Since its onset, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated ecommerce adoption and 2021 didn’t put the brakes on this trend. Increasingly, manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers rely on on B2B ecommerce to deliver the experiences customers want.
For the Oro 2022 report on B2B ecommerce trends, we surveyed top experts in the field. We asked them about rising trends, trends heading out with the tide, and trends that will endure.
Digital channels provide key avenues for B2B sellers to reach new customers and maximize customer lifetime value from their existing customers. We believe the following trends will continue to be important players throughout 2022.
In 2021, we predicted growth and investment in marketplace adoption, cloud-based solutions deployment, and security. For 2022, we see more interest in self-service portals that customers continue to demand.
B2B buyers increasingly expect an Amazon-like experience. For 2022 and the foreseeable future, manufacturers, distributors, and B2B sellers in general will offer the self-service experiences buyers want through customer portals. Viewing customer purchase history, tracking orders, viewing invoices, and reordering are all activities customers prefer to do on their own and self-service portals make it possible.
“When approaching a new ecommerce venture, the enterprise must re-evaluate its ‘true’ requirements: what makes the business work, how to best serve customers, and how to follow best practices without being over-reliant on ‘how we've always done things.’ This keeps the enterprise agile, flexible, and open to creative and successful solutions that match requirements, not preconceived notions.”
-Michael Vasta, eCommerce Digital Strategist at Americaneagle.com
Flexible B2B Ecommerce Platforms
When economies around the world closed for the pandemic, they inadvertently changed the behavior of B2B buyers permanently. Even as businesses attempt to return to normal, McKinsey reports that 75% of B2B buyers prefer the new normal and favor remote or digital interactions over face-to-face meetings. The B2B brands that gave short shrift to digital selling realized that was the customer experience their clients demanded.
In 2022, investment in B2B ecommerce platforms tops the list for B2B businesses. They will increasingly look for flexible solutions and partners that strategize as well as develop.
2022 was a year in which businesses found that they must quickly change their priorities and do more with less. It’s not surprising that when it comes to selecting digital commerce technology, customization and flexibility top the must-haves list. A close second was the ability to get the most common B2B ecommerce features out of the box.
This year, B2B brands will pay close attention to technology trends and how their vendor product roadmaps incorporate these trends. It will be a year in which leaders value solutions that solve today’s problems but have the plasticity to adapt to ever-changing market conditions and customer expectations.
Upgrading and Integrating
As manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers continue to adopt ecommerce practices, they must make legacy systems work with new solutions. As tech stacks grow, the need for integrations options grows with them. One of the greatest tech challenges of 2022 will continue to be integrating systems.
The other main challenges will be finding the right software and solution partner to upgrade legacy systems and integrate new solutions.
Industrial sellers and buyers are relying more and more on B2B marketplaces to connect. In 2021, Forrester predicted that by 2023, B2B marketplaces would handle 17% of sales. Digital sellers need to keep a close eye on this growing trend.
Just a year ago, B2B marketplaces handled a mere 7% of total B2B ecommerce sales. By 2025, the value of sales is forecast to increase from $1 trillion to $4 trillion. That’s a very healthy 32% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) for a relatively new way of doing B2B business.
Where new B2C marketplaces are constrained by giants like Amazon and Taobao, B2B marketplaces don’t face the same pressure. That leaves the door open for manufacturers and distributors to create new marketplaces as unique as their verticals.
Content is Still King
It may sound cliché, but content continues to be king. In 2022, B2B marketers will leverage SEO, web content, and emails to generate high-quality leads.
In 2021, short articles and posts were popular vehicles for content marketing purposes. For 2022, we see email newsletters, long articles, and podcasts becoming more popular.
2020 drove a nail in the heart of in-person events, and they didn’t make much of a comeback in 2021. For 2022, we don’t see brands investing heavily in these types of events. While marketers try to replace these with virtual events, they struggle to build relationships and articulate their brands through these experiences.
In 2022, it is important to create content that shows the ability of a vendor to understand problems and offer solutions.
