Originally published Dec 4, 2019. Refreshed Aug 10, 2021.
If COVID taught us one thing, it’s this: We should expect disruption.
That’s been true in the world of B2B eCommerce as in all areas of life. The trends that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic look a little different from predictions c. 2019.
I. Strategic trends in B2B eCommerce
1. Organizations are rolling out B2B eCommerce to existing customers first
In their article on B2B eCommerce trends, BigCommerce mentions an increasing trend toward focusing on new customers. While that’s a great goal for many organizations, we don’t often see this trend among the organizations we work with (primarily manufacturers running on SAP ERP).
In fact, we see the opposite. Organizations are choosing an incremental approach, starting with existing customers. Launching to a captive audience of dedicated buyers can create a quick win — and it demonstrates the viability of B2B eCommerce to internal stakeholders. Organizations that choose a scalable solution (one with built-in ERP integration) are primed to grow their market footprint after transitioning existing business to B2B eCommerce.
2. The death of the non-integrated B2B proof of concept
This B2B trend is directly related to the first.
If you’re going to take an incremental approach, starting with existing customers, you need a solution that can actually meet their needs for real-time ERP data and logic. Without features like personalized pricing or real-time inventory and credit status in B2B eCommerce, existing customers won’t be able to do business with you.
Right away, that rules out the disconnected B2B eCommerce proof of concept.
For many organizations, it’s difficult to achieve deep ERP integration with a B2B eCommerce platform like BigCommerce or Shopify. This challenge is driving the trend of organizations getting serious about ERP integration from the very beginning.
3. Everyone wants “quick win” customer portals that scale up to B2B eCommerce
We saw this trend before the pandemic, but COVID intensified it.
Many organizations, particularly manufacturers, get nervous when they look at giant B2B eCommerce platforms. They may dream of having that flashy catalog and all those merchandising capabilities, but if they can’t get their product content together — or they can’t imagine how their complex business processes will translate to B2B eCommerce — then they have a hard time going from 0 to 60.
This is why manufacturers are starting their digital journeys with SAP customer portal solutions.
With the right ERP-integrated solution, manufacturers can launch a portal for routine post-order care. This empowers existing customers to track orders, invoices and payments on their own — without calling customer service.
A successful portal gives manufacturers the cost savings (and the internal political capital) to go after B2B eCommerce. The key is to choose a portal solution that 1) includes ERP integration, and 2) easily scales up to full B2B eCommerce functionality on the same architecture.
(Hint: This is the Corevist Commerce approach.)
4. Marketplaces are forcing organizations to define their B2B eCommerce strategy
Is Amazon a friend or foe to B2B organizations?
Actually, it’s both.
Amazon offers incredible opportunities in B2B eCommerce. Yet the company doesn’t care which merchant gets the sale for a particular search on their website. Fundamentally, Amazon’s interests are not aligned with the interests of any one merchant. Their algorithm will suggest a different product if that’s what it takes to get the sale.
So what does this mean for B2B organizations?
It means you need to define your B2B eCommerce strategy. That could mean Amazon, or it could mean a privately owned B2B eCommerce store — or both. The answer at your organization depends on factors like how commoditized your products are and how much B2B eCommerce data you want to gather. For more on these topics, check out this post: Amazon Or Private B2B Web Shop?
For organizations that definitely need to be on Amazon, new questions arise. Which products should we sell there? How do we compete with third-party imitations of our products?
To get started answering these questions, watch our webinar, The Manufacturers’ Amazon Intent Index. Brian Beck, noted Amazon Business expert, discusses B2B marketplace trends with Corevist CEO Sam Bayer. The webinar includes results of an in-depth survey on manufacturers’ Amazon intentions.
5. Pressure is building to make the organization more efficient through B2B eCommerce
There are three common drivers that push an organization to adopt B2B eCommerce.
- The need to improve customer experience
- The need to grow revenue
- The need to cut costs and become more efficient
Usually, all three drivers coexist at any given organization. Yet we’re seeing an increase in organizations looking to become more efficient — particularly manufacturers that still rely on phone, fax and email for order placement and order inquiry. (Incidentally, replacing those processes with B2B eCommerce not only increases efficiency — it also improves customer experience. But we digress!)
