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What’s Behind the Consumerization of B2B eCommerce?

by Anna Ngo
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For the first time ever, U.S. companies made more sales electronically than through traditional purchasing methods like paper forms or phone calls, according to a recent report.

In 2018, three electronic channels accounted for almost $7.6 trillion, or nearly 51% of B2B sales totaling $14.95 trillion: electronic data interchange (EDI), e-procurement, and eCommerce sites and online marketplaces.

Propelled by many of the same processes as consumer online shopping, the U.S. B2B eCommerce market has grown steadily over the last handful of years and is already more than triple that of the B2C market of about $2.3 trillion. A big part of what’s driving this trend is generational: B2B buyers are getting younger and expect the B2B purchasing experience to mirror the B2C one. They’re accustomed to self-service and digital everything in their daily lives and see no reason why B2B should be any different. They want speed, access and instant gratification and they want it now.

A New Generation of B2B Buyers

Millennials (those between the ages of 21 and 36 in 2017) are currently the largest cohort in the U.S. workforce, at 56 million compared to 53 million Gen Xers. In 2014, Google reported that nearly half of all B2B buyers were millennials, a number that has only grown since. Flexible working arrangements including working remotely and hot desking are also fueling the rise of on-the-go B2B eCommerce.

While face-to-face interaction and relationship building are still important for products and services requiring complex customization or vetting by multiple stakeholders, a growing demand for online B2B channels and content is dramatically changing the business landscape. Almost 60 percent of buyers say they are likely to switch brands if their current vendor doesn’t offer an easy-to-use mobile experience. Moreover, millennials expect sellers to use digital tools and insights to create personalized buyer journeys that make it easier for them to compare brands, products and features at each stage of the sales funnel.

Blurring the Line Between Business and Pleasure

Leveraging familiar B2C technologies allows B2B buyers to track availability and price and place orders without having to go to a store or talk to a sales rep, just as they would with their personal shopping. A surprising number of other B2C eCommerce features can be adapted for B2B eCommerce, including wish lists, loyalty programs, personalization, product recommendations, single-page checkout, subscription buying and buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS).

Seventy-four percent of B2B buyers report researching half or more of their work purchases online. A whopping 93 percent prefer to buy online rather than wait for a salesperson once they’ve decided what to buy. And 70 percent of those researching B2B products and services now use video throughout the purchase path. Other in-demand B2B content includes webinars, whitepapers and podcasts.

From the Seller Side

Historically, the B2B sales experience has been about getting the best price, payment terms and volume discounts over multiple, often recurring transactions. While this baked-in complexity has made B2B businesses slower to adapt, they have become a powerful driving force in a relatively short time, due to their larger scale and longer-term customer relationships. As noted above, the B2B eCommerce market already dwarfs the B2C one, despite B2C having had at least a 10-year lead time to develop and refine eCommerce functions like ordering, payment, and sales and marketing.

Nearly 78 percent of B2B retailers have been selling online for two to five years, if not longer, and more than 80 percent who did not already have a dedicated B2B website planned to implement one within the next 24 months. Fifty-seven percent of B2B executives said that eCommerce integration, or backend technology for managing operations like inventory and customer orders, was a top technology need. There’s a good reason for that: 72 percent of B2B customers want self-service access to accounts and orders, and 64 percent want scheduled deliveries, both of which save sellers time and money while driving business volume.

Are you giving your B2B customers what they want? With Cin7’s fully integrated inventory management software and built-in B2B eCommerce portal, you can, while getting what you want as well. Run your own online store out of the box, reduce order errors, offer custom pricing and products, make reordering easy and run multiple concurrent promotions.