While B2B sales have been steadily shifting to digital channels, the past few years have seen an acceleration of that trend due largely to the Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted many B2B buyers to purchase digitally. As a result, 2023 is being viewed as a pivotal year for B2B ecommerce, according to Intershop Communications AG’s Digital Trends Report 2023.
Among the key findings in the report about the current state of B2B purchasing are:
- 57% of global buyer’s spending is online
- 60% of buyers will increase their use of online purchasing channels
- 62% of buyers have discovered new brands and retailers online
- 62% of buyers wish that online purchasing was more entertaining
- 65% of buyers have already purchased through social media platforms.
- 73% of Millennials are already involved with procurement, and one-third report to be the sole decision makers
The latter is a key statistic as it indicates that Millennials have become the driving force behind changes in the way B2B e-commerce is conducted.
Younger generations, such as Millenials are considered digital natives, a.k.a. individuals raised on technology and that have been intimately familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age. As these so-called digital natives become decision-makers, they have no reservations about extending their B2C shopping practices to their companies’ or brands’ B2B purchasing needs.
According to Gartner 44% of Millennials prefer not to interact with a sales rep during their purchasing experience and are more than twice as likely as Baby Boomers to be skeptical of sales reps. This trend, along with Millenials and digital natives becoming decision makers, has made B2B suppliers and their ecosystem partners aware of the need to put their e-commerce capabilities at the same level as their traditional sales capabilities, according to Intershop.
Another emerging trend is the rise of artificial intelligence powered search and recommendations.
Because B2B vendors carry large product assortments that can return mammoth sets of search results, B2B buyers need to find products in a personalized and intelligent way. That’s important because B2B buyers often are looking for specific products for which there is no substitute. As a result, data-driven and personalized search engines are becoming a necessity for B2B ecommerce sites. That point is driven home by Wunderman Thompson Commerce’s Future Shopper Report 2021, which shows 92% of B2B buyers expect a B2C experience when making online business purchases.
In addition, the Wunderman Thompson Commerce report reveals that 32% of B2B buyers say that quickly and efficiently finding the correct products for which they are searching is the most significant pain point they face online.
Not being able to find a desired product quickly through the site search engine can lead to significant cart abandonment. According to the Wunderman Thompson Commerce report, 35% of respondents abandoned their shopping carts prematurely because they couldn’t find the products for which they were searching fast enough.
The trend is not surprising, according to Intershop, as manufacturers and B2B distributors often lag behind the artificial intelligence (AI)-driven search capabilities of B2C websites. Nor do they fully take advantage of the personalization capabilities that ecommerce platforms now offer.
The primary benefits that an AI-powered search and recommendations engine include the ability to optimize conversion by 20%, increasing the average order value by 10%, and the ability to learn what products buyers really want. In addition, B2B suppliers can see a return on investment from an AI-power site search engine in three months, according to Intershop.
Another emerging B2B ecommerce trend is digital self-service tools that provide online support to buyers without help from a human agent, such as customer support portals, FAQs, and chatbots.
A 2022 report from NICE, a provider of AI-powered self-service and agent-assisted software, reveals that 81% of consumers surveyed in the United States and the United Kingdom say they want more self-service options. In addition, the report found that while 53% of businesses believe their customers are very satisfied with their self-service offerings, only 15% of consumers agree with this claim. NICE surveyed 1,320 respondents among CEOs and Manager level staff from companies in the United States and the United Kingdom.
B2B buyer’s preference for self-service tools has made customer portals a more integral part of the digital B2B buying experience, as they empower buyers by giving them access to account information, invoice and order history, order status, and other digital self-services online 24/7, according to Intershop. In addition, customer portals can increase online sales by integrating after-sale products and services to create high-margin cross-selling opportunities, as well as increase customer retention by efficiently guiding customers through the purchasing process.
Customer portals can also spur the development of new digital service offerings such as pay-per-use, product subscriptions, or predictive maintenance based on product and customer intelligence.
“Customer portals not only help to centralize your customer interactions with your brand, but also provide clear competitive advantages to boost your after-sales by leveraging correct after-sales product information centralized in one single channel, while at the same time giving your brand the tools to create an intuitive customer journey,” says the Intershop report.
Virtual commerce that uses virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) technology to enhance the buying experience is another trend to watch in 2023.
Virtual commerce encompasses such features as the ability to preview products in a virtual environment and visualize what spare parts a buyer can use to upgrade or repair existing equipment.
“One of the critical benefits of virtual commerce is that it allows consumers to interact with products in a more immersive and realistic way, making it easier for them to make informed purchasing decisions,” says the Intershop report. “It can also help to reduce the need for physical returns and replacements, as customers can get a better sense of what they are buying before making a purchase.”
Virtual commerce is expected to become increasingly popular as VR and AR technology becomes more widely available. A report from consultancy PwC predicts VR and AR can add over $1.5 trillion to the global economy and create close to 24 million new jobs by 2030.
AR applications in B2B ecommerce include enabling buyers to fully rotate high-quality 3D renderings of a product, showing the product in a way that the buyer can see all the components and parts inside it, and providing click-and-move product markups that illustrate how to use complex and mechanical products such as heavy assembly line machinery, and offer helpful ways to troubleshoot common problems.
B2B suppliers should also be looking to deploy progressive web apps, which are operating system agnostic apps not tied to any specific operating system (OS) and can be used on any device, regardless of the OS it is running. Progressive web apps provide such benefits as fast loading times, offline support, and the ability to be added to a device’s home screen like a native app. Like regular websites, progressive web apps can be easily shared and accessed through URLs. “Overall, progressive web apps are a way to create mobile experiences accessible to many users, regardless of their device or operating system and can increase mobile conversion rates by up to 20%, according to Intershop.
Other advantages of progressive web apps include higher conversion rates. Because progressive web apps enable popular native app functionality and offer an improved user experience, navigation within the app is consistently smooth. “This is crucial for user retention,” says the Intershop report. “More than 40% of the users abort the process if a loading process takes longer than three seconds. With every additional second, the conversion rate drops by an average of 7%.”