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B2B ecommerce is now part of the business mainstream

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, economic problems and supply chain disruption have brought sudden and formidable challenges for B2B companies of all types and size. But it also created lucrative opportunities for companies to acquire more digital sales and market share—if they learn how to sell to digital-first customers.

That was the message Mark Brohan, senior vice president, B2B and market research at Digital Commerce 360 brought to attendees of the B2B Ecommerce Forum on Tuesday morning in Gold Coast Australia, an event built in by a strategic partnership between iMedia and the B2B eCommerce Association. “It’s not just big business, it’s mainstream business,” Brohan said, referring to B2B ecommerce sales during his event keynote address

Global B2B commerce sales in 2022 will approach $16 trillion. In the U.S., the biggest B2B market, digital sales for manufacturing companies grew almost 18% compared with 2020, reaching $1.64 trillion, or about 12.5% of all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales. The growth rate for B2B ecommerce in 2021 was significantly faster than the 15.2% growth rate for all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales, which reached about $13.1 trillion in 2021, Digital Commerce 360 finds.

Within B2B ecommerce, marketplaces are now soundly part of the mainstream. Digital Commerce 360 estimates marketplace sales in 2021 represented 0.4% of all B2B sales and 0.5% of all electronic B2B sales. That compares to 0.2% of each category in 2020. In a few years, marketplace sales could grow to 2% to 4% of overall B2B sales.

“I have never seen an ecommerce channel on the B2B side or the B2C side grow faster than that,” he said.

Most of the growth in ecommerce marketplace sales is probably due to the growth of the Amazon Business platform, Brohan said. But that represents an opportunity for other marketplace operators, as the marketplaces improve and more B2B customers take to the idea of buying on marketplaces, he added.

“The one thing about Amazon Business — just like Amazon on the consumer side — is they raise the user experience,” he said. “They raise the bar and … that basically forces all the rest of us to come up to the same experience that we’re getting on Amazon.”

The good news for sellers, he said, is that B2B sellers know their customers and have inventory that Amazon will never have. They could use that knowledge to sell successfully on Amazon. If not, Amazon’s example will provide valuable information about what digital-first buyers want and expect.

Brohan explained that it is important to understand the nature of digital-first digital buyers. “Who you’re serving out there as a digital-first customer may include a dinosaur like me,” Brohan said.

But as the older generation retires, he added, buying decisions are increasingly made by teams. They are also made across different teams inside an organization. Among other reasons, this could mean buyers might now take up to a month to research digital buying decisions. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, economic problems and supply chain disruption have brought sudden and formidable challenges for B2B companies of all types and size. But it also created lucrative opportunities for companies to acquire more digital sales and market share—if they learn how to sell to digital-first customers.

Brohan said buyers want to know whether a B2B seller has the inventory they need at a competitive price. And buyers want to know if it has online support tools like recommendations and supply-chain tools, which can help buyers make purchase decisions.

Digital Commerce 360 research also found:

  • 32% of B2B buyers rank ecommerce as the single most effective channel.
  • 51% of B2B buyers use an ecommerce site if they are attracted to an excellent user experience.
  • 56% of B2B sellers report 11% or more in sales growth in 2021.
  • 50% of B2B sellers anticipate significant challenges in securing the funds they need to improve their businesses.

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