While global economies have already begun to recover from the impact of COVID, life is still very different in the B2B world. Reduced workforce availability and unusual lead times for order fulfillment have put more pressure than ever on B2B organizations. Any savings of cost or time in the OTC (order-to-cash) cycle is a welcome benefit, and B2B eCommerce is the primary driver of increased efficiency here.
II. Customer experience trends in B2B eCommerce
6. In complex B2B scenarios, chatbots aren’t delivering if they aren’t manned by humans
While chatbots are a huge trend in B2B eCommerce, organizations are reevaluating their effectiveness. AI-driven chatbots are a great addition to B2C eCommerce, where customer questions (and answers) are fairly simple. But in B2B scenarios governed by complex, customer-specific ERP data and logic, unmanned chatbots may not be able to provide customers the intelligence they need.
The key here is to ensure a real person (or team) is watching chatbot inquiries. While robotic responses can be helpful, there’s no guarantee that the chatbot is actually pointing your customer in the right direction (or answering with enough customer-specific intelligence to drive revenue).
7. Manufacturers are demanding customer personalization driven by ERP logic
If you look up B2B eCommerce trends, you’ll find a lot about personalization. Yet most B2B eCommerce platforms can’t deliver the personalization that customers actually need (at least, not without a complex ERP integration). The market talks about basic personalization like product recommendations and context-specific messages. And while these things are important, they’re not actually make-or-break for B2B eCommerce customers.
What personalization is essential?
Here’s what our clients are asking for. Corevist Commerce includes all these personalization features out of the box.
- Real-time, personalized inventory availability (more on that in Trend #8)
- All B2B eCommerce pricing governed by customer-specific ERP logic in real time
- Real-time, customer-specific credit status from the ERP displayed in B2B eCommerce
- Real-time order simulation against ERP business rules (with intelligent error messaging returned to the user, to prevent order errors)
- Real-time order history and status for ALL orders logged in the ERP (not just those from B2B eCommerce)
While you can theoretically offer these personalization features with a non-integrated B2B platform (through third-party integration software), this architecture introduces unpredictable risk and cost when it’s supporting an integration of this complexity and depth. If any information gets out of sync, it creates a bad customer experience and drives up the cost of running your B2B eCommerce channel.
Curious about the alternative? Check out Corevist Commerce. Our solution includes prebuilt, configurable, real-time integration to SAP ERP on Day 1. It’s how we deliver the personalization that manufacturers’ customers need if they’re going to adopt B2B eCommerce.
8. Increasing demand for real-time inventory availability
While this B2B eCommerce trend fits neatly within the previous one, it’s worth calling this out on its own.
If you’re going to provide no other real-time ERP data in B2B eCommerce, you need accurate inventory quantities. And for ERP-dependent organizations, that means you need some form of real-time integration.
Manufacturers in particular are prioritizing this feature. With their customers needing certainty that they’ve actually claimed inventory when placing an order, manufacturers are finding that customers won’t use B2B eCommerce without it.
Simply put, it’s too difficult for customers to tell if they’ll get what they need on time.
Which leads us to the next B2B trend.
9. Increasing customer demand for transparency around RDD (requested delivery dates)
We’re seeing this more and more with B2B eCommerce users.
It’s not enough to know whether a product is in stock. Customers also need to know when their order will arrive.
For manufacturers whose entire business lives in the ERP, shipping time isn’t the only factor that determines this. The entire supply chain impacts order arrival date. With COVID disruptions still settling, some manufacturers are finding this impact larger than ever.
Hence the RDD (requested delivery date) logic that many organizations build out in their ERP. This calculation accounts for all factors that influence order arrival date — not only whether the material is in stock, but how quickly the supply chain can respond to demand that’s above stock levels.
As you can see, it’s a powerful calculation — and providing it in B2B eCommerce creates a great customer experience.
Of course, you can’t bring your RDD rules to B2B eCommerce if it’s not integrated to your ERP. And without visibility into RDD in B2B eCommerce, customers will end up calling customer service to get answers. At scale, this takes a hands-free interaction (seamless order placement through B2B eCommerce) and turns it back into an expensive interaction (phone call, conversation, ERP check, callback and order placement via phone or email, which requires another human intervention to rekey the order into the ERP).
So what can manufacturers do?
