B2B Ecommerce Trends Forcing Suppliers to Rethink their Business Models

Paul Kelson

We’re over half way through 2018 and we at Monsoon Consulting have noticed a considerable uptick in interest and activity within the B2B Digital Commerce market.  There are several trends that were predicted for 2018 which we’re witnessing coming to fruition. These trends reflect a ‘catching up’ by the B2B sector with the more developed and sophisticated B2C sector.  B2B Commerce innovation and adoption has always seemed to lag a number of years behind B2C which was caused by a combination of slower adaptability and lower investment. More and more B2B suppliers are watching competitors that invest to make the changes, increase their market share and become a real direct threat to their formerly ‘established supremacy’.

So let's look at the trends for 2018/19 that are forcing suppliers to rethink their business models.

Artificial Intelligence

AI is making inroads to hospitals, schools, homes and offices with dramatic improvements in efficiency and savings.  AI supplies the tools for manufacturers and distributors so that processes that were traditionally relied on to be completed by humans can be automated and completed faster.  Large data sets can be analysed, tests run, and context understood with real time adjustments being made based in the results. AI helps you to gain a better insight into you customers and drive a more personalised experience.  AI is developing fast and there are 5 main ways AI can be used to improve B2B ecommerce.

1. Omnichannel Strategy.  Make better business decisions based on insights provided by your customer data.  This will help you create a stronger strategy based on actual data.

2. Stocking and Inventory Management.  Through market trend analysis you can stock the hottest products at specific times of the year and also offer customers improved inventory management and help yourself and them to reduce overheads.

3. Automate Processes.  This will reduce costs for most B2B suppliers.  For example product classifications, which can significantly reduce the time required to classify products and allows employees to have more bandwidth for other tasks, that may be adding more value in the long-term.

4. Increase your conversions.  Through applying a machine learning algorithm, retailers can analyse the behaviour of their visitors, for example, browsing habits, search activity, click throughs etc and be able to adapt to changing buyer trends.

5. Handle requests.  Across more channels faster, AI can proactively tackle questions like when will my order arrive, how much credit do I have in my account, for ever present buyers.  So from tackling customer service requests to delivery tracking, personalising product suggestions, and handling returns, AI can have the answers ready lots of times before customers think of the question.   

B2B Market Growth

B2B is over twice the size of the B2C market and it's growing considerably faster. Take for example the US which is typically seen as a barometer of the future over here. Projected sales in the B2B sector will grow from approximately US$900 billion to almost $1.2 billion in the next three years.  This is caused by a growth in adoption of online ordering by a younger workforce moving their way up into positions where they make the buying decisions. The statistics support this for example; 74% of B2B buyers research half or more of their work purchases online. 93% of business buyers prefer to buy online when they have made a decision, and already 56% expect to make at least half their work related purchases online and this is growing fast.

Expectations of a B2C experience

B2B customers are increasingly frustrated by antiquated processes such as emailing orders, trawling through catalogues, or really basic online ordering forms, as they are now used to, and trust the easy-to-use B2C experience they have used for years for personal shopping. In fact 72% of B2B customers would prefer self-service access to their accounts and orders, which for suppliers would free up considerable dead time spent handling these requests. It’s also been found that many customers require more flexibility from their suppliers in order to meet changing business demands, for example, 64% have a need for scheduled deliveries to multisite locations.  

It is becoming increasingly obvious that those competitors who fulfil these needs will be putting themselves in a prime position to steal business away from those who don’t.  In the online world your competitor is just a search term away and customer loyalty is becoming ever diminished. Can any B2B supplier really take the risk of losing their biggest customers to online competitors?

Paul Kelson

Paul Kelson,

Commercial Director UK