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During two years of lockdowns and home working, consumers flooded online to visit their favorite stores and buy items from cherished brands. Many were doing this for the first time. Less well documented is that something similar happened in the B2B space. In fact, sales on B2B commerce sites surged by nearly 18% year-on-year in 2021, to exceed $1.6 trillion worldwide. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
Yet simply replicating a standard online store experience will no longer be enough to win buyers’ hearts and minds. In an increasingly competitive market, B2B commerce firms must deliver the engaging, exciting experiences that shoppers crave. To do so, they need to take a composable, best-of-breed approach.
Checking out the competition
It’s predicted that the North American B2B digital commerce market will surpass $4.6 trillion by 2025. But as economic headwinds gather, sellers must fight over every last customer. That means giving them what they want. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of buyers now expect a B2C-type experience, according to IDC. And with three-quarters (73%) of millennials now involved in B2B purchasing decisions, there’s surely no going back.
But what does a compelling B2C experience look like these days? It may combine brick-and-mortar and digital capabilities, like the concept of a “checkout-less” store. Popularized by Amazon Go and other grocery-sector providers, the idea is to create a seamless, friction-free buyer experience. Armed with a mobile app-based account, registered customers can access the store at any time simply by scanning their device. Items could be scanned by intelligent sensors inside the store when placed in the shopper’s basket, to create a completely checkout-free experience. Alternatively, they could be automatically scanned at the end of the purchasing journey, as per German trade store Würth 24.
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As B2B commerce providers look to carve out competitive advantage and drive efficiencies by reducing reliance on staff, we can expect to see this model replicated across the industry, especially in areas like wholesale and trade supply.
Social commerce is another fast-growing area that consumers seem to love. In fact, the U.S. live-streaming market alone is expected to reach $25 billion by 2023, according to Coresight Research. It’s all about broadening the customer base by making it possible to buy via social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Twitter. Over 40% of B2B companies see the potential in selling via social media — a figure that’s only set to grow.
Why? Because it’s increasingly what shoppers are used to. Whether they’re buying via a YouTube livestream, or hitting direct “click-to-buy” or “click-to-sign-up” links on Twitter, it’s fast, simple and allows the buyer to make purchases without needing to jump around from app to app. No wonder that social commerce has already garnered more than 4% of the total digital commerce market in the U.S.
B2B-commerce sellers should start defining their social commerce goals and expanding their marketing strategy now. By driving engagement and creating seamless purchasing opportunities on social channels, there’s a huge opportunity to increase profits and build closer relationships with their customers. Those able to create an authoritative presence in social commerce early on stand the best chance of success.
A slice of the marketplace
Finally, there’s the B2C macro-trend of online marketplaces to consider. If done right, it could supercharge growth: Research shows that 40% of U.S., UK and Australian B2B buyers intend to buy from Amazon Business in the future. A similar number say they already regularly use the marketplace as a “starting point” for purchases. But listing with Amazon would do little to grow your business — in fact, it may sideline your brand and turn it into little more than a logistics provider for Amazon.
By creating their own B2B marketplaces, enterprises can deliver more value for customers, themselves and their partners. Consider electronic component trading business Sourceability, which now sells hundreds of millions of items worldwide on its specialized marketplace. Building ecosystems like this can take time, but the rewards speak for themselves: A compelling alternative revenue stream and opportunity to build relationships directly with customers. Suppliers will flock to these marketplaces, attracted by the opportunity to reach more customers with minimal capital expenditure. And buyers get a greater product assortment, competitive pricing, easier browsing and enhanced product transparency.
The composable commerce difference
We’ve come a long way in just a few years. But there’s still a huge amount of innovation waiting to happen in the B2B digital commerce market. Often the roadblock isn’t one of vision, it is technology. Monolithic digital commerce platforms, from the likes of Salesforce and SAP, limit customers and make them conform to the vendor’s product roadmap and market strategy. Trends have come and gone by the time the incumbent giants realize they should be offering their customers more.
To unleash innovation, B2B commerce providers must look instead to composable commerce platforms which support a best-of-breed approach. This empowers them to cherry-pick features and functionality from a variety of providers, delivering the experiences their customers are demanding — when they want them, and how they want them. It’s a fast track to business agility and growth — and an opportunity to enhance the B2B experience with the best B2C has to offer.
Boris Lokschin is cofounder and CEO of Spryker Systems.
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