Forrester’s research shows that more than 90% of B2B buyers expect B2B vendors to provide content that is relevant for their stage of the buying journey. The key is personalization so that the content is tailored to each lead. Successful content marketers will connect by focusing on the audience’s content needs and delivering pertinent information using the appropriate channel.
What's Hot and What's Not in B2B Ecommerce
Nothing lasts forever. Hemlines go up and down and B2B buyers have changing expectations. Trends come and go in response to market forces, new technology, and the desires of buyers. One trend that is here to stay is B2B ecommerce. As a result, in 2022, manufacturers, distributors, and B2B sellers will continue to make ecommerce investments a top priority. In addition, they’ll adopt technologies like automation and artificial intelligence to further increase efficiency and improve customer experiences.
Our survey of digital thought leaders found they all agreed on the continued ascendency of B2B ecommerce and the need for these businesses to increase their investments in technology.
Like the ebb and flow of the ocean, here is how our panel of digital experts sees the current trends in ecommerce.
Self-service portals are the number one trend in B2B ecommerce. Buyers increasingly demand the ability to self-serve and brands are responding. With a continued focus on improving the customer experience and personalizing the buyer journey, process automation and integration will be more important than ever.
1. Self-Service Portals
In a recent Frost & Sullivan survey, 81% of customers at the enterprise level showed a marked preference for self-service. In 2022, buyers will look to solve problems with the aid of online help tools before resorting to reaching out to customer support. B2B businesses will need to offer self-service tools that support customer needs and as a result, become accustomed to engaging with buyers through digital channels.
2. Workflow Automation
In 2022, B2B buyers will continue to expect an improved customer experience. This includes accurate order processing and speedy delivery. However, with 50% of all B2B sales still manually processed, there’s far too much room for human error. By sharing data, connecting systems, and automating workflows, companies can reduce errors and improve the customer experience. Automation also improves compliance and supports growth, and will be key to correcting inefficiencies in companies in the future.
In 2022, Gartner predicts that the average ecommerce experience will require more than 30 integrated applications. With more and more solutions coming together to handle everything from order management to warehousing, websites and resource planning, integration will be important. Whether companies take a unified, composable, or microservices approach to architecture, integrating systems will be top of mind.
Not all technology trends last. While each of these trends still requires watching, they are losing steam.
1. Social Selling
After the dust settled on the social media craze, it turns out business buyers don’t turn to social media to research or make purchases. B2B sellers are better off providing content like industry reports and whitepapers. If you want to get social, conduct a webinar.
Just when it seemed like everyone was moving to cryptocurrency, we discovered they weren’t. According to PYMNTS, only one of every ten institutions even supports cryptocurrency. Don’t expect to see widespread acceptance of cryptocurrency in B2B transactions.
3. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
VR and AR aren’t as important as physical stores reopen. Most B2B industries and ecommerce experts haven’t found practical applications for these technologies, no matter how intriguing they may appear.
Your Partners Matter
In 2022, it’s important to have partners that can help you strategize. While customer preferences and technologies continue to evolve, having the right partners to help you distinguish the signal from the noise is crucial. They are invaluable in prioritizing your investments to deliver an improved online experience.
“Find a partner who can plan strategically with you based on your company's unique needs – do not settle for a partner who is only reactionary. This will go a long way towards executive buy-in and the trickle-down internal adoption that is needed. B2B companies need to be focused on their entire digital ecosystem and not just one piece of the puzzle. Systems need to be evaluated consistently to assess replacement, upgrade, etc. It's important to be realistic about the limitations of your internal systems.”
-Jordan Crooks, Senior Digital Strategist at Americaneagle.com
This article was contributed by Anna Korolekh, Marketing Director at Oro Inc.
Anna has been in digital marketing since 2009, having started her career with content-writing and developing link-building strategies. In 2010, she was hired as an SEO analyst for Promodo marketing agency. By 2012, she extended her skillset beyond SEM becoming a digital marketing manager of the International department at Promodo. From 2014-2016, Anna led marketing efforts at P2H web development company until finally joining the Oro Inc. family in November 2016 to lead digital promotion of Oro key products: OroCommerce and OroMarketplace.