The coronavirus pandemic brought sudden and formidable challenges for B2B manufacturing companies. But it also created important opportunities.
That was the message Mark Brohan, senior vice president, B2B and market research at Digital Commerce 360 brought to attendees of the EnvisionB2B Conference & Exhibition in Chicago on Thursday morning.
“It’s not just big business, it’s mainstream business,” Brohan said, referring to B2B ecommerce sales.
U.S. B2B commerce sales grew almost 18% compared with 2020, reaching $1.64 trillion, or about 12.5% of all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales. The growth rate for B2B ecommerce in 2021 was significantly faster than the 15.2% growth rate for all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales, which reached about $13.1 trillion in 2021, Digital Commerce 360 finds.
Marketplaces are mainstream
Within B2B ecommerce, Brohan said, marketplaces are now soundly part of the mainstream.
Digital Commerce 360 estimates marketplace sales in 2021 represented 0.4% of all B2B sales and 0.5% of all electronic B2B sales. That compares to 0.2% of each category in 2020. In a few years, Brohan thinks marketplace sales could grow to 2% to 4% of overall B2B sales.
“I have never seen an ecommerce channel on the B2B side or the B2C side grow faster than that,” Brohan said.
Most of the growth in ecommerce marketplace sales is probably due to the growth of the Amazon Business platform, Brohan said. But that represents an opportunity for other marketplace operators, as the marketplaces improve and more B2B customers take to the idea of buying on marketplaces, he added.
“The one thing about Amazon Business — just like Amazon on the consumer side — is they raise the user experience,” Brohan said. “They raise the bar and … that basically forces all the rest of us to come up to the same experience that we’re getting on Amazon.”
The good news for sellers, Brohan said, is that B2B sellers know their customers and have inventory that Amazon will never have. They could use that knowledge to sell successfully on Amazon. If not, Amazon’s example will provide valuable information about what digital-first buyers want and expect.
Understand your buyers
Brohan explained that it’s important to understand the nature of digital-first digital buyers.
“Who you’re serving out there as a digital-first customer may include a dinosaur like me,” Brohan said.
But as the older generation retires, he added, buying decisions are increasingly made by teams. They’re also made across different teams inside an organization. Among other reasons, this could means buyers might now take up to a month to research digital buying decisions, Brohan said.
Brohan said buyers want to know whether a retailer has the inventory they need at a competitive price. And buyers want to know if it has online support tools like recommendations and supply-chain tools, which can help buyers make purchase decisions.
Digital Commerce 360 research also found:
- 32% of B2B buyers rank ecommerce as the single most effective channel.
- 51% of B2B buyers use an ecommerce site if they are attracted to an excellent user experience.
- 56% of B2B sellers report 11% or more in sales growth in 2021.
- 50% of B2B sellers anticipate significant challenges in securing the funds they need to improve their businesses.
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