Trends & stats

A crystal ball look at what lies ahead for B2B commerce

Editors note: This is a recent blog post reprinted here with the blessing of ecommerce services and consulting firm Avensia,

More and more B2B buyers are turning to digital channels to support their purchasing. Research by McKinsey found that globally all B2B customers prefer omnichannel capabilities, regardless of industry, country, size, or customer relationship stage. This e-commerce B2B trend certainly appears to be here for the long-term.

Coupled with this is the growth of B2B marketplaces. According to numbers shared by Digital Commerce 360, there are more than three times as many B2B marketplaces today as there was in 2019. McKinsey also found that 72% of companies that have built their own marketplace saw market-share growth over the past two years, compared to 42% of companies that haven’t built a marketplace.

But what else changed B2B retail in 2022?

Here are five B2B commerce trends that you may have missed.

1. B2B is becoming more customer centric

It’s impossible for B2B businesses to ignore the impact that consumer retail has on customer expectations. The experiences that B2B customers have outside of their work lives are changing the way they view B2B purchasing, and B2B businesses are responding by becoming more customer-centric. This e-commerce B2B trend highlights the importance of omnichannel customer service, making sure your company is ready to respond to customers through any medium they choose to communicate through.

Worryingly, Sana Commerce’s 2022 B2B Buyer Report notes that 50% of B2B e-commerce sites do not fully meet the expectations of B2B consumers. What’s more, 94% of B2B buyers said they have faced customer experience challenges online.

So how are B2B commerce businesses tackling this?

Catering wholesaler Catering24.co.uk operates in the kind of customer-centric way you would expect of a B2C business but for B2B customers. This includes longer opening hours (7 am-11 pm), making deliveries six days a week, and offering next-day delivery to orders made before 7 pm.

Screwfix, which sells tools, hardware, and accessories, primarily focuses on the trade industry but also has some consumer business. It is known for its customer-focused experience, particularly its click-and-collect offering which often has products ready to pick up just minutes after the order is placed online.

The ease of finding products and ordering them online with Screwfix is a major draw for its B2B buyers. Research by Intershop revealed that at least 32% of B2B buyers say finding products is their biggest issue online.

Screwfix is not the only company focusing on improving the working lives of tradespeople though. TradeKart and Snap It are on-demand rapid delivery platforms that enable tradespeople to order products from local merchants and have them delivered quickly.

Snap It reports that tradespeople lose two hours a day on average on supply runs. By using a platform like Snap It or TradeKart, they can save time and money by having what they need brought directly to the place they are working.

It’s these kinds of experiences that are raising expectations for B2B customers. We expect to see more B2B commerce businesses following suit in 2023. How this e-commerce B2B trend affects your business may vary, but the key takeaway is that businesses must be flexible in responding to customer inquiries and needs.

2. New physical B2B models

B2B has been making its way onto the high street over the past few years. Brickworks’ New York design studio and Shopify’s entrepreneurial space are just two leading examples.

There are also several new multi-brand stores that on the surface sell products to consumers but have a business model built around selling floor space and data to brands. These include Showfields, Allure, Pop Up Grocer, and Neighborhood Goods.

In 2022, other new physical retail models for B2B have also emerged. One is NYBeauty Suites in Brooklyn which provides fully equipped rooms that can be booked by qualified beauticians, hair stylists, and nail technicians for short periods. This includes everything from one hour to one day to one month. Longer-term rentals are also an option.

It’s an interesting take on the co-working model championed by companies like WeWork and Regus in that it’s not just providing space. NYBeauty Suites gives professionals the tools they need to do the job as well, reducing their start-up costs.

Meanwhile, Product Guru, a platform for emerging brands to reach retailers, is using physical space in a more traditional retail way but with a B2B twist. Its temporary POP stores are laid out and merchandized like a normal retail store but can only be visited by retail buyers, wholesalers, distributors, and other industry professionals.

Each POP store is themed around a specific product category, such as home, food and drink, and beauty, enabling the industry to discover new brands in a hands-on way. The spaces also use technology to connect to Product Guru’s platform so that visitors can get more data and content about a brand, order samples, and start a conversation with the brand.

A benefit for the featured brands is that they get real-time data about how visitors to the space interact with their products. This can help support their ongoing product development.

As the B2B commerce market becomes increasingly crowded, B2B businesses may turn to physical space as a marketing alternative in the same way that B2C brands have.

3. B2B is becoming a bigger piece of businesses

Many businesses sell to both B2C and B2B, but increasingly there has been a trend towards B2B becoming a bigger piece of these operations.

Unilever cited its B2B platforms as one of the factors behind the 25% increase in total e-commerce sales it achieved in the first half of 2021. This meant that e-commerce represented 14% of the company’s total sales.

What’s more, Unilever has also stated that its B2B e-commerce grew 69% in the first half of 2022. Given how influential Unilever is within the industry, it’s only fair to assume that this e-commerce B2B trend will quickly work its way down to smaller businesses.

