The B2B e-commerce sector is forecast to hit a whopping £5.2 billion by 2020, reports find. This ever-changing market has led many businesses to trade in their traditional ways of operating in exchange for innovative online methods in order to maintain their competitive edge.
As the Chief Product Officer of Sana Commerce, it is Arno Ham’s mission to deliver the best e-commerce product for distribution, wholesale and manufacturing companies using Microsoft Dynamics or SAP. Here, Arno speaks about the key e-commerce trends for B2B companies to look out for in 2020:
Sustainable e-commerce is not just for B2C
As globally we move towards greater climate change awareness, so too are B2B companies looking at sustainability and the environmental impact of their day-to-day business. With climate change moving further up the agenda, e-commerce companies will begin to consider the full circular economy of what they do and not just their use of raw materials.
One way in which we will see this is through the ways that we handle logistics and delivery, where the reduction of CO2 emissions will continue to be a focus for e-commerce companies. It’s likely we will see B2B organisations working with logistics providers to share deliveries across multiple destinations. There is a lot of efficiency potential that is still to be reached and this could be resolved if multiple orders are combined.
B2B buyers are also looking to suppliers for insights into the environmental impact of the products that they buy. We will start to see features such as delivery slots that show the measurements of CO2 emissions at different times or days – allowing companies to select the most environmentally friendly slot to provide them with the ability to measure their carbon footprint.
Online marketplaces get personal
Throughout 2020, we will see the continued growth (and in some countries domination) of online B2B marketplaces. Research that we undertook in 2019 found that 94% of buyers are using online marketplaces to buy goods and services, and nearly 70% are satisfied with the experience they receive from such sites. Marketplaces offer a cost effective, fast and easy way to start selling online and scaling up – helping companies to reach new markets and territories without large investments. And while transaction fees might eventually increase in line with sales, they will ultimately remain cost-effective.
The challenge for B2B organisations is that the marketplace ‘owns’ the customer contact and as the customer experience and journey becomes more and more important for B2B organisations, I believe that we will see a change in the way that companies work with online platforms.
Personalisation and customer journeys will also drive the rise in niche marketplaces in 2020, the purpose of which is to make it easier for the buyer to find the product they need from the manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer they want to buy from. We’ve already seen some success of niche marketplaces in industries such as the healthcare sector and this will be a continuing trend next year – rolling out across a range of other industries.
Predictive analytics get smarter
Predictive analytics will continue to grow as a factor in e-commerce, allowing businesses to fully accommodate each individual customer. Product catalogues or even entire websites will be generated for a specific user, based on their behaviour and order history (if they have it), making everything from navigation onwards a personal experience. This enables a fully customised buyer experience – tailor made for the products or services that they need. If the buyer has historical orders, those orders will show up and if they are new and browsing products they will get suggestions pushed to them based on their preferences. This helps to personalise and optimise the experience.
The building blocks of B2B progressive web apps (PWAs)
Although we have seen a lot of hype around PWAs, I don’t see them as being quite ready to become a 2020 trend just yet. Support for PWAs is only just coming through from the OS providers this year and while we’ll see developers continue to push them as a way to manage mobile and website e-commerce stores, what we will see more of will be software owners concentrating on the first step to PWAs and re-writing their code into single page applications (SPAs). This will allow e-commerce websites to interact with the user by dynamically rewriting the current page rather than loading entire new pages from a server.
There is still confusion over how PWAs are defined, and I believe that 2020 will see many companies claiming to provide PWAs, but without offering offline functionality, so in reality they will actually be SPAs.
AR and VR takes on B2B
While AR and VR remains a B2C selling tool - where the buyer experience can be enhanced and made more aspirational - we should see B2B e-commerce utilising the technology in some way in 2020. This is more likely to occur in the bespoke design of products, commercial furniture or even for intricate or detailed product needs, such as spare parts.
“Hello – can you help me?” - the introduction of voice commerce to B2B
The use of voice assistance in B2B buying will become increasingly important in 2020 and beyond, as there are still some challenges to overcome. Although it could be argued that due to B2B buying being more complex than B2C, it could be harder to move towards voice commerce. It is also important to remember that purchasing is significantly more repetitive in B2B, which lends itself well to voice assistance and commerce. Using an e-commerce platform that integrates with an ERP system provides B2B sellers with customer data that can be drawn on to support voice assistance.
We can see from these trends that creating a user friendly, streamlined customer experience continues to be a priority with B2B e-commerce, while keeping sustainability at its core. There is a huge opportunity for distribution, manufacturing and wholesale companies to use new and innovative practices to grow their business and directly benefit their customers.