7 B2B E-Commerce Trends in 2021 Defined by COVID-19
March 10, 2021
2020 will forever be known as the year that accelerated digital transformations across the B2B e-commerce world, seemingly overnight. The mandated lockdowns and restrictions pushed many companies into a fight or flight response and challenged them to quickly move their businesses to an online platform. Essentially, they had to construct a new order-to-cash cycle that involved everything from digital solutions to product shipments, product availability, new communication methods to their customers and staff, and more. Most importantly, they had to maintain a personalized connection with their customers in a remote, digital way. As companies adapted to this “new normal,” their customers followed suit – and in some cases – preferred this digital interaction.
Even as the COVID-19 vaccine distribution is bringing a glimmer of hope to return to normalcy, many businesses realize that shifts from 2020 are far from fading into the past. In fact, 80% of B2B decision-makers and buyers prefer remote human interactions or online experiences to the traditional way of doing business. These compelling B2B e-commerce statistics help build the case that these trends are here to stay and grow even more prevalent in the years to come.
Let’s take a deeper look at the top 7 B2B e-commerce trends for 2021 based on these adapted consumer behaviors and shifts in the business cycle.
1. Business Roles Will Continue to Evolve
COVID-19 came like a thief in the night and rapidly reshifted businesses’ focus on how to give customers the same level of access and personalization to their company in a digital way. Not surprisingly, this leading B2B e-commerce trend has redefined the role of a salesman. When COVID-19 first hit and disrupted the supply chain, customer service departments were being inundated with inquiries about product availability, alternative product solutions, shipping dates – the list goes on and on. This required sales teams to step into a customer service role for their clients to provide them with timely answers and help relieve their internal teammates of the inquiry backlog.
For those companies that digitally streamlined those inquiries into a self-service e-commerce functionality, their sales representatives began transforming into consultative and collaborative partners for their customers. This concierge-level sales representative looks to develop a high-contact (even if it is through digital channels), high-service relationship with their customers, and becomes a personal assistant for their buying needs. Their product expertise and communication skills are exceptional and provide strong buyer confidence which ultimately establishes unbreakable customer loyalty to the business.
2. Customer Experience Remains Paramount
In the past, a customer’s B2B buying preference was satisfied with a local vendor that offered fair pricing and quality service. This expectation has drastically shifted due to modern digital advances and customers holding more purchasing power than ever. In fact, 64% of B2B buyers consider customer experience more important than price and 45% say companies fall short of their experience expectations.
The modern customer expects a B2C user experience in the B2B world. This includes real-time, personalized interactions, easy-to-use e-commerce sites, and connected experiences across multiple channels. This trend will only grow as B2B e-commerce platforms, like CUE Commerce, offer more B2C simulated functions such as:
- A fast-loading and mobile responsive website
- 360° Order history for greater visibility and order transparency
- Ease of payment
- Intuitive, self-service e-commerce website
- Real-time interaction – 80% of B2B customers expect this
- Collaborative sales experiences through chatbots, video, and voice-activated sear
Today’s tech-savvy customers hold more purchasing power than ever before. They can easily research and switch companies if they feel their buying experience is not being met. Implementing a B2C user experience will help companies acquire new customers and turn their existing client base into brand loyalists and ambassadors.
3. Personalization Will Drive Growth
Throughout the past year, B2B decision-makers and buyers have challenged their vendors to take that intuitive B2C user experience and personalize it. In fact, 8 out of 10 business buyers say being treated like a person, not a number, is important to winning their business. In today’s virtual world, people are looking for that emotional, human connection with a company that understands their needs and can deliver quickly without being asked. They want to feel like they are the only customer that matters.
Having 360-degree visibility on customers can help bring this personalized piece into action. B2B businesses that can see a customer’s complete interaction history empowers anyone in the company to knowledgeably assist them and provide those personal touchpoints throughout the conversation. It also enables them to provide personalized marketing offers and services, which is expected by 74% of B2B buyers and decision-makers.
4. Acceleration of Mobile Ordering
In today’s fast-paced, instant access world, it should come as no surprise that mobile devices are the leading medium used in online product research and ordering. COVID has only further pushed this B2B e-commerce trend forward by showing a 250% increase in online ordering from a mobile device and mobile app in 2020.
The transition from desktop ordering to mobile shopping is being driven by the tech-savvy Millennials. Where product research and buying power was once reserved for the executive level, more and more companies are transitioning to younger buyers. These younger buyers aren’t necessarily prioritizing price value as the deciding purchase factor. Instead, they are looking for an easy, personalized experience that simplifies the buying process and optimizes efficiency.
Mobile apps deliver that fast, easy, and fun experience to the B2B buyer. Mobile app features such as saved purchase information, push notifications, payment information, and personalized offers bring that added value to the table that customers are searching for.
5. Brand Loyalty Will Be Rewarded
While traditionally left for the B2C online marketplaces, loyalty programs are a rising B2B e-commerce trend in 2021 as customers’ expectations of their vendors increase. Offering a well-defined and easy-to-follow loyalty program is a great way to differentiate from the competition and create loyal brand ambassadors. It also increases customer retention which is much more profitable in the long run than customer acquisitions. In fact:
- A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect on profits as a 10% cost cut
- It costs 5x more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one
- Repeat customers will spend 67% more than new customers
In spite of these compelling 2021 B2B e-commerce statistics, only 18% of companies focus more on retention than acquisition. This sheds light on an easy way companies can quickly gain a competitive advantage. B2B businesses that cultivate a strong loyalty program will allow them to further personalize the customer experience, foster brand ambassadors, and provide multiple opportunities to upsell and cross-sell.
6. Prioritizing Order Fulfillment
In terms of offerings and execution, B2B and B2C companies are now on a level playing field. The growing customer expectations for both marketplaces have required B2B companies to simplify and expedite their order fulfillment processes.
The widespread disruption brought on by the pandemic further exacerbated the need for a strong and efficient supply chain that is highly adaptable, cost-efficient and provides real-time product visibility. As a result, many B2B companies have prioritized the customers’ need for “instant gratification” and are outsourcing distribution to 3PL companies. In fact, 47% of companies are planning to adopt a hybrid order fulfillment model in the next 3-5 years. This minimizes complexities, adapts to market changes, and can be scaled rapidly to meet customer expectations.
Those B2B companies that implement an economical, yet highly-efficient logistics strategy will become the customer’s first choice. Strengthening the supply chain weaknesses that were exposed through the pandemic will have a direct effect on a company’s bottom line and customer loyalty.
7. Emergence of AI in B2B Markets
Utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the B2B marketplace has caught on like wildfire as customers look for more innovative products and services. In fact, customers are 9.5x more likely to view AI as revolutionary versus insignificant. Businesses are starting to see the positive impact on customer satisfaction and ROI that comes with implementing this B2B e-commerce trend.
Since the pandemic, one of the biggest AI e-commerce installments has been chatbots. The considerable increase of customer inquiries that came flooding in after the mandated lockdowns quickly showed businesses their customer service departments needed extra support. Chatbots were a quick and easy tool they could use to field out routine inquiries. This, in turn, increased the bandwidth for internal staff to help customers with more complex questions resulting in higher customer satisfaction and a better user experience.
Other AI tools that have made strong headway in the B2B marketplace include lead nurturing campaigns, predictive forecasting and analytics, supply chain management, HR recruiting, and fraud detection. Those companies that have implemented AI components into their digital transformation journeys will gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
B2B decision-makers and buyers’ expectations are changing and quickly redefining the business process. While some of these B2B e-commerce growth trends were already appearing in the pre-pandemic days, COVID-19 rapidly accelerated this digital direction.
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