their purchases are via mobile.
The rise in research online is also related to the trend in self-service in B2B purchasing. The majority of business buyers would prefer to do their own research and not have the sales representative be their primary source of information. This represents a distinct shift in the selling process and the need for greater content available to buyers as they research online. This shift also signifies the need for a B2B ecommerce platform with strong SEO capabilities so that content can be found.
Business buyers are setting the bar high, even higher than consumers. According to Salesforce, 80% of business buyers expect companies to be using technology to make their online experience better. Moreover, 78% of business buyers, vs. only 62% of consumers, agreed with the statement, “The way a company uses technology indicates how they operate in general.” This means that being tech-savvy in all areas of a business can not only boost a company’s revenue, but it can also boost their brand image and overall credibility. Technology investment is no longer an IT issue; it’s relevant to every element of business strategy.
Criteria for the Best B2B Ecommerce Platforms
The growth in B2B ecommerce is clear. But what do business buyers want in their online shopping experience? Much can be learned from the experiences of the B2C market. But, choosing a solution that is flexible and customizable can go a long way toward meeting the unique needs of your B2B market.
First and foremost, business buyers want easy access to information. Transparency is key. The vast majority expect to find what they need from a B2B ecommerce website in three clicks or less. That means that sites should be easy to navigate; content and product information should be relevant and robust. Images and product specifications are crucial, especially when products are technical.
Pricing is also in demand. In fact, 73% of B2B buyers seek pricing information from company websites so pricing should also be readily available. In today’s environment, companies that don’t feature pricing information may not get a shot at the sale.
Shipping information is critical too—both the speed and the price. Order tracking and email communications are key to helping businesses plan and allowing them to meet their customer deadlines. And, businesses cannot escape the infatuation with free shipping in both the B2B and B2C space.
Using (or switching to) a robust B2B ecommerce platform can be a solution for a company that is looking to transact more online. The right platform will have plenty of built-in features to allow for future growth. Scalability is important so that your software doesn’t hold your business back from participating in the fast pace of B2B ecommerce trends. Extensive SEO tools will allow business buyers to find your products through the search engines. Pricing options such as the ability to quote or customer-specific rates allows your online process to mirror the offline one. Inventory tracking and integrations with multiple shipping options will enable your fulfillment and make your business more efficient. We recommend our platform eCommerceCart. It has 450 built-in features, many specific to a B2B ecommerce website.
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