What opportunities, challenges, and changes are promised for B2B e-commerce? Many! As we look ahead, a host of exciting developments and digitally-driven shifts await manufacturers, brands, and distributors. The time of the B2B buyer has arrived.
When B2B buyers seize full control of their e-commerce rights, demand their suppliers meet their expectations for a seamless e-commerce experience, and more sellers wake up to accommodate these needs.
It’s time: The year of the B2B buyer
We will likely see the mid-market further bifurcate to those that take action, and those that further reinforce their backwards slide and lose ground to Amazon and others, who are investing heavily in e-commerce.
Pro-active businesses will be rewarded with competitive advantage, incremental revenue, and efficiency gains. New technologies like Internet of Things and virtual / augmented reality will make significant gains this year, and drive real utility for buyers and efficiencies for companies that use them intelligently with a customer-first approach.
Here are my predictions for the future of the B2B buyer:
B2B search and buying behavior shifted in the past, and will continue to do so.
Amazon Business’ ascendency marches onward, with the e-commerce giant having crossed $10 BN in B2B run rate revenue in 2018. Industry-wide, Amazon now accounts for upwards of 60% of product search starts (and that isn’t just consumers searching – business buyers are starting searches on Amazon too). If you’re interested, I wrote about this trend back in February of 2018.
Amazon will continue to rapidly add B2B features and create opportunities for manufacturers and brands to enter digital commerce in a capital efficient way, while also challenging traditional selling channels.
Amazon’s industry specialization will continue as they expand to serve more challenging B2B industries online – it isn’t just about selling office products any more. Look for Amazon to deepen capabilities in industry sectors like health care, hospitality, technology, automotive, and chemicals.
Connectivity will rule the day.
New technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) are being used by leaders such as illumina and Bosch to better connect with customers and deliver truly personalized digital experiences, surpassing even their large retailer counterparts. By embedding web connectivity into equipment in the field, these innovators are helping their customers to more efficiently use their products and services, driving down costs, and making their customers’ jobs easier.
In 2019, we will see continued innovation and expanded use of IoT. The B2B sellers that put their customers’ needs at the forefront of their investment activities in this area will leapfrog competitors.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR / AR) has moved from concept to real world application in B2B, and the use of these technologies will accelerate in 2019.
VR / AR is already quietly being deployed by innovative manufacturers. Some companies, for example, are equipping their service personnel with smart glasses that allow in-field teams to connect with expert support at the home office. With smart glasses, field techs and support “see” the same thing during a repair or maintenance activity.
Envision the HVAC repair technician working on the roof of a commercial building connecting his or her smart glasses to the support center, and “looking together” at the repair in progress and jointly troubleshooting issues. This makes the job of the tech and the support team easier and faster.
The bar continues to rise for delivering a seamless online user experience.
Mid-market and large enterprises have learned the value of “stealing smartly” from B2C best practices, and will continue to upgrade their web experiences to meet this new expectation of business buyers.
Cardinal Health, State Electric, Augusta Sportswear, and many others re-launched their e-commerce experiences in 2018, and learned the value of providing world class, “consumer-like” web site experiences along the way. Excellence in site search, navigation, fast checkout, and visual shopping features are no longer optional in B2B – they are table stakes. Companies that recognize the importance of web usability fundamentals will continue to win in 2019.
Wholesaler distribution is changing.
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This post originally appeared on LinkedIn, and is syndicated here with permission.