B2B companies can be competitive against Amazon by providing the kind of web content and services their buyers crave, Forrester Research analyst John Bruno says.

Amazon Business may be blowing out its already dominant positon in B2B e-commerce, but smaller competitors can still win sales by playing on its weaknesses, John Bruno, the lead B2B e-commerce analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said at a conference last week.

“Amazon isn’t the only competitor in town,” Bruno said. “Use their missteps to deliver a differentiated user experience.”

On the Amazon road to $25 billion

To be sure, Amazon Business is growing at breakneck speed, surpassing $10 billion in annualized sales since launching three years ago, the company said last week. It has much more to come, and soon: It’s projected to reach as much as $25 billion within the next few years, Bruno and investment analyst Colin Sebastian of R.W. Baird & Co. said last week, basing each of their projections on their own separate research.

John Bruno, senior analyst,
Forrester Research

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Amazon also has achieved other B2B milestones in a relatively short time. “It took Amazon Business just one year to reach one million customers,” Bruno told attendees at Engage 2018, a first-time user conference with 150 attendees from about 50 companies hosted in Minneapolis by Insite Software Solutions Inc., a provider of B2B e-commerce technology and services.

Despite Amazon’s rapid and influential presence in B2B e-commerce, there are still ways that manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers can compete against the biggest online merchant.

For example, smaller B2B e-commerce sites have the ability to offer far more product content and specifications on product pages than Amazon, Bruno said.

How to  compete against Amazon

As an example, he showed conference attendees an Amazon product page for a power drill, which featured 13 basic product specifications such as product number and shipping weight. He next showed a slide displaying the same drill from an unidentified B2B website with twice as many product specifications.

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“B2B buyers crave substance,” Bruno said. “They want depth and not just breadth.”

He asserted that manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers can compete—and beat Amazon—by taking these steps:

  • “Focus on the experience to be more relevant to your buyer and reap the benefits of their loyalty”;
  • “Don’t take a reactionary approach and over rotate on customer self-service”;
  • “Embrace the value that your sales team brings and compensate them for bringing it.”

Most B2B buyers—about 70%—now want to go online and use self-service tools to research and make a purchase, Bruno said.

But for many buyers, the purchasing process can be anything but easy. “Don’t make them look for a needle in a haystack,” Bruno told the Engage attendees.

Smaller B2B e-commerce sites can go deeper on content, products and a more specific user experience than currently offered by Amazon Business, he said.

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Bruno said his research shows that Amazon Business—with website operations in eight countries including the United States—is on track to at least double its sales next year to a range of $20 billion to $25 billion. In comparison, that sales volume would be at least three times greater than the $5.84 billion in sales that W.W. Grainger Inc., a major distributor of maintenance, repair and operations products, processed through its e-commerce channels, including websites, internet-connected vending machines and EDI in 2017.

“Amazon Business achieved $1 billion in annual sales” within its first year, Bruno, who researches B2B e-commerce technology trends for Forrester, told the Engage attendees. “That’s faster than any other Amazon business including Amazon Web Services.

Amazon Web Services is an Amazon business unit that provides cloud computing services, database storage and content delivery.

Bruno’s projection was complemented by a report released last week by Sebastian, who projected that Amazon Business’s sales will exceed $25 billion by 2021 and could eventually surpass Amazon’s retail sales. Amazon is listed as No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 1000.

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