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B2B e-commerce is growing, but hurdles remain

Business buyers are increasingly turning to e-commerce to fill their needs, but transparency — in terms of fulfillment, inventory and shipping — remains a concern.

A new survey from e-commerce platform BigCommerce noted that 45% of B2B buyers in a Wonderman Thompson report want more transparent fulfillment information. But a BigCommerce survey found that just 22% use shipping and fulfillment software.

“Given the same people who are behind B2B orders are the same people buying things on other websites, there are post-purchase details they expect to see,” the BigCommerce report, The State of B2B Ecommerce: 2022 Trend Report, noted. “For example, an estimated delivery date. Providing this to your B2B buyers not only facilitates a B2C-like experience, but it can also impact their forecasting and revenue because now they know when they can restock the items or get them out to customers.”

BigCommerce predicts B2B e-commerce will reach $1.8 trillion by 2023, accounting for 17% of all B2B sales in the U.S. The company believes B2B e-commerce is still in its infancy. A PwC survey released in May 2021 found that businesses are starting to embrace e-commerce. The survey found that 66% of businesses said implementing digital marketing and sales over the next two years is a business priority; 40% said it is a top business challenge. Few manufacturers, though, have robust e-commerce platforms. Robert Bono, industrial manufacturing practice leader for PwC, said the challenges are nearly identical whether it is a B2B or B2C manufacturer.

BigCommerce (NASDAQ: BIGC), which is known for its e-commerce platform that allows digital commerce brands to quickly launch their online businesses, is making a push into the B2B world. The Wunderman report noted that 49% of B2B purchases are now made online and 62% of B2B buyers are looking for dedicated smartphone apps through which they can make purchases.

Advantage competitors

A 2021 Avionos report found that 90% of B2B buyers would turn to a competitor if a supplier’s digital channel couldn’t keep up with their needs.

“Right now, it’s crucial for B2B businesses to invest in their e-commerce technology. It’s no longer enough to have an online catalog or a very basic website. B2B buyers expect more,” said John McCann, director of B2B product management for BigCommerce. “They want the same experience buying on a B2B site as they do on a B2C site. This means you need a modern e-commerce platform that can make managing security and performance less resource intensive, scale with you as you grow, offer a more engaging shopping experience, and easily integrate with your existing business systems.”

The BigCommerce report dug into the world of B2B e-commerce, speaking with business leaders to gauge where they are in the journey and what they need to get there. The report found that 59% of B2B businesses are currently using headless commerce platforms (headless commerce decouples back-end systems from front-end systems, making scale easier) and intend to continue to use them.


Read: BigCommerce sees big opportunity in B2B e-commerce

Read: Millennials powering B2B e-commerce landscape

One concern that arose in the survey is whether B2B firms are moving faster than their customers. In these cases, BigCommerce suggested businesses look at moving only some of their inventory online or automating only certain portions of the transaction such as the quoting process.

“In a matter of a few clicks, customers can go through the process of adding items to a ‘quote cart’ and submitting their request,” BigCommerce’s report noted. “Once received, a sales rep can quickly reply with a quote that’s linked to the cart so that the customer can complete their order online — without any additional interactions.”

Getting customer buy-in becomes easier over time. BigCommerce’s report noted that only 24% of those businesses that had been selling online for more than 15 years consider onboarding new customers a top priority. That rises to 50% of B2Bs that have been selling online between one and three years.

All about the tech

Technology was a key theme throughout the report, with using business intelligence tools a key part of improving the e-commerce experience. The results found that 57% of respondents use business intelligence technology and another 22% utilize web analytics tools. Thirty-one percent said they intend to improve their data use to help make more informed selling decisions.

Technology can also help smooth out the B2B experience — and maybe even increase sales.

“While chatbots have long been table stakes in a B2C environment, B2Bs have been slower to adopt them,” said Sachin Wadhawan, vice president of technology partnerships at BigCommerce. “However, when a shopper experiences friction, the ability to click a button and have someone there to answer their questions can help them overcome that hurdle, or it can get them in contact with sales much earlier in their decision-making process.”

Technology is also important in ensuring products visible online are in stock. About half of B2B businesses use some sort of back-office solution, with 41% integrating inventory management systems and 35% using order management systems. Enterprise resource planning (35%) and third-party logistics (28%) companies are also popular.

The BigCommerce survey also found the importance of marketplaces and social media. Amazon’s marketplace is used by 78% of B2B businesses, followed by eBay (44%), Walmart (37%) and Alibaba (35%). On the customer side, social media is an important tool, with 46% of B2B buyers using social media to learn about available solutions/products. However, only 38% of B2B sellers are using social media as a sales channel.

BigCommerce concluded the report by noting the growing importance of e-commerce in the B2B market and urging firms to focus on technology investment, onboarding new customers and improving the overall customer experience.

Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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