B2B eCommerce Trends
Research report on how selfservice portals are transforming the B2B eCommerce market
The common perception of eCommerce in D2C is of a webshop. But for B2B companies, "eCommerce" is more likely to be used in reference to a portal or self service tool, frequently known as "customer portals" or "dealer portals".
This has resulted in a situation where B2B eCommerce tools often aren’t recognised as "traditional" eCommerce solutions.
Getting the most out of eCommerce systems has become hugely important for businesses in recent years, particularly for business to business (B2B) organizations. In some circles, a myth persists that eCommerce is somehow a niche pursuit for B2B companies, but it is becoming increasingly evident that this view is inaccurate and outdated.
Online purchasing models are now widely adopted in people’s personal lives across geographies and cultures, largely due to the likes of Amazon and eBay normalizing digital business to consumer (D2C) interactions over the last 20 years. Following this, the merits of eCommerce have been recognized by B2B organizations as decision makers look to replicate the benefits of online purchasing in a professional capacity. Clearly, companies have much to gain from B2B eCommerce investment. The global B2B market is significantly larger than its D2C counterpart, and the proportion of B2B eCommerce sales is on the rise: Forrester has predicted that US B2B eCommerce will hit $1.8 Trillion by 2023, accounting for 17% of all US B2B sales.*
The growth of B2B eCommerce has also been fueled by the pandemic, with companies reporting a 33% increase in eCommerce sales today vs. pre COVID-19 on average. The aim of producing this report is to discover exactly how eCommerce is providing value to B2B organizations: specifically around how platforms are currently used, investment plans for the future and customer/supplier relationships. In turn, this insight will empower decision makers who haven’t yet explored eCommerce in detail to come to an educated decision about exactly what it can offer their B2B organization in 2022 and beyond.
*Forrester Research Report, US B2B eCommerce Will Hit $1.8 Trillion By 2023, January 28th, 2019.
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This research was conducted among 430 mid to enterprise sized companies in the US and Europe with revenue of $21M or more. At an overall level, results are accurate to ± 4.7% at 95% confidence limits assuming a result of 50%.
The interviews were conducted online by Sapio Research in February 2022 using an email invitation and an online survey.
eCommerce holds value for B2B businesses
Do you currently have an eCommerce customer self-service portal used, for instance, for invoice management, returns and order history? Select one.
eCommerce platforms are delivering demonstrable value for B2B organizations. The online approach to sales is well established:
Almost two-thirds (62%) of B2B businesses currently have an eCommerce customer self-service portal. And for those that do make use of eCommerce platforms, the majority of their revenue (52%) is generated in this way.
The relatively rapid rise of eCommerce platforms, already becoming the key revenue driver for B2B companies that have adopted them, should serve as a beacon for those that have yet to do so. Clearly, implementation brings tangible results – either through adding a new line of business or optimizing existing ones.
What benefits do you look for in B2B eCommerce? Select all that apply
Two key benefits stand out for the majority:
The cost reduction associated with increased efficiency.
The advantage of better customer service appears to be more pronounced for companies operating in 2-4 countries (35%) compared to those that sell in 5-10 (26%). This could potentially indicate that eCommerce portals can allow growing companies to match or even surpass the customer service standards of their larger rivals. But most likely, it suggests that more internationally established companies already have high levels of confidence in their existing customer service capabilities, so the key value of eCommerce lies elsewhere for them.
Furthermore, providing better customer service is much more sought after by larger organizations (41% of those with 10,000+ employees vs. 22% of those with 20 – 99).
Overall, however, a wide range of benefits were given a significant weighting:
reduced burden on
sales representatives is significant
cite automating and digitizing business processes
|Along with the
ability to tap into marketplaces (21%)
and expand geographically (20%)
With such a range of potential positive outcomes that B2B organizations can look to achieve through eCommerce, it is almost guaranteed that there is something to be gained for companies of any size, across all industries and locations.
But this is even more demonstrable for businesses selling via an omnichannel model, where a corporate website, online marketplaces, industry-specific outlets such as print catalogs and dealer/distributor-specific websites must all be managed and synchronized. Ecommerce can ease the burden of multifarious processes for these omnichannel operators – customer specific pricing policies, complex configurations (e.g heavy equipment, tooling machines and vehicles that are custom built for individual customers), managing payments and invoices online, to name just a few.
