By Niranjan Gidwani, Consultant Director | Member UAE Superbrands Council |Charter Member Tie Dubai

With businesses, supply chains and global geopolitics locked off at various points, the importance of digital-enabled sales interactions has increased exponentially over the last few years. As the world economic order tentatively moves towards a more positive landscape, the time to ask whether B2B e-commerce is the right choice for business has never been more relevant. Will it truly redefine business in the next few years?

Let’s understand the pros and cons. Lets look at what has been happening over the past few years.

-Globally, distribution models and agency agreements are being changed rapidly as brands wish to move closer to customers and cut down layers in the supply chain.

-The onslaught of online has seriously changed customer buying habits

-The newer generation of leaders and managers do not necessarily wish to do business in the old-fashioned way.

-The major, large online aggregators are beginning to move into b2b distribution to keep the pace of their growth going.

Today, a B2B buyer’s behavior is becoming more aligned to that of regular consumers, with a very strong reliance on the web and search engines before moving to more personal engagements and negotiations.

The key factor now at play is that presales research is far easier than ever to attain.

Interestingly, all indicators point to the fact that B2B eCommerce, when compared to the B2C industry, is projected to be two times bigger than B2C. In fact, it is anticipated to be the area of largest eCommerce growth in the run up to 2026. The renowned firm Merit claims that 73 percent of B2B buyers today are Millennials, who prefer a lot of researching, and then buying online—this is a large part of why B2B eCommerce growth has occurred at such lightning speed.

Take the case of the B2B marketplace on Amazon. It provides business customers with the pricing, selection, and convenience of Amazon, with features and benefits designed for businesses of all sizes. It’s designed to make purchasing easy and cost-effective by combining Amazon’s familiar one-stop shopping with quantity discounts, price comparisons, approval workflows, and multi-user accounts.

Although, by and large, buyers prefer digital channels, there is still that inherent thirst for the human touch approach that good B2B sites need to provide. Buyers are known to frequent those online marketplaces that combine consumer features with B2B buyer tools. With almost one in every four global B2B purchases enabled with rep-assisted e-commerce, it’s clear that buyers still put value on live-helpers. In fact, 24% of all global ecommerce B2B purchases are rep-assisted.

However, a lot of good work still needs to be done.

As B2B buyers become more selective in choosing the brands and products they want to carry, B2B sites must give sellers as well as brands the platform to not only sell the products they offer but promote the image they’ve built. The B2B store is for other business people. They want information that will help them make rational decisions. Hence, creating a blog for the niche segment helps in supporting the target community while also gaining valuable SEO.

Backlinks, or links from other pages leading back to the website, help build the web page’s authority within its domain. They’re also an excellent B2B marketing strategy.

There is an inherent impatience among all of us to wait for an eCommerce page to load. Whether it’s a B2C or B2B page, everything needs to be done to deliver a speedy experience, and that too consistently.

B2B clients do more research because they are making business and trading decisions. It would help a lot in understanding client needs and offering them the services that will make finding business opportunities easier. 

Even in B2B, ultimately, the brand and recall of the site matters.

Therefore, communicating all the time is needed, not just in high season or high buying times in the calendar year. This includes utilizing all social media channels and keeping them updated with fresh content. Just as all customers prefer websites with engaging content, graphics, and character, B2B portals can and should offer more than just utilitarian lists of SKUs. Remember, even the bulk buyer is a customer.

Millennials are picking up the B2B eCommerce market and want it on the go. B2C sites recognize this and are constantly optimizing their websites across desktop, tablet, and mobile. This should be no different for B2B sites

Because of the nature of the transaction, B2B buyers usually need to go through various steps, including sales representative interaction, negotiations, and approvals before they can make a successful purchase. 

That’s why it’s crucial for B2B eCommerce businesses to provide a more seamless transaction, building in advanced functionality to their sites for quote management, price negotiation, easy ordering, finding ways to provide credit lines, and inventory management.

The future has never looked more uncertain, which is why it is more important than ever that businesses future-proof themselves by moving with the times.

B2B ecommerce is surely growing at a fast rate. There is room for online players to make their mark. They would need to make sure they are ready to keep up to speed and capitalize on the success it can bring. The model that creates a real partnership between B2B buyers and sellers will stand a better chance.

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