Following a slow start, the adoption of B2B e-commerce has grown exponentially over recent years. Predominantly motivated by the move towards digital transformation and an increasingly younger and diverse buying persona, it was also accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research, facilitated by Sapio, shows two thirds of companies are spending more – 45% more, to be exact – online now than they did two years ago. And while this transformation has seen many benefits, including efficiency, flexibility and ease of use, there are still some roadblocks to success.
Importance of B2B relationships
Often B2B buyers will place repeat orders in large quantities from the same supplier. In fact, 81% of buyers rely on online for their repeat purchases. This means that if a supplier loses just one customer, it can have a significant impact on their bottom line.
Because of this, maintaining customer relationships becomes a high-stakes task. And for sectors that are used to negotiating purchases through face-to-face sales meetings, the transition to ordering online can be a challenge. At the end of the day, supplier relationships matter.
In fact, our research shows that four out of five B2B buyers rate the relationship between themselves and supplier in the buying process as important. What’s more, 84% claim they would be more inclined to buy from a supplier they had a great relationship with, even if the terms of sale were not as good as a competitor.
The challenge of B2B e-commerce
Buyer relationships come under threat when the e-commerce experience does not mirror the traditional customer journey in terms of service, personalisation and accessibility. It all comes down to making the buyers job as easy and straight forward as possible.
For example, if a buyer is making an online purchase and the product is showing as out of stock or that product information is missing, then this puts the supplier at risk of losing the customer.
How B2B relationships can thrive with ecommerce
Our research shows that just over half of B2B buyers feel there could be improvement in their suppliers’ e-commerce websites. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By making some simple changes, suppliers can ensure their customers are given a positive, buying experience.
When asked which aspects of their online customer experience as a consumer would they like to see mirrored in their B2B experience, 36% of respondents claimed to want a more personalised experience. Personalisation is now an integral part of the B2B e-commerce experience and has been for some time. It all comes back to making sure the buyer feels valued and through this, making their job as easy as possible.
It is crucial that suppliers find an e-commerce solution that allows for personalisation. 81% of B2B buyers rely on online web stores for repeat buying so an option for this and the ability to store data, such as specific pricing, product preferences, address and contact information is essential.
On the flip-side, it’s important for suppliers to give the option of remaining anonymous. An easy way of doing this is to offer a guest checkout. B2B buyers now expect a B2C buying experience, and we’ve seen this reflected in buyers’ appetite for this functionality. Sometimes a buyer won’t want to spend time filling out long forms and instead will opt for a quick and anonymous order. By offering customers a guest checkout, suppliers can reduce their shopping cart abandonment rate.
Intuitive design and content
B2B buyers want to be able to access information on products and services via a supplier’s web store. That means accurate product descriptions, technical information, even details on spare parts are crucial. An accurate and comprehensive product description can make or break a sale – highlighting the differentiator of a product immediately gives the supplier a competitive edge.
Ensuring all products are accompanied by a description is key. But even worse than no description is an inaccurate one. This could lead to a buyer making a purchase, only to find that the item was not what they were expecting. Ensuring product descriptions are kept up to date should be top of the list of e-commerce priorities.
Accuracy drives reliability
Accuracy is crucial when it comes to creating a successful online offering. When asked why their suppliers’ e-commerce website did not meet their expectations, 29% selected no or inaccurate stock information, 26% said inaccurate product information and 22% blamed no or inaccurate pricing information.
This shines a light on the importance for suppliers to select a platform that integrates with their ERP system. That way they can leverage accurate, real-time data, including customer agreements, stock availability, pricing, promotions and so on.
While there may be room for improvement when it comes to B2B e-commerce, these challenges have not stopped it from becoming the most popular method of buying. 50% of buyers are frequently using e-commerce – more than the phone and email.
And two thirds are spending more than they were two years ago. But overcoming these challenges are critical to the buyer experience and to staying ahead of the competition.
Download the report here.