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Wholesalers and distributors also win
You said that you have an eCommerce self-service portal. What are the benefits you hear most from your users? Select all that apply
Of those who currently have an eCommerce self-service portal, almost half (46% and 44%) say that the two main distributor advantages of having an eCommerce portal are the ability to manage orders 24/7 and ease of doing business.
Round-the-clock order management becomes even more important as company size increases, presumably due to the logistical hurdles of a correspondingly larger customer base, and the potential to be working across different time zones – 62% of companies with 10,000+ employees identified this as the key benefit, vs. 34% of those with 500-999 employees.
This ability to continuously log, track and process orders from across the globe provides a significant advantage in terms of smooth fulfillment and a positive customer experience.
Additional benefits commonly identified by distributors include:
- Better negotiated price (32%)
- Improved dealer to original equipment
manufacturer (OEM) relationships (31%)
The benefit of improved dealer to original equipment manufacturer (OEM) relationships is especially pronounced for organizations that sell exclusively in their home country (37%, compared to 25% of those that sell in 5-10 other countries).
From the distributor perspective, the ability to negotiate better pricing is due to the more accurate, real-time forecasts of stock requirements (often across multiple locations) that eCommerce platforms allow them to share with suppliers. These forecasts make it easy to demonstrate exactly how much of a product will be required and when, whilst alleviating the need for suppliers to sift through multiple spreadsheets or faxes to access this information, reduces burden on suppliers and consequently facilitates a more favorable deal for distributors.
It allows distributors to be more nimble by decreasing the likelihood of ordering too much stock from suppliers and being lumbered with the associated storage and maintenance costs.
How B2B companies are using eCommerce
Do you use the portal for sales representative assisted selling?
Of those who currently have an eCommerce self-service portal, over half (54%) already use their eCommerce portal for sales representative assisted selling, whilst a further 29% intend on introducing it in the future.
Our findings make it clear that, despite the prevalence of eCommerce platforms in B2B companies, they aren’t being used to replace the roles of the sales team. In fact, they have become a vital tool to augment sales professionals’ capabilities.
Assisted selling is a point of sale strategy where a representative can contact potential cutomers directly in order to offer advice and mitigate doubts – thereby encouraging sales and increasing conversion rates.
This makes sense – offering customers multiple touchpoints that they can interact with during the purchase process allows them to select the most appropriate one for each individual stage or query. This is particularly valuable in a B2B context where products and services can be more complex. Whilst sometimes it may be most effective to speak with a human, eCommerce platforms could be more useful or efficient in others.
Sales teams are also able to take advantage of eCommerce platforms themselves. Insights into customer browsing behavior, purchasing history and order tracking allows them to adopt a personalized approach to individual organizations and buyers. For example, if the sales team is able to establish that a particular customer has already purchased product ‘X’, and browsing data shows that they have shown interest in a related product (‘Y’), it could be a good time for sales to call the customer and talk them through the various merits of ‘Y’.
In addition, inventory management tools can help to keep customers abreast of the fulfillment process, providing a higher overall standard of experience.
eCommerce facilitates online marketplace trading
Do you sell on online marketplaces? Select one
Those that sell on online marketplaces were asked which of the following marketplace(s) they sell on (select all that apply).
* the following brands were shown to respondents across all countries unless specified due to geographical availability:
- (US only) Walmart
- (Europe Only) Zalando
- (Europe Only) Asos
- (UK only) Fruugo
Overall, 44% of B2B companies make use of online marketplaces. But most interestingly, 60% of businesses that use online marketplaces do so alongside an eCommerce self-service portal, compared to just 17% that don’t.
There is a strong correlation between B2B organizations that sell via online marketplaces and those that use eCommerce self-service portals. This clear correlation indicates that self-service eCommerce portals can make online marketplace usage more effective for B2B companies – helping them to extract the maximum value from doing so. Online marketplaces are a growing area of interest for these organizations, with over one third (36%) of companies that don’t currently use them planning to do so in the future. It’s reasonable to expect a concurrent rise in eCommerce portal adoption in the future as a result.
In terms of the specific platforms used, Amazon is currently the most popular by far. 63% of online marketplace sellers use the platform, followed by eBay (41%) and Walmart* (26%). The advantages Amazon offers both in terms of its global popularity and extensive international presence are clearly at play here, as evidenced by the 71% of platform users who sell in 5-10 other countries using it, compared to 48% who only sell domestically.
