The B2B market is constantly changing and evolving. Merchants who dream of entering this market or consolidate their position need to anticipate and keep up with trends. But what does that involve?
The answers begin to emerge once you look at statistics. We found some interesting ones in the 2018 U.S. B2B Ecommerce Market Report and correlated them to BigCommerce’s findings following their 2018 survey. We will discuss the highlights in the following lines.
The State of B2B Commerce and What It Means for B2B Merchants
#1. B2B Commerce Is Slowly but Surely Moving Online
More than half of B2B transactions already take place online. Three out of four merchants who are not already doing business online are planning to get started soon. In times when most people are connected to the internet and use it to find the products and services they need, no merchant can afford to neglect the power of an online presence.
This is especially true for B2B merchants. Those who have not yet invested in an online presence should do it soon. It is their best chance to keep up with the competition and draw new customers. We will get into more details on what that online presence should involve in the following lines.
#2. Merchants Who Went Online Receive Most of Their Orders through Their Websites
B2B merchants who have embraced online commerce report that 80% of their orders come from their websites, followed by email and phone orders. This shows that B2B buyers appreciate the convenience of online shopping.
Besides increased buyer satisfaction, online transactions also mean faster payments. While the usual waiting period for payments goes up to sixty days, online orders allow merchants to get paid instantly, even before delivery.
No wonder that so many B2B merchants are rushing to offer their clients digital wallets and other online payment facilities. Most of them have more than five years of online experience, which goes to show that things have been working out well for them. If they hadn’t, they would not have invested so much time and so many resources into their online presence.
#3. Getting Online Is Not Enough
The future of B2B commerce is online, there is no doubt about that. However, just getting online is not enough. Merchants deciding to enter the world of e-commerce need to consider several important aspects, such as:
- Reputation – News spreads fast online, especially bad news. A few small mistakes due to launching too fast or before figuring out all details can be enough to ruin a merchant’s reputation. Rebuilding it could take months or years and considerable resources, so it is better for merchants deciding to get online to plan their steps carefully and work with professionals.
- Prices – The internet makes it extremely easy for buyers to check and compare prices. Merchants who do not have competitive prices should not expect their sales to skyrocket. On the contrary, they should use the internet to study their competition and step up their game.
- Buyer needs and expectations – Buyers, whether individuals, companies, or institutions, treasure their time and resources. They like merchant websites that are easy to navigate and provide a rewarding shopping experience. They want detailed product descriptions, bulk pricing, stocks updated in real time, custom offers and bulk pricing options, streamline order processes, data security, and more.
For a B2C merchant, a professionally designed storefront on an e-commerce platform could be enough. For a B2B merchant, requirements go a little further. Keeping up with them takes deep understanding of the B2B buyers needs and expectations.
Understanding and Meeting B2B Buyers’ Needs and Expectations
In most companies and institutions, purchases are initiated by one person or department but require approval from another person or department. Sometimes, after the purchase is approved, a third person or department steps in to manage orders and payments.
To streamline the process, most companies and institutions use e-procurement software. It allows them to check merchant offers, initiate, approve, and pay for purchases directly from the system. Unfortunately, for merchants, this means that they need to integrate their offers with their prospects’ e-procurement system.
In the past, this used to be accomplished mostly through CIF (catalog interchange format) catalogs. The merchants would provide those for their clients to integrate them into their e-procurement systems. Many merchants and buyers still use these catalogs, but they lack flexibility.
CIF catalogs require updating or replacing whenever the merchant changes prices or adds new products to their offer. Also, they do not take stocks into account, allowing buyers to place orders that the merchant may not be able to honor.
Punchout technology solves these problems by allowing merchants to create punchout catalogs. These are basically merchant websites that integrate with e-procurement platforms to enable direct order processing and payments.
They allow the merchant to create accounts for and assign credentials to their clients in order to be able to easily recognize them. This makes it easy to customize offers for important clients and opens new perspectives in terms of marketing.
Buyers can thus easily login to their accounts and add products or services to their shopping cart. At checkout, their shopping carts are transferred automatically to the buyers’ e-procurement systems where the corresponding departments can approve them and process payments.
Obviously, punchout catalogs, assuming they are well-designed and implemented, enable merchants to save considerable time and resources, reach out to and convert more prospects, and retain existing customers. They ensure an improved user experience, and streamline B2B transactions.
Taking all these into account, it would not be an exaggeration to say that they represent the future of B2B commerce. B2B Merchants who have not yet made their products available online or have yet to see the results they were hoping for should definitely consider creating their own professional punchout catalogs.