5 eCommerce Trends for B2B Companies To Watch in 2016

By
Sarah Leung
July 17, 2015

According to Forrester, in just three years, wholesalers and manufacturers will outstrip retailers in eCommerce technology investments, accounting for 30% of total spending (up from 20% in 2013). Online retailers, meanwhile will have a projected 28% share in these investments, down from 41% in 2013. B2B eCommerce is more than a buzzword, and it’s going to be bigger in wholesale than it is in retail. In this list of B2B ecommerce trends for 2016, we’ll go over recent trends in eCommerce for businesses––wholesalers, manufacturers, and distributors.

eCommerce Trends for B2B to Watch

1. B2B ECOMMERCE IS GOING MOBILE.

While this trend has long shown up on lists like this, 2016 is the year you’re actually going to see its impact. According to Shopify, mobile now outranks desktop in eCommerce traffic volume (a fact that can partially be attributed to another trend that we’ve already discussed on this blog: social commerce). As mobile eCommerce becomes more and more commonplace in the B2C world, it’s quickly trickling into B2B as well. People are doing more business on smartphones and tablets, making mobile a crucial eCommerce channel in 2016 and beyond. According to Forrester, 52% of B2B buyers are doing product research with their smartphones, and if they’re using their phones to search for products, browse catalogs, and read reviews, you can be sure they will also be looking for an intuitive, convenient mobile experience with which to purchase those products. So what does this mean for B2B companies, wholesalers and distributors? Here are some initiatives to consider:

  • If you haven’t already, be sure to mobile-optimize your website. This will also have a significant impact on your search engine rankings.
  • Incorporate mobile into your B2B eCommerce strategy with a native mobile experience. It’s not enough to simply offer a mobile web version of your wholesale portal.

2. WHOLESALERS AND OTHER B2B COMPANIES ARE TESTING THE WATERS WITH ONLINE MARKETPLACES.

In general, B2B eCommerce can be broken down into two distinct models: Direct and Marketplace. In the Direct model, a company has its own B2B webstore, and their customers can log in and place orders with them directly. The Marketplace model, on the other hand, involves selling goods alongside other vendors. Amazon’s new wholesale marketplace, Amazon Business, is one example. According to an article in Internet Retailer, “a new crop of e-marketplaces” is luring “manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors with promises of new markets and growth—but they can also represent tough new competition for companies that sit on the sidelines.” Indeed, with the knowledge that B2B eCommerce is a necessary initiative, but little idea how to build their own eCommerce engines, many wholesalers and distributors are turning to Amazon Business and other marketplaces as possible new sales channels. There is an understandable amount of unease around this trend however. In the article, the VP of Marketing at one wholesale company is quoted saying, “It’s almost like sleeping with the enemy. And the biggest and scariest is Amazon.”

3. SAAS IS LOWERING BARRIERS TO ENTRY, AND INTEGRATION IS KEY.

Coming off the last point, it’s important to note that more and more B2B companies are taking advantage of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions to bypass the competitive, price-cutting environment of marketplaces like Amazon Business. Integrated B2B eCommerce solutions that also include digital order writing for field sales, automated order sync and integrations with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are allowing wholesalers to not just sell their goods to retailers online, but also streamline the entire order management process. These solutions are also allowing businesses to implement their own “Direct” wholesale portals with relative ease and speed. According to Forrester Analyst Andy Hoar, this kind of agility is crucial. At the recent Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, he said, “You need to move quickly and integrate quickly. If you’ve got a system where you’re doing waterfall development and things take a year to turn around, that’s not going to cut it anymore.” These integrated systems have already been shown to be very important for B2B eCommerce sales. According to a study by the Aberdeen Group called “Steps to Success In B2B eCommerce,” companies that integrate their B2B webstores with their back office systems perform better than those who don’t. On a basic level, these kinds of software integrations allow companies to include data like inventory levels, customer-specific pricing, and order history on their sites; B2B buyers often find this information necessary to make purchase decisions. According to the Aberdeen Group, B2B companies with integrated systems saw visitor-to-buyer conversion rates of over 20% and an 8.3% reduction in shopping cart abandonment. These companies also saw significantly more annual revenue, cross-sell and upsell revenue, and return on marketing investments than those without an integrated B2B eCommerce system.

4. B2B BUYERS ARE ACTUALLY SPENDING MORE ONLINE.

According to “The Case for Channel-Shifting Offline Customers Online,” a report released by Forrester a few weeks ago, B2B buyers who interact with multiple channels (e.g. field sales reps, online webstores, a mobile eCommerce site, etc.) spend more than those who only purchase from a single channel (traditionally field sales). 60% of companies surveyed reported that customers spend more overall with an omnichannel sales strategy. It was also discovered that customers who buy both offline and online are also more likely to try new products and become repeat customers over the long term.

5. CONTENT IS CRITICAL TO THE B2B ONLINE SALE.

It’s no secret that content is important to B2B. B2B buyers want detail. They want product specs, rich media and high resolution product images, and merchandising guidelines. These details help build trust and rationalize purchases. This opens up a lot of opportunity for wholesalers and distributors to better educate their customers about products, as well as to maintain a more continuous flow of interaction between brand and retailer––notifying them of new products, promotions, and available training materials. How does your business plan to respond to these eCommerce trends? Do you have other industry trends or forecasts to share? Let us know in the comments.