As online marketplace adoption increases across B2B organizations, especially in terms of creating and managing a presence across multiple marketplaces, so does the difficulty and demand on resources in terms of updating product information, content and inventory across these platforms. eCommerce portals can hugely ease this burden by allowing for this data to be inputted and synchronized in a centralized repository, vastly reducing the time and potential for human error associated with providing complex information on multiple fronts.
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Self-service portals enhance mobile eCommerce
Does your business currently offer customers the ability to conduct eCommerce transactions through their mobile device? Select one
63% of B2B companies currently offer customers the ability to conduct eCommerce transactions through their mobile device – but this increases to 80% among those that currently use an eCommerce self-service portal.
In an age where workers are far more likely to be travelling across various locations and conducting business globally, rather than simply parked at a desk, on-the-go purchasing via mobile could be the difference between receiving an order and not.
Our findings suggest that companies which recognize the future of B2B transactions will be mobile are also the ones that are a step ahead with eCommerce self-service portals, using them to complement the capabilities of mobile.
eCommerce portal usage
Do you currently sell directly to your end customers, or do you have any plans to do so in the future? Select one
eCommerce portal usage is also clearly linked to a much larger shift in the operational models of B2B organizations. 45% of businesses currently sell products to end users via a direct to consumer (D2C) model. Among those that don’t already, a further 41% have plans to start doing so in the next 1 to 5 years.
If these projections become reality, the vast majority (86%) of B2B companies could be using this model by 2027. This lends further credence to the argument that eCommerce presence is more than a growth opportunity for B2B businesses – it’s a prerequisite to keep up with competitors and catch early adopters of effective new business models, methods and trends.
The birth and subsequent growth of online shopping sparked the initial boom in D2C companies, but it seems that eCommerce platforms could be the catalyst for the next wave of this evolution. Of the companies that currently sell D2C, more than half (54%) also use an eCommerce self-service portal, compared to just 30% that don’t.
This disparity indicates that eCommerce is a key link in a process that can revolutionize the way B2B companies operate – massively simplifying logistics, reducing timeconsuming and costly returns processing, increasing efficiency and most importantly, profitability.
The future of B2B eCommerce
Looking at your investment plans for eCommerce in the coming year, what are your spending plans? Select one
How do companies themselves expect their eCommerce portal usage to develop going forward? The short term outlook is very positive, with the majority (52%) expecting an increase in spending this year, based on their investment plans. A further 26% expect their investment level to stay the same, and only 8% are predicting a decrease.
Of the small minority of companies that are predicting a decrease in spending, a significant proportion are those with higher turnovers (45% with a $101M + turnover, compared to just 19% with $21M – 100M turnover). This suggests that larger companies that have been investing in eCommerce for a longer period of time are now looking to consolidate their costs due to the addition of too many disparate
systems over time.
On the other hand...
What are your main reasons behind your eCommerce investment plans? Select all that apply
Smaller companies are ramping up their eCommerce spending to compete with the larger organizations and the growing demand from their customers to provide online self-service, and expanding their market reach through additional sales channels like marketplaces. All of which represents even more evidence to reinforce the in-demand nature of eCommerce.
The joint most popular reasons that B2B companies give for planning additional investment are reducing the cost of doing business/selling, and improving customer satisfaction (both 27%). This is consistent with the most popular overall benefits of eCommerce that respondents selected, adding further credence to the insight.
Additional eCommerce investment is also attributed to:
Taking the next step in
from online channels.
Supporting new sales
strategies such as D2C.
Providing accurate info
to various marketplaces
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Adding a PIM to the data map
Do you plan on investing in a PIM (Product Information Management) system to manage product information in a centralized repository and feed product information to marketplaces, eCommerce sites, retail, print, distribution and wholesale? Select one
One specific, relatively new area of eCommerce that is attracting high levels of interest from an investment perspective is product information management (PIM) systems.
54% of B2B companies plan on investing in a PIM system to manage product information, whilst a further 15% already have one in place.
When looking exclusively at those organizations with a self-service eCommerce portal implementation, the percentage of PIM users rises to 71%. Again, the link between selfservice portals and other advantageous eCommerce tools is made clear. The regional disparities are also relatively significant: 73% of companies in the Netherlands plan to invest in PIM, compared to just 37% in the UK.
