The B2B landscape is changing fast. Nowadays, many B2B retailers rely on ecommerce for processing orders and assisting with day-to-day business operations. There are several reasons that B2B has taken off online, with endless opportunities for companies to increase their revenue and acquire new customers.
Whilst B2B has existed online for over 20 years, it was primarily designed to operate as more of an online catalogue. For years, buyers spent hours downloading and uploading order forms, placing orders over the phone and even faxing completed order sheets (yes…quite medieval). In a space that was once very manual and clunky, B2B entrepreneurs nowadays expect convenience, and are much more digitally agile.
Almost 75% of B2B buyers would opt to buy online rather than through a sales representative. They’d rather not deal with an actual person, but get their transactions moving more efficiently, and, in many cases securely, by placing an online order. While this may sound a little cold hearted, it saves businesses a lot of time and money. For those looking further down the line, when it comes to scaling your business, you’ll be grateful you relied on technology. It’s much more straightforward to adapt and enhance your website as your grow, rather than recruit and train new workforces.
In this article, we'll discuss the pros and cons of B2B e-commerce.
Advantages of B2B ecommerce
As B2B companies begin to tap into the ecommerce industry, they'll find it's crawling with opportunities. It’s not as easy to grasp as B2C (business to customer) transactions, but its potential is predicted to double the size of B2C. We’ve all participated in the B2C ecommerce boom, and there’s no doubt that B2B will do the same. B2B ecommerce is predicted to reach $1.2 trillion and account for 13.1% of all B2B sales in the US by 2021.
Bigger Order Values
There’s an inviting chair at the table for online B2B players. Not only is it a growing space, but one with a big average order value, too. The very nature of B2B deals involves mass orders or bulk buying, so you can expect to see some hefty numbers (hundreds or thousands of a single item) on your order sheets if successful. You can also expect higher conversion rates too, considering customers’ intent to buy is much higher than on most B2C sites.
Streamlined supply chain management
We’re living in a digital age, in which B2B is not exempt. B2B businesses have transformed supply chain management with the use of advanced software, so that processes are streamlined and efficient. Automated tools can submit your orders, notify warehouses and process transactions for you. As a bonus, your entire customer fulfilment process will be sped up. Most B2B merchants have integrated cloud-based platforms to correlate stock information, warehouse inventory and customer orders and returns. Check out this article for more info on choosing an inventory management system as an e-commerce retailer. Moreover, you’re reducing your risk of error when using technology to align your operations, stock and transactions. Now, businesses are able to use their staff to create more innovative lead generating campaigns.
It’s trackable and more secure
One of the reasons B2B has so much potential for growth stems from the fact that digital marketers are able to track their progress in the field. Business owners with data-driven approaches are able to adjust their websites in the same way as those working in the B2C industry. The most successful B2B contenders will optimise their sites to drive customer acquisition. B2B could also be seen as more stable than a B2C business strategy, with less dramatic ups and downs because of on-going contracts and steady forecasting measures.
What are the challenges of B2B ecommerce?
There’s a limit…
The clue’s in the name: business-to-business. B2B sales have more of a limited reach considering the deals occur solely between businesses, thus the buying pool isn’t as open as B2C. You’ve also got to take into consideration that whilst average order values are much higher in the B2B space, it’s much harder to secure these deals and generate long lasting relationships. It can also be a really difficult game for small and medium sized business, as each individual wholesaler is crucial to your bottom line: the loss of one long standing partnership could be detrimental to your revenue sheets. Imagine you’re a supplier of clothes for 5 different businesses, each ordering thousands of items every quarter. If one of these wholesalers goes bust and pulls out, your bottom line will suffer directly. Finding a new customer to make up for it won’t be easy, or quick.
B2B customers require a different user experience
B2B buyers’ attitudes have changed immensely, and they’re all looking for a straightforward, digital experience when it comes to trading. According to a McKinsey survey, 86% percent of respondents chose self-service tools when restocking, rather than consulting with a sales rep. It’s great to invest in technology for your B2B website, preparing it so that it’s intuitive, making scaling easier further down the track. The most successful B2B enterprises have developed user-friendly, self-serving ecommerce sites. Buyers will be used to a certain ease of navigation because of websites like Amazon: a global player whose online shopping experience has paved the way for ecommerce display and usage.
Product information and quantities
The quality of your product information and descriptions is even more crucial in the B2B industry. B2B customers will also be seeking some the brains behind the product as much as the product themselves, so thought leadership content is really effective on B2B ecommerce sites. Buyers also require a lot of information and flexibility with quantities to be convinced to part with their money. Some features that will really help your user experience and customer journey include:
- Drop downs, easily adjustable quantities: unit, price, weight, pallet etc. at checkout, so your buyer can complete their transaction journey uninterrupted, without exiting the page
- On/off switch or toggle at checkout for VAT options
- Provide the option for a guest checkout
- Product reviews and testimonials.
Wholesale setups are complex
Buyers will push for, and in some cases expect to be offered certain discounts relating to the size and frequency of their orders. Ecommerce is a difficult place for negotiations, and businesses that fear they’ll lose an important partnership might find themselves losing online business more easily than offline, or chasing rock bottom prices.
Are you seeking advice to start your B2B e-commerce store? Elkfox are Shopify experts with expert knowledge on optimising and measuring your ecommerce site to improve traffic and increase conversions. For more information, get in touch with us!