There is no question that the e-commerce sector has grown by leaps and bounds in 2020. Customers may not be shopping in person as much, but they have definitely embraced buying goods and services online. This trend applies to the business-to-consumer (B2C) market as well as the business-to-business (B2B) one.
B2B e-commerce surged in 2020 as a way to help counteract the effects of global supply chain disruption and lockdowns and is predicted to continue transforming well into 2021. Many organizations began implementing the latest technologies to bring in customers, improve supply chain efficiencies, and give their clientele a more personalized user experience. In fact, by this time next year, B2B e-commerce could look a whole lot more like B2C e-commerce. And, if “everyone else is doing it,” then B2B organizations hoping to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon in 2021—or improve what they started building reactively in 2020—will need to ensure their customer experience is excellent.
Here are a few B2B e-commerce business trends that experts predict we’ll see in 2021.
1. B2B Marketplaces Are Key
Online marketplaces aren’t a new concept. Sellers have been using them for years to provide a wider selection of both suppliers and products. Now marketplaces are becoming a staple for B2B e-commerce as well. According to one study, almost 90 percent of B2B buyers are currently purchasing from online marketplaces.
B2B companies will find it critical in 2021 to have a marketplace strategy, whether that’s running their own marketplace (as many larger enterprises do) or selling on another marketplace.
Marketplaces will typically be horizontal—including products every business needs, such as resale goods and office supplies—or vertical, focused on a specific industry group and connecting suppliers to key buyers. A few select marketplaces, such as Amazon Business, work both ways. However, they are established marketplaces which have become popular with buyers because they allow businesses to see a variety of products in one place and purchase from multiple suppliers.
2. B2B That Looks Like B2C
The millennial generation—a generation that has known online shopping all its life—is quickly becoming the biggest part of the global workforce. As these employees move their e-commerce experience into the workplace, they’ll be looking for and expecting a similar online shopping experience with B2B e-commerce as they are used to with B2C. B2B e-commerce retailers who can capitalize on this popular modeling will find success with this group of buyers.
Echoing the B2C experiences means empowering B2B e-commerce shoppers with the right tools to research products and services on your site. This could include everything from cross-selling strategies that automatically recommend related products to ratings and reviews from other buyers. B2B e-commerce sellers will want to also provide self-serve “size and fit” information—detailed product information, measurements, photos, videos, even documentation—so customers can do all the research they need to make a purchase.
3. Skipping the “Middleman” with Direct-to-Consumer Sales
Different from B2C, direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales allow B2B businesses to make a larger array of product available than may typically be found in a distributor or retail location. How is DTC different? Consider a major sports brand. The brand sells to distributors and retailers so certain styles of their shoes are available in running stores, while other limited varieties are offered at a general shoe store. Still other options might be sold at a sporting goods store. Consumers purchase the brand-name shoes from a variety of B2C consumer retailers, either in person or online.
With DTC, consumers can purchase directly from the brand itself, accessing a larger selection of merchandise than would typically be available at their favorite B2C e-commerce store or retail location. While many manufacturers have kept their distance from end consumers, fostering that direct relationship now provides valuable consumer data for product testing and direct input. DTC selling runs the risk of creating channel conflict, but it is possible to manage it in a way that works for all companies across the supply chain.
4. Skip Mobile for Progressive Web Apps
Even business purchases are made on mobile devices. It might be tempting to think this means your B2B e-commerce efforts must include developing a mobile app, which can be expensive to create and manage. Instead, many businesses are turning to progressive web apps (PWAs). These web-based tools behave like mobile apps but are built using common web technologies that enable a customer to simply visit a website. For consumers who like the usability and speed of apps, a PWA will provide the same experience. At the same time, B2B businesses can focus on maintaining a single website that works on desktop, laptop, and mobile without the time, cost, and upkeep of a mobile app.
PWAs also make it easier to support remote sales teams out in the field, giving them the power to display product catalogs and even place orders for customers right then and there.
Support B2B E-commerce With the Right ERP
There’s a lot of opportunity for B2B e-commerce to grow in 2021, and businesses that stay on top of trends will have a better chance of success and stability in a still-uncertain market. Supporting B2B e-commerce, however, starts with having the right back-end software and processes to build on, such as ERPs and accounting software. The right ERP can integrate with your e-commerce platforms to help create the best possible customer experience throughout the buying process.
If you’re planning to build your B2B e-commerce presence, make sure you have a fit for purpose ERP system in place to support it. Acumatica Commerce Edition is a complete ERP solution that helps you manage orders and inventory, shipping, customer support, accounting functions, and more. It’s also scalable, which means it will continue to be a good fit as your business grows.
ASI specializes in helping business owners grow their companies. Let us help you find the right business software to support your e-commerce venture.