Home improvement company The Home Depot reported a similar growth story. The company delivered its highest quarterly sales and earnings in its history in Q2 2022. A major contributing factor was Home Depot’s B2B Pro offering, with the company noting that Pro sales outpaced consumer sales growth for the quarter.

Meanwhile, home retailer Williams-Sonoma reported that its B2B segment achieved a 17% year-over-year increase in Q3 2022.

Notably, company President and CEO Laura Alber highlighted the ongoing B2B opportunity for the company saying, “We continue to believe our B2B business presents a sizeable growth driver for us as it disrupts an underserved, estimated $80 billion total addressable market.”

Williams-Sonoma supplies commercial and hospitality brands like Starbucks, Marriott, and Hilton, and is looking to expand its B2B business into new areas like healthcare.

In 2022 direct-to-consumer Canadian linens brand Brooklinen also invested in its B2B arm, which targets hotels, the hospitality industry, and trade professionals, through the launch of its first-ever hospitality-grade collection.

It appears that for many brands B2B represents an under-tapped market for growth.

4. Sustainability opens up new B2B possibilities

With business practices under greater scrutiny than ever and consumer demand growing, sustainability is here to stay.

Making meaningful change, as opposed to ‘greenwashing’ where a company makes false or misleading claims about their environmental credentials, is harder than it might look though.

At the same time, becoming a more sustainable business requires a shift in mindset which can open up new B2B possibilities. Sustainability is a key factor for almost all businesses, though its effects can be felt within all current e-commerce B2B trends.

One example is grocery retailer Tesco’s new platform that allows its 3,500 suppliers to swap or sell surplus crops, packaging, and by-products with each other. Tesco Exchange lets suppliers make requests for things they need and list surplus stock they want to get rid of to find other businesses that have or need those things.

For example, a farmer may have crops that don’t meet the criteria for sale, or a producer may have by-products like peel that could be used as animal feed or in another production process.

It’s an innovative idea to reduce waste and potentially save suppliers money. This same approach could be applied to other industries and on B2B marketplaces. It also highlights the power of the B2B collective when it comes to solving sustainable challenges.

Perhaps B2B commerce businesses don’t need to try to do everything on their own but can have a greater impact by working together to minimize waste.

5. Buy now, pay later moves into B2B

Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) allows customers to make a purchase and pay for it at a later date, often in installments without interest. It has become a common payment option in B2C e-commerce over the last few years. Some customers use it as a way to try before they buy, ordering different products and sizes, returning the ones they don’t want, and only paying for the ones they keep.

Worldpay reported that BNPL accounted for $97 billion of e-commerce transactions globally in 2020. GlobalData put BNPL at $141.8 billion in 2021.

Now BNPL is making its way into the B2B world as well thanks to B2C BNPL providers adding B2B BNPL to their activities and new dedicated B2B focused BNPL start-ups. These include Billie, Kriya, Mordu, and Tranch.

BNPL has quickly secured a foothold in the B2B world because of the way most businesses operate. Many must pay suppliers upfront and then wait to receive income due to 30- or 60-day invoice payment windows. With supply chain issues, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the global financial picture, those payment windows can become stretched even more, contributing to cash flow issues.

It’s easy to see then why B2B customers may be enticed by BNPL as a modern solution to credit, particularly as more B2B transactions move online. This e-commerce B2B trend is lucrative for buyers and sellers alike, allowing sales to be made even when funds aren’t immediately available on the buyer’s end.

It’s also a lucrative opportunity for BNPL platforms. According to Juniper Research, over $84 trillion worth of B2B payments took place in 2021. On an individual level, the transactions that B2B customers make are typically of a much higher value than B2C consumers.

The emergence of B2B BNPL is an example of how digitalization is becoming an increasingly large part of B2B commerce. Traditional ways of operating are changing thanks to new digital tools which could leave some B2B retailers behind the competition.

What will B2B commerce look like in 2023?

Nothing will impact B2B commerce more in 2023 than the challenging economic climate.

The winners during this time will be those that invest in the right things to drive greater efficiency and to keep their sales funnels full. Digital tools in particular will make a difference in helping automate tasks and onboard new product ranges and customers faster. The more you learn about e-commerce B2B trends, and about the state of the industry as a whole, the more you’ll be prepared to deal with the upcoming challenges that face businesses in the future.

Value will be a big focus for B2B customers, not only in terms of pricing but also the benefit to their business. As such, there’s a real opportunity for B2B retailers who have embraced the trends of the last year to get ahead through greater customer centricity, including BNPL, and new B2B business streams, whether that’s a smart use of physical space, new business verticals or innovative platforms and marketplaces.

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About the B2BEA

The B2B eCommerce Association is a global network and resource hub for B2B practitioners, offering invaluable opportunities to connect and learn. Our mission is to empower manufacturers and distributors in their eCommerce and digital transformation journeys through useful tools, practical resources and exceptional networking opportunities. Join us to thrive in our dynamic industry

Want to become a member?

Become a member of the B2B eCommerce Association for free today. Connect, learn and find new opportunities. 

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