With the market pressures of the pandemic having accelerated a B2B shift to ecommerce, many buyers are more likely to switch suppliers and demand performance guarantees, a survey from McKinsey & Co. finds.

The evidence continues to mount that B2B buyers are switching their corporate purchases to the online channel in a big—and permanent—way.

We now see a tipping point, with ecommerce surpassing in-person selling as a sales channel.

The latest data comes from a new survey of 750 executives from business research and consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The survey finds B2B customers now regularly use ten or more channels to interact with suppliers, up from just five in 2016. Buyers are more willing than ever before to spend substantial amounts through remote or online sales channels, with 35% willing to spend $500,000 or more in a single transaction (up from 27% in February 2021). 77% of B2B customers are also willing to spend $50,000 or more.

“The next normal for B2B sales is here, and there’s no looking back—businesses are no longer cautiously testing the waters, incrementally (and sometimes reluctantly) inching their way online,” McKinsey says. “The pressures from COVID-19 have accelerated the shift.”

During the pandemic, an unprecedented share of consumers began changing brands or retailers, and signs suggest that B2B buyers are following suit. More B2B customers are actively looking for another supplier if their main needs are not met, McKinsey says. More than 80% say that a performance guarantee—including a full refund if a certain performance level is not met—is critical for brand loyalty. Purchasers are almost as likely to want real-time customer service, transparency online about product availability and pricing, and a consistent purchasing experience across multiple channels,” McKinsey says.

While ecommerce is growing faster than ever, some suppliers remain hesitant. Within companies, self-service ecommerce is viewed “in competition” with other sales channels, McKinsey says. For example, 54% of companies say their in-person sales operations compete with ecommerce, and 47% say inside sales—incorporating fully remote transactions, often conducted by phone only—also compete with the online channel.


But the shift to more—and not less—B2B ecommerce is on, McKinsey says. For example, when it comes to how effective purchasing channels are, 32 % of respondents now rank ecommerce as the single most effective channel, compared with in-person transactions at 23%.

Part of the reason customers are engaging in a wider array of channels is that suppliers are finally “catching up to the demand,” McKinsey says. “While in-person selling rebounded to pre-COVID-19 levels during 2021, more companies than ever before also began offering e-commerce as a sales channel,” McKinsey says. “We now see a tipping point, with ecommerce surpassing in-person selling as a sales channel, at 65 % versus 53% earlier this year.

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