B2B Needs eCommerce, Too

Written by Nicola Malaney

b2b-needs-ecommerce-too.jpgThere’s no denying that the world is rapidly embracing the eCommerce movement and the Home screen on my iPhone is proof: with just a couple of taps and swipes I can view my home’s utility bill, and as one hand is picking my jaw up from the floor (it’s been cold here in the Mid-Atlantic!), the other can make an instant payment. In the subsequent seconds, I can research and purchase a space heater that might even be delivered later that same day. The speed and efficiency with which buying and selling happen these days are not limited to just the B2C world. According to Forrester Research, B2B eCommerce sales will reach over $1.2 trillion by 2020, and will account for about 13 percent of all U.S. B2B sales. If building a robust eCommerce strategy isn’t already part of your short-term plan, now might be a good time to think twice.   

Last year, my colleague Neal Willis wrote a great piece on the rise of eCommerce and its impact on the shipping industry. He spoke about what is now affectionately known as the “Amazon effect,” where consumers are demanding instant gratification when it comes to their daily transactions. Retailers have had to take drastic measures to ensure that their inventory is prepped for next-day delivery and that shipping is cheap or even free, to boot. Those that haven’t adapted quickly enough are feeling the heat (I’m looking at you, Costco). The same is likely to be true in the B2B world as manufacturers and distributors shift gears and start to digitize their catalogs. As younger generations move into decision-making roles, it’s likely that they’ll require similar bells and whistles to their consumer counterparts. And if you think Amazon doesn’t have a horse in the B2B race yet, take a look at Amazon Business, which launched in 2015.

There’s a lot to consider when planning the transition to eCommerce and unfortunately for B2B businesses, there are added layers of complexity that most B2C strategies needn’t worry about. Let’s take shipping for example. It only makes sense that I’d choose to tackle shipping first, doesn’t it? A significant amount of B2B sales are going to be bulky; either the purchases are made in bulk, or the items themselves are well, bulky! These aren’t your typical USPS orders and shouldn’t be treated as such. Now you’re talking Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) freight. When it comes to shipping, it’s a whole new ballgame and an antiquated one at that. It’s true that the freight industry has been notoriously slow at adopting some of the technology most of us would have expected by now. This makes things a tad more difficult when migrating your large freight business to the online marketplace. To help manage this, it’s important to invest in software solutions that optimize the distribution process and facilitate that “one-click ship” that everyone has grown accustomed to.

Software in and of itself presents a hurdle as not everyone runs on the same systems, and it’s likely that most are outdated. You’ll need to factor in the time it takes for integration, as well as consider the non-eCommerce side of your business and the impacts the migration to an online platform may have. To add to the challenge, the abundance of companies offering fancy solutions can lead to information overload. How do you determine which solution is right for your business? You may want to consider attending some of the eCommerce conventions that are popular these days. Not only can you learn about what’s out there, but you can gain first-hand knowledge from your peers and make meaningful connections within your industry and across your supply chain. Don’t forget about all of the cool pens, key chains and beer koozies you can snag!

When it comes to adapting to the eCommerce invasion, it’s inevitable that most businesses will need to make some sort of change. Don’t get left in the dust clutching your paper catalogs; devise an eCommerce strategy today!