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B2B eCommerce is on the up but are B2B brands ready for the radical shift that is occurring?

Whilst B2C consumer expectations and behaviours are well understood, there is less that is widely known about the B2B shopper and their behaviours. As the generational shift in the workforce is on, Millennials and Gen Z now represent 66% of the global workforce, and this fundamentally changes how B2B brands need to engage with their buyer. As generations that grew up with digital, these buyers are digital natives, and their B2C brand experiences shape their expectations in the B2B space.  As B2C eCommerce adoption has soared over the past 5 years, so too has the appetite for B2B buyers to transact via digital, however many brands are effectively ill equipped to meet B2B shopper expectations when it comes to eCommerce.  


B2B shopping increasingly to occur online 


In 2023, the Wundermann Thomson, Future of Shopping report found that 68% of B2B buyers say that they will increase their use of digital shopping channels in the future and within 5 years (by 2028) 57% of all B2B shopping is predicted to be online.  That doesn’t just include the purchase of physical goods, it also relates to the sale of software and other solutions via eCommerce. This shift in buyer behaviour and preference of many to buy online, will supercharge the adoption of B2B eCommerce, and see many incumbent B2B brands scrambling to catch up and deliver the optimal B2B eCommerce experience to maximise growth and sales. So rapid is the shift expected to be in, that it is anticipated that B2B eCommerce will grow at a CAGR of 19.5% from 2022 to 2030 which will effectively see a near tripling of revenue worldwide from B2B eComm. 


graph showing b2b ecommerce market size from 2023 - 2030

A significant portion of this growth will come from B2B marketplaces. Whilst today, B2B marketplaces represent a small portion of overall B2B spend, from 2022 to 2023, it was estimated that sales via B2B marketplaces saw 100% growth, making marketplaces the fastest growing digital sales channel. And that growth is anticipated to continue as more marketplace players emerge in the form of vertical niche players through to the large dominant horizontal players including Amazon and Amazon-like B2B players.  


A tough road ahead as B2B brands play catch up


A recent study by Forrester found that in the US, only 13% of B2B decision-makers see e-Commerce as their primary revenue source. With B2B eCommerce still in its infancy, it is not surprising that for the vast majority, eCommerce is not the prime revenue source. But here in lies the challenge for many B2B brands.  As the rise of B2B eCommerce will be swift and fast, many brands will be caught off guard.  The numbers don’t lie — the market potential is colossal, and playing catch up to retain market share will not be easy as new entrants begin to disrupt the market.  To build capability and re-orient the organisation around eCommerce takes time and B2B brands will need to address key foundational aspects now if they are to be successful.  But what aspects must B2B brands need to lean into? 


A mess of product and customer data 


One of the biggest challenges B2B brands need to overcome – particularly within the distributor, retailers, and resellers space, is the need to overcome inconsistent, messy product data, according a 2024 study by Zoovu & Forrester. The study found, that the two most common challenges B2B brands face is highly inconsistent product data and large numbers of categories across many suppliers that don’t have good product data.  At Arktic Fox, we see first hand the challenges B2B brands are up against. For those selling via distributors, many of whom don’t have strong digital maturity – much of product data management can be manual.  Whilst suppliers to B2B brands also lack maturity and therefore don’t understand the value of digital product content.  Effective management and ongoing optimisation of product content across a B2Bs owned eCommerce channels, alongside of management of that data via third party channels is a key capability brands must master if they are to see success in B2B eCommerce.   



graph showing how organisations manage customer and product data

An added layer of pricing complexity 


One of the distinct challenges that B2B brands, also need to grapple with is the added complexity that comes with managing eCommerce in environments where preferential pricing exists. Unlike in the world of B2C, B2B often provides individual | preferential pricing for B2B buyers across industries like retail, software, manufacturing, construction and building and more. Enabling B2B buyers to be able to access their individual pricing to deliver a seamless buying experience is a real challenge for many which isn’t easy to resolve – particularly when “customer data” is not well managed and maintained within the organisation.   

 

The operating model to support B2B eCommerce 


The recent study by Zoovu & Forrester also found that sixty-five percent of respondents believe that e-Commerce is broken at their organisations. Whilst enabling buyers to transact online is one important part of equation and experience, the organisations operating model must support this new way of engaging with the market and that requires a re-think of the skills and capabilities required to thrive and sees brands needing to evolve structures and processes to effectively support this new sales channel/s.  But this unfortunately isn’t easy or doesn’t come naturally for many organisations and requires strong and brave leadership to re-engineer how the organisation operates.  

 

Going beyond sales to experience 


Many B2B organisations are built to be sales led organisations.  The sales team is the engine room of the organisation, and many functions support and enable its success. But as buyers increasingly shift to buy online, brands increasingly need to think experience first, as it is those digital experiences that will influence success and maximise conversion.  


According to the Wundermann Thompson B2B Future Shopper report, 46% of global B2B buyers say they are frustrated with buying B2B products online and 45% of global B2B buyers think that online buying is more complicated than offline.  In organisations serving B2C and B2B channels, it is not uncommon for the B2B channel to be the poor cousin to the B2C which results in an under-investment in digital experience delivery. What’s more, as I have touched on earlier, sales teams have often been the ones who deliver and shape the experience for the B2B buyer which no longer cuts the mustard.  


From personalisation to self-service and a seamless buying experience, B2B brands will need to up their game and deliver unrivalled B2B eCommerce experiences if they want to keep buyers sticky and loyal, and they must benchmark themselves not against their direct competitors, but against the best B2C eCommerce experiences that are shaping buyer expectations and needs.  

 

Need help devising your B2B eCommerce strategy? Arktic Fox partners with an array of B2B brands to drive digital transformation and accelerate eCommerce adoption.  Talk to us.  

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