The trend we’re seeing here is 1) a preference for ERP-integrated solutions that can display RDD automatically, for every SKU, and 2) a willingness to clean up those RDD rules in the ERP if necessary (so they play nice in the web store).
10. Using B2B eCommerce to empower sales to provide customer-specific upselling/cross-selling recommendations
Here’s a creative trend in B2B eCommerce: using the solution as a portal for sales reps to recommend products to customers (and maybe even place on-behalf-of orders).
The key is a B2B eCommerce platform that maps each sales rep user to the customer accounts assigned to them in the ERP. This allows the sales rep to select a customer account from a drop-down, then see whatever unique product catalog you’ve defined for that customer in the ERP — including any related product rules.
This is a great way to leverage your ERP-defined product relationships for sales. B2B eCommerce is easier to use than SAP GUI (if you’re on SAP ERP), so it’s a no-brainer to make the portal available for reps in addition to customers.
III. Market-driven trends in B2B eCommerce
11. Millennials are pushing organizations to deliver great B2B eCommerce experiences
By now, we all know that Millennials are changing everything. 😊
But how are they impacting B2B eCommerce trends?
Millennials’ first priority in choosing vendors is ease of doing business. This stands in contrast to Gen X (who prefer quality of service and products) and Baby Boomers (who prioritize getting things fast). (Source: IBM report on Millennials and B2B marketing)
“Ease of doing business” means many things at different organizations. However, for manufacturers whose entire business lives in the ERP, it means one thing. B2B eCommerce should provide the same personalized, real-time ERP data that Millennials could get over the phone — because they’re not going to pick up the phone if they can help it.
12. After COVID, digital self-service is the new normal in B2B sales
As we’ve documented elsewhere, COVID pushed B2B sales away from human interaction and toward self-service. At the height of the pandemic, analysts were predicting that this shift would last permanently. Many organizations weren’t ready — and many are still grappling with the repercussions of not having a self-service digital channel.
But is the shift still in effect?
Absolutely. Check out this amazing set of interactive graphs from McKinsey & Company. No matter how you slice it, digital self-service is dominating the B2B buyer journey. That trend is pushing B2B organizations toward eCommerce and customer portals.
13. Mobile is growing fast, but it’s still a small segment of total B2B eCommerce traffic
At this point, there’s no question you need a mobile-optimized experience (and no question that you can deliver one with any major platform). Any B2B eCommerce platform worth its salt should work great on mobile.
But how dominant is mobile, really?
Here’s what the data says for Corevist clients, who are primarily manufacturers running on SAP ERP. This data compares Jan 1 2020 – Aug 1 2021 to the previous period (30 May 2018 – 31 Dec 2019) for all Corevist clients in aggregate.
- Yes, mobile is growing fast, climbing 49.78% over the last three years.
- But mobile still accounts for a small fraction (4.99%) of all sessions on all Corevist Commerce storefronts.
- Desktop is still the dominant device for manufacturers’ customers, delivering 93.66% of all sessions on all Corevist Commerce storefronts.
IV. Technology trends in B2B eCommerce
14. “Bolt-on” ERP integration isn’t working for manufacturers
Third-party-dependent integrations have never been great for organizations whose business lives in the ERP.
That trend is only intensifying as market pressures push companies to launch B2B eCommerce faster — and with all the integrations that customers need to complete transactions.
Conventional thinking said that a standalone platform (like BigCommerce, Magento or Shopify) was adequate for all organizations and all B2B use cases. If you needed ERP integration, you could choose from a wide range of third-party “connectors” to keep your ERP and your B2B eCommerce store in sync.
ERP-dependent organizations are finding this architecture unmanageable. It creates three duplicate systems (ERP, B2B eCommerce and an integration solution), each with its own copy of all ERP data and logic. If business rules change in the ERP, you have to change them accordingly in the other two systems or synchronization will create errors.
Having three systems means you’ll need three separate teams. Whether you outsource that requirement or staff it in-house, it’s not cheap — and the chance of coordination problems is high.
This is why we see an increasing demand for B2B eCommerce solutions that include real-time ERP integration. It’s also why Corevist Commerce is built on our 53 proprietary SAP integration points — and it’s why we support our platform and our integration ourselves.
