Oct 28, 2020 11:34 AM EDT
Emerging Trends in B2B eCommerce for 2021: What to Expect and How to Prepare
Most of us entered 2020 with high hopes and expectations, but the year turned out to be quite different. We've seen everything from unprecedented demand for cleaning products and personal protective equipment to stagnation and outright collapse in other sectors. Overall, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way B2B buyers see eCommerce - driving up the rate at which B2B organizations will sell and purchase online in 2021.
Why is B2B eCommerce Booming?
There's no denying that the pandemic has catapulted eCommerce into the spotlight. Over the long term, however, changing demographics have been giving eCommerce a steady boost. As Gen Zs, Millennials, and Gen Xs quickly become the dominant buying force; they value convenience and accessibility afforded by eCommerce websites.
In 2019, Forrester predicted that US B2B eCommerce would reach $1.8 trillion and account for 17% of all B2B sales in the US by 2023.
With numbers like these, it's clear that B2B eCommerce is slowly eclipsing brick-and-mortar sales. As long as the younger generation moves into decision-making positions and in-person interaction remains restricted, the industry will see even more need for digital transformation in 2021. Here are the most significant B2B eCommerce trends we expect to see for the upcoming year:
1. Cloud will take center stage
As technology progresses, so do customer expectations. Cloud-based eCommerce solutions are one such technology: it enables record-keeping of human touchpoints for better customer experiences. Brands can dynamically display the right content, product recommendations and offer enriched experiences.
According to a recent research on cloud trends by Flexera, more than half of respondents said they expect COVID-19 to change their cloud plans. We expect cloud to remain a crucial element of operations, helping brands drive efficiency through flexibility, wider reach, and cost-effectiveness.
2. B2B sellers will warm up to digital
A recent survey by McKinsey uncovered some striking data about B2Bs plan to adapt to the crisis. Not only 96% of respondents plan to shift their go-to-market strategy in the wake of the pandemic, but the drop of in-person sales activities is speeding up the adoption of digital selling channels. Perhaps most telling of all is that at least 80% of respondents plan on retaining this new selling model well into 2021:
The pandemic has uncovered frictions and inefficiencies for B2B sellers, buyers, and the shopping experience. Figures like these suggest that B2B sellers must prepare or revisit their digital strategies in order to stay competitive.
3. B2Bs will spend with caution
Customers are becoming more logical, strategic, and deliberate in their purchase decisions. As brands look to minimize spending and make the most of their investments, we can expect restrained spending to continue in 2021.
When asked about what would help them feel more confident about their buying decisions, respondents stated they expect more quality information from vendors. Based on research by eMarketer, 30% of B2B buyers want more accurate information, while 20% needed more confidence when making purchases. Business sellers will need to listen closely to these pain points in the coming year and readjust their marketing plans accordingly.
4. Marketplaces will grow in popularity
Whether B2C or B2B, buyers will seek out the best deal around. And, if they have one destination website to perform research, compare products, and purchase according to their payment and shipping options, using chatbot app - that's where they'll go. Amazon Business, a B2B marketplace by Amazon, is quickly dominating this market. Financial experts at RBC Capital Markets expect Amazon to grow to $31 billion business in the next few years and quintuple to $52 billion after that.
B2B marketplaces have slowly taken on a bigger role in B2B eCommerce. As buyers are reining in their spending, they are looking for a convenient digital buying experience they can come back to. Many sellers prefer to join existing marketplaces. Others seek to create their own vertical marketplaces to address niche sectors, build partnerships, or elevate their brand - and we expect this trend to continue.
5. Buyers will seek alternative channels
Buyers are more conscious of their spending than ever before, cutting down travel, restaurants, and transportation. MarketingDive estimates that 45% of consumers have changed their brand preferences during the pandemic. Customers will carefully review the brands they purchase from, where they go for these purchases, and what type of user experience they ultimately want.
As consumer mentality shifts online, B2B and B2C brands will seek out lesser-known selling models such as B2B2C and D2C. After the pandemic negatively impacted some retail and wholesale businesses, brands that focused on direct-to-consumer initiatives and were able to see growth as a result.
6. Customers will look for self-service
Since the majority of B2B buyers are already researching and analyzing products online, they expect B2B manufacturers and distributors to offer personalized product catalogs descriptions, suggestions, comparisons, and the like.
However, great content alone isn't enough. Buyers will increasingly expect the option to self-serve when it comes to placing orders. Buyers expect full control during and after their purchases, from managing negotiations or approvals to monitoring order and shipping statuses.
7. More personalization
According to Optinmonster, almost half of shoppers will spend more when presented with personalized experiences and recommendations. Irrelevant content, on the other hand, elicits negative emotions to the point of having the opposite effect on eCommerce revenue.
Millennials are driving these trends, as they already influence almost 30% of all B2B purchasing decisions. These (and younger) audiences are willing to provide personal data for the sake of personalization.
8. Voice commerce will proliferate
Amazon pioneered voice searches with Alexa, but now 25% of US adults own smart speakers capable of searching and purchasing using voice commands. A similar percentage of mobile users search Google using their voice.
Various sources estimate that over 60% of voice-activated speaker owners have bought items via voice commerce. As we move into 2021, searching for products and making purchases using voice will become much more popular. The growing technology will become more accurate, and eCommerce platforms will actively look to integrate this technology to offer their clients more ways to purchase.
9. Omnichannel will become the norm
Customers appreciate freedom and convenience when shopping, so B2B eCommerce brands experiment with multiple selling and fulfillment channels.
While many of us prefer to research, purchase, and receive items without physical interactions, others would like to shop online and pick up in-store. Others would prefer to have an in-person experience but have their purchasing experience augmented by an app.
Looking at 2021: What to Expect?
Despite COVID-19, a presidential election, trade wars, and other factors, B2B eCommerce has fared surprisingly well. Even as stay-at-home orders lifted, B2B buyers were quick to embrace digital options over in-person interactions. Consequently, we can expect to see growth not only in B2B eCommerce but B2B eCommerce solutions, too. As customer expectations rise, the role of customer-centric, intuitive solutions that streamline back-office processes will take center stage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unprecedented changes, both socially and economically. Brands that pulled back on eCommerce investments are seeing the consequences of doing nothing. Organizations that stayed on course or are heavily investing in digital technologies will be ready to capitalize on digital revenue streams. And, the longer the economic uncertainty and lockdowns continue, the more likely they'll gain a larger wallet share compared to their competitors.
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