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B2B eCommerce in a Post-COVID World: The Challenges and Opportunities

COVID-19 upended the B2B world, but businesses that proactively adopted B2B eCommerce adapted faster to buyers’ changing needs.

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The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc across the globe, affecting the lives and livelihoods of billions of people. Our first thought is for those who lost their lives and those who continue to suffer. Beyond the devastating health repercussions, the economic impact will reverberate for many years. Recent figures from the World Bank indicate a global GDP contraction of over five percent and the biggest per capita income drop in 150 years. 

In addition to shrinking the economy and hitting small and medium businesses hard, the pandemic has transformed how we interact, particularly B2B companies. B2B suppliers, manufacturers, and wholesalers have been driven to accelerate their transition to self-serve digital sales channels such as eCommerce. Companies that had already invested in eCommerce have outperformed those that rely on traditional in-person sales or less flexible technology, such as EDI.

A global survey from McKinsey shows that by July, B2B eCommerce revenues increased by 20 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. Digital interactions are twice as important to buyers as they were before COVID-19. Throughout 2020, eCommerce has become increasingly vital to B2B businesses, presenting opportunities and challenges that they cannot afford to ignore.

COVID-19 and the Challenges of B2B eCommerce 

The accelerated adoption of B2B eCommerce is an answer to the challenges of COVID-19, but it brings its own challenges. ECommerce allows businesses to move away from sales practices that coronavirus makes impossible, but any radical transformation of such a critical business function creates risk.

The most apparent cause of increased eCommerce use was lockdowns and workforce disruption. Field sales professionals couldn’t meet with buyers, and salespeople and buyer employees transitioned to remote work if they could work at all. 

For businesses who already sold through an eCommerce platform, the impact was less severe. They could transition customers making repeat sales and less complicated orders to their eCommerce store, reducing the burden on sales teams. Sales professionals could then focus on sales scenarios that required individual attention.

However, the unexpected reliance on eCommerce revealed platform weaknesses that were less of a concern when eCommerce was not so critical to revenue. 

Many B2B buyers simply weren’t familiar with buying online for their business. They were accustomed to meeting with a sales rep or picking up the phone. B2B eCommerce is more involved than B2C, and buyers may require a level of handholding and support that sellers are not used to providing. The most effective B2B suppliers pivoted less active sales personnel to support roles, helping customers to create accounts and make purchases. 

In contrast, more technically able B2B buyers were happy to transition, but they expect suppliers to offer a refined B2B eCommerce experience with features that include:

  • eProcurement integration to enable PunchOut catalogs and sales order automation. Buyers want to access catalogs and manage transactions within their eProcurement platform. 
  • Information transparency for costs and discounts, especially around bulk ordering and repeat purchases. These are typically handled through sales representatives, but buyers want that information available immediately in the eCommerce interface. 

Modern B2B eCommerce platforms and PunchOut2Go’s iPaaS are more than capable of creating the transparent, information-rich, and integrated online experience buyers expect. But sellers have to commit to building that superior experience. Those that had already understood the importance of an efficient purchasing process were better placed to weather COVID-19 disruption. 

Finally, small and mid-sized B2B wholesalers and manufacturers aren’t the only businesses looking to meet B2B buyers’ needs. Marketplaces like Amazon Business and large distributors recognize the opportunity and are investing heavily in the B2B eCommerce experience. 

If your business lacks a digital sales channel that offers a world-class experience, it faces competition not only from peers in the same industry but also multi-national marketplaces. Once that business is lost, it’ll be extremely challenging to win back. 

B2B ECommerce: The Opportunities

B2B businesses may not have expected such a rapid transition to online selling, but eCommerce presents opportunities to better serve buyers in these challenging times. 

ECommerce has advantages over traditional methods of selling.  The McKinsey report we cited earlier goes on to say that “companies that embed digital sales into their go-to-market model see 5-times faster revenue growth.” Selling via eCommerce is more efficient than traditional methods, with cost reductions of up to 60 percent in sales departments. 

Furthermore, COVID-19 has substantially increased the number of buyers who are prepared to self-serve for B2B transactions. In 2016, 35 percent of buyers expressed a preference for self-service during the research phase, in contrast to 65 percent today. The same effect can be seen across all phases of the buying process, including evaluation, ordering, and reordering. B2B buyers are far more enthusiastic about self-serve eCommerce options than they once were. 

As we’ve mentioned in earlier articles, 89 percent of B2B buyers use online search, particularly Google, in the product research process. Seventy-one percent of B2B buyers start product research with a generic Google search. If your products aren’t indexed in Google, buyers won’t see them. If you don’t have an online store, most buyers won’t be aware that your business is even an option.

In the previous section, we emphasized the challenges businesses face in implementing the eProcurement integration and automation services that many buyers expect. But buyer desire creates an opportunity for forward-looking companies that can provide fast and straightforward integration for PunchOut catalogs and sales order automation. 

B2B automation is often a factor in buyer decisions, and it can make all the difference when establishing new relationships and strengthening existing ones. If your business can quickly integrate with a buyer’s back-end platform, it’s in a strong position relative to less capable competitors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous strain on communities and businesses across the world, and we’re not out of the woods yet. We have all had to adapt. For B2B businesses, investment in eCommerce is one aspect of that necessary evolution. Companies that wait for the B2B market to return to the pre-2020 normal are unlikely to flourish in the post-COVID world. To learn more about the post-COVID future of B2B eCommerce, check out PunchOut2Go's new complimentary eBook, eCommerce 101: B2B Best Practices.

To learn how PunchOut2Go simplifies eProcurement integration and automation for PunchOut catalogs, sales order automation, and more, complete the form below and an eCommerce integration expert will contact you soon.

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