15. Integration-first platforms are empowering B2Bs to launch eCommerce fast
In the latest Wave Report for B2B Commerce, Forrester called out how integration-first platforms are disrupting the market.
“As monolithic technology becomes outdated and less effective, the providers that lead the pack demonstrate deep, prebuilt integrations and strong business user tooling.”
Given the pressures of the post-COVID world, it makes sense that the market would turn to alternative architectures for B2B eCommerce and ERP integration. And with customer-centric focus groups influencing the final shape of B2B eCommerce solutions, organizations are finding that they need ERP integration from the very start of the project. Without it, they can’t get realistic feedback from customers.
16. Cloud is the way forward in B2B eCommerce
In the SAP market, we’re seeing an uptick in customers moving off of ECC 6.0 and onto S/4HANA. As economies continue to settle after COVID disruption, it appears that enterprises are at last beginning to migrate their ERPs to the cloud.
We’re seeing the same preference for cloud when it comes to B2B eCommerce. With rapid digital transformation now the norm, agile organizations can’t justify the intensive investment that’s required with on-premises or self-hosted solutions. B2B eCommerce technology is so thoroughly commoditized that it’s generally easier to meet your needs with a SaaS solution than with a more traditional hosting model.
V. CHARTS: B2B eCommerce trends by industry
B2B eCommerce trends look different in different industries as we emerge from the impact of COVID-19. While there were winners and losers in B2B eCommerce at the height of lockdown, wild fluctuations are now tailing off. We’re seeing a general settling toward healthy growth.
As we’re comparing this year to last year, we want to capture two things:
- To date, the “pandemic-equivalent” portion of this year (3/1/21 – 7/31/21 as of this writing) vs. the same period in 2020. This is an apples-to-apples comparison to eliminate fluctuations due to seasonality.
- To date, the same portion of this year (3/1/21 – 7/31/21) vs. the previous equivalent period (9/29/20 – 2/28/21) to capture growth across the market’s emergence from the impact of the pandemic. This could include natural fluctuations due to seasonality, but we hope it also captures the market’s recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
Here’s what these comparisons look like for a few sample industries in a representative subset of Corevist clients.
17. Chemical B2B eCommerce trends
According to a study by Deloitte, COVID-19 hit the chemical industry fairly hard, exacerbating an existing oversupply situation. “The economic downturn depressed demand in local and export markets,” the Deloitte authors report. “Furthermore, the oil price collapse narrowed the feedstock cost advantage US petrochemical companies enjoyed due to their reliance on domestic ethane, making their products potentially less competitive in an even more difficult market.”
These trends are reflected in B2B eCommerce performance for chemical manufacturers. When we compare the equivalent period this year to the pandemic onset in 2020, all numbers are up.
18. Trends among industrial equipment manufacturers
COVID hammered the industrial equipment manufacturing industry. At the height of disruption, 75% of US equipment manufacturers said that the impact of COVID on the economy at large was “very negative.” However, upward trends in B2B eCommerce performance in this sector indicate a strong turnaround for late 2021 and 2022.
19. Pharma and medical trends in B2B eCommerce
As we reported at the height of the pandemic, COVID impacted medical and pharmaceutical manufacturers differently depending on their role in the supply chain for COVID-related equipment and medication. Those who had a direct role in the supply chain saw disruption as business moved to COVID-related goods, while those who did not contribute to such supply chains saw a dropoff in business.
The expected long-term impacts of COVID on these industries are many and varied. However, in B2B eCommerce performance, pharma and medical manufacturers show a trend toward healthy growth.
20. Trends in B2B eCommerce for CPG
McKinsey & Company reports that “CPG brands experienced intense growth during the pandemic: more absolute growth in 2020 than in the four-year period from 2016 to 2019. It is unclear, however, whether that growth trajectory will continue in 2021.” Yet growth remains highly variable, and we expect this trend to continue. It’s reflected in the performance of B2B eCommerce for CPG manufacturers.
Conclusion: B2B eCommerce market emerges from COVID stronger than ever
Ultimately, COVID solidified B2B eCommerce as the norm in numerous industries. As we emerge from the pandemic, the trend of buyers expecting B2B eCommerce is stronger than ever. For manufacturers, the key is to understand these emerging trends and define a path forward for their business.