This suggests a lack of awareness about the benefits of PIM (the ability to manage product information in a centralized repository and feed product information to marketplaces, eCommerce sites, retail, print, distribution and wholesale) from a British perspective. In fact, our research bears this out. Lack of familiarity is the main reason organizations gave for not looking to invest in PIM, applying to almost half (48%).
The benefits of PIM
What are the main reasons why you are looking to invest in a PIM? Select all that apply
The advantages of PIM systems are clearly reported by the B2B organizations that are using them. Of those that plan on using a PIM system, ensuring full control of product data/delivering accurate information is the most important benefit, selected by 34%.
Ability to manage product data across sales channels (33%) is the next most popular
reason, whilst over a quarter of companies also identify quicker time to market with
new products (30%), managing product information centrally (29%), and being able to work with related products more easily (29%).
PIM systems provide a centralized repository for product information, including marketing content, data and specifications, imagery and much more – in short, all the information a customer needs to make an informed purchasing decision.
They also enrich the use of back-end business systems such as enterprise resource
planning (ERP), which typically only store limited product information. All of which helps to standardize the customer experience across platforms, ensure a high level of information accuracy and even use customer insights to make targeted recommendations and/or encourage repeat purchases.
For example – if a customer needs to make an order of motocross bike handles, imagery alone will not be enough to enable this purchase. They will need to see a full product specification, images, videos and explanatory text in order to be convinced that the handles are right for their motorbikes. More of that information that is easily accessible, the more likely that a purchase will be made.
But a purely functional description sells the full value of PIM short. According to a blog post written by Forrester Senior Analyst Amanda LeClair, “The mandate to support product experience continues to grow in prominence within the PIM world…great product experiences are the why; managing product data is part of the how.”
eCommerce & customer relationships
What problems motivate you to invest in B2B eCommerce? Select all that apply
The effect that eCommerce portals can have on improving organization/customer relationships is another motivating factor for B2B companies looking to adopt them. But what, specifically, matters most? Enabling customers to access their account 24/7 is the most important benefit on offer, according to 35% of organizations.
The constantly evolving state of the market is another. Keeping up to speed with changing circumstances is a significant factor for almost one third (32%). Improving overall customer service, providing the services modern consumers expect and delivering on market demands are all mentioned by 29%.
eCommerce portals also improve customer experience by providing an additional (potentially more convenient) channel for them to order through. Email is still the most common channel through which organizations receive orders (38%), followed by phone (34%) – but sales representatives and eCommerce portals provide a very significant numberof orders at joint third (25%).
Other areas of improvement from a customer experience perspective that B2B organizations plan to prioritize in the next three years include expanded payment methods, loyalty programs and assisted selling (all highlighted by 30%).
eCommerce Portals and The Future of B2B
It’s clear from our research that the benefits of eCommerce portals for businesses are wide-ranging and ever increasing, with better customer service and increased efficiency being the most valued. A best-of-suite approach is a widely considered alternative to best-of-breed solutions, potentially due to the seamless integration and flexibility it offers – 59% of respondents said they would prefer a best of suite approach or have no preference.
eCommerce portals are being used to enable sales assisted selling, building on a traditional approach. They also facilitate online marketplace trading, allowing companies to maximize the return on a growing trend. The popularity of eCommerce portals is also explained by a broader operational shift towards a D2C model for many companies, with platforms acting as a key facilitator for this (and the significant benefits it can offer).
Clearly then, the implementation of eCommerce portals offers many positives and few negatives for B2B organizations. This no-brainer, win-win status is reflected in the fact that spending is likely to increase next year for many, and specifically in the area of product information management, where data control and accuracy are particularly prized.
24/7 access for customers is another key factor in eCommerce portal success, as it facilitates keeping up with customer expectations and improving org/customer relationships. On the supplier side, organizations are also seeing the value of better relationships, coupled with better prices and a general ease of doing business. Looking ahead, the prospects for B2B companies with savvy eCommerce implementation are bright.
In fact, despite an outdated view persisting amongst some B2B companies that eCommerce adoption is “not for them”, the opposite is true – its wide-ranging benefits mean that eCommerce has become a necessity for all B2B organizations in order to stay competitive.
Dynamicweb offers a cloud based eCommerce suite.
We enable customers to deliver better digital customer experiences and to scale ecommerce success through our Content Management, Digital Marketing, Ecommerce, and Product Information Management solutions.