B2B ecommerce is growing rapidly. A recent study by consultancy firm Merkle Inc. estimates that B2B ecommerce will reach $25 trillion in