The B2B eCommerce market is projected to reach $1.18 trillion domestically by 2021, more than double the size of the B2C eCommerce market and accounting for 13.1% of all B2B sales. With eCommerce, B2B companies can leverage many of the benefits already being enjoyed by B2C companies, including automation of the ordering process, greater ease of customized orders, and availability of customer data in real time. However, B2C is poised to disrupt B2B by taking over the eCommerce arena, a space which it is better equipped to handle.
Using their online engagement prowess, B2C companies may upset the burgeoning B2B eCommerce market by disrupting supply chains traditionally dominated by long-term contracts and personal relationships. This fast-growing market has caught the attention of many B2C companies considering B2B expansion plays. Bringing their sophisticated marketing arsenals and fast-paced sales processes, B2C companies pose a significant threat to B2B eCommerce—and will win out if B2B companies fail to update their technology and integrate customer data insights.
To create the datasets needed to analyze customer characteristics and spot opportunities in purchasing patterns, B2B companies will need to invest in technology and systems upgrades –which can take years to complete. By focusing on software upgrades and integration, personalized service, and value chain forays from B2C, B2B businesses can take advantage of the eCommerce market while fending off B2C competition.
1. Software Upgrades and Integration
Outdated software and disconnected data are major obstacles to building an eCommerce data foundation. Manufacturers typically rely on multiple eCommerce legacy systems that lack integration with additional platforms and provide limited visibility into streamlining opportunities. While managing IT upgrades by moving company data to the cloud may help, this process can take up to three years to complete.
One way companies can update their systems and simplify customers’ buying experiences now is by integrating the company’s eCommerce system to its ERP (“enterprise resource planning”) software. This software holds the principal operations system, including manufacturing, fulfillment, shipping, customer data, and accounting. Integrating eCommerce to ERP can streamline online ordering systems, display products in stock and how soon they will ship, aid in managing multiple warehouses, and more. To do this, companies should define the data to be included in the integration, map customer registration workflow, build a data migration plan, and to plan for the worst by addressing how the site would function independently if the ERP system went down.
2. Personalizing Service
Many B2B companies lack the resources to deliver an eCommerce experience that can compete with what buyers have come to expect from B2C. B2B firms especially struggle to match one of B2C’s most recognizable eCommerce features: free shipping. As Amazon continues to dominate eCommerce across B2B (via Amazon Business) and B2C, it is estimated free shipping cost Amazon $7.2 billion in 2016. Smaller companies like Radial, a firm that handles the online orders for warehouses and stores, have stopped trying to match Amazon’s shipping prices. Instead, they focus on customer service and omnichannel approaches to keep buyers happy. B2B companies should keep in mind ways to personalize their eCommerce approach as part of the whole customer experience.
In addition, B2B companies can make good use of customers’ online behaviors to drive sales. By using big data to better understand their customers and make market predications, companies can personalize marketing and sales efforts to increase their conversion rates. Collecting data from social networks, CRM applications, marketing tools, and inventory records helps companies identify customers’ ages, demographics, communication behaviors, and media preferences, allowing for a tailored marketing strategy based on specific characteristics.
3. “Single-stack” eCommerce Approach
B2B companies can adopt a “single-stack” approach to eCommerce, unifying into one platform their website, CRM, financials, inventory and order management, and warehousing. B2B sellers using this platform have already reaped benefits like improved customer acquisition and satisfaction and more accurate inventory and fulfillment processes. To implement this approach, companies should focus on five key steps: adopting customer-centric commerce; running an advanced B2B eCommerce website; promoting real-time business visibility; cultivating and using customer insights; and disrupting, innovating, and scaling their businesses.