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Looking Ahead To 2021: B2B eCommerce Trends in the Wake of COVID-19

Learn how five trends will change B2B eCommerce in 2021, including increased B2B eCommerce adoption, headless eCommerce, and eProcurement integration and automation.

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1-6-21_blog_small.jpg2020 was a huge year for B2B eCommerce. The unwelcome arrival of COVID–19 disrupted supply chains and workforces across the planet. As procurement professionals and salespeople retreated to home offices, B2B sales went online, and many sellers came to rely on their eCommerce store as a primary sales channel. Early figures show that B2B eCommerce sales increased by 20 percent by the middle of the year.

We all hope that 2021 will be less hectic as we come to terms with and develop solutions to the pandemic, but there is no doubt that its effects will continue to resonate into the new year and beyond.

B2B eCommerce Is the New Normal

2020’s headline trend is a wide-scale and likely irreversible transfer of spending from the traditional field and phone sales to self-serve digital platforms. The trend towards B2B eCommerce is driven by buyers and sellers and accelerated by the COVID–19 pandemic. In 2021, we expect to see further increases in B2B eCommerce spending as buyers express their preference for the self-serve experience and eCommerce’s integration and automation potential.

A fourth-quarter survey from McKinsey found that 90 percent of B2B decision-makers expect the dominance of digital sales to persist after the pandemic, with 97 percent of B2B buyers expressing their willingness to buy online with self-serve eCommerce. Perhaps most telling of all, less than 30 percent of B2B buyers “want to ever interact with reps in person even in their ideal/post-COVID–19 model.”

For B2B distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers, the theme of 2021 is clear: B2B eCommerce is the new normal. B2B suppliers who fail to provide self-serve digital channels that meet buyers’ expectations are unlikely to thrive in a competitive marketplace.

Headless eCommerce Is Here to Stay

As B2B sales move to digital, sellers are looking for flexible, customizable, and cost-effective eCommerce solutions. Headless eCommerce, also known as decoupled or API-driven eCommerce, empowers them to build an adaptable sales platform while meeting their buyers’ complex requirements.

Traditional eCommerce software is monolithic: interface and business logic are combined in a single codebase. Users must accept the interface and functionality the developer provides or pay to have it customized, something that is rarely as easy as it should be.

Headless eCommerce is different: the business logic—catalog and order management, payment, logistics—are provided by back-end systems, often hosted on a managed cloud platform. The store’s front-end interface accesses the back-end via an API, allowing B2B suppliers to build a diverse range of eCommerce solutions tailored to their business’s unique needs.

Headless is the best of both worlds. A PCI-compliant managed back-end does the heavy lifting while users build bespoke front-ends that drive increased engagement. Even better, API-driven commerce software is designed for integration and automation, allowing businesses to integrate with back-office software and customer eProcurement platforms more easily.

In recent years, many leading B2B eCommerce platforms have adopted the headless model, including industry leaders BigCommerce, Episerver Commerce Cloud, Elastic Path, Shopify Plus, and Znode.

B2B Marketplaces Will Go Mainstream in 2021

B2B marketplaces are not new, and B2B sellers are already familiar with Alibaba and similar platforms. However, an increasing number of businesses are making a move from eCommerce sellers to marketplace operators, transforming their existing eCommerce store into a marketplace and inviting other sellers to join them.

The benefits of becoming a marketplace operator might not be obvious, but marketplaces offer significant opportunities to increase revenue and profit. Marketplaces allow businesses to increase product diversity and attract many more buyers, giving operators a competitive advantage compared to single-seller stores. They also empower companies to collect a wider variety of data and develop a deeper understanding of their market and its opportunities.

Best Buy Canada is a prime example, as discussed in How Can Your Business Get Involved In B2B Markets?. Best Buy evolved its existing single-seller eCommerce store into a marketplace, lending its brand to sellers with complementary products. Increased product diversity attracted more buyers, especially in product areas where Best Buy had previously struggled. As the marketplace operator, Best Buy also benefited from fees and premium services offered to marketplace sellers. Similar marketplace success stories include Volkswagen RIO, Toyota Material Handling, and H&M Group’s Afound.

Content Will Take Center Stage in 2021

B2C eCommerce retailers have long understood the importance of online content. B2B sellers, in contrast, have not been under the same pressure to publish high-quality content. Nor have they been expected to build engaging digital platforms to host and showcase product information and marketing material. B2B buyers relied primarily on expert sales teams for vendor and product information.

That will change in 2021 because buyer behavior is evolving. As we’ve already seen, B2B buyers are less interested in in-person sales interactions, preferring self-serve options. Transparent, informative, and engaging content is essential in self-serve situations where buyers are looking for the information they need to make decisions without picking up the phone.

A recent survey by DemandGen showed that the two most important sources of product information for B2B buyers are web search and vendor websites. Content is central to both. Without relevant content, a business’s products will not be present in search results, and buyers won’t be aware that it is even an option. If a potential buyer visits a B2B eCommerce store and cannot find the information they need to make a decision, they’ll head back to search to find a competitor. Over 90 percent of survey respondents ranked easy access to content as an essential factor in vendor research.

EProcurement Integration and Automation Capability Will Govern Vendor Decisions in 2021

Automation goes hand-in-hand with digitization, and B2B buyers across the U.S. are investing heavily in procurement digitization. They have embraced eProcurement and spend management platforms to reduce procurement costs, increase insight into procurement processes, and eliminate rogue spending and expensive procurement errors. But buyer eProcurement platforms are most effective when integrated with seller eCommerce stores and marketplaces.

Buyers expect sellers to provide a fast and low-friction route to integration that enables automation features such as PunchOut catalogs and purchase order automation. As more B2B buyers turn to eCommerce as a primary sales channel, integration and automation become increasingly important. Buyers want to access their suppliers’ stores from within eProcurement platforms, and they want a seamless procurement document and data exchange between their platform and supplier stores.

Buyer desire for automation gives B2B sellers two main priorities in the coming year:

  • eCommerce: if your B2B business lacks a robust and engaging eCommerce solution, now is the time to invest in eCommerce. Your buyers want to transact via an eCommerce store, and companies that can’t meet their needs are likely to lose out to proactive competitors.
  • Integration and Automation: Once your business’s eCommerce store is in place, buyers will expect to integrate their eProcurement platform for PunchOut catalogs, purchase order automation, electronic invoicing, and more.

PunchOut2Go is here to help with eProcurement integration and B2B automation. Our Integration Platform as a Service can integrate any eCommerce store with any eProcurement spend management or ERP, with integration lead times averaging a couple of hours over a period of 14 days.

To learn more, complete the form below, and an eProcurement integration specialist will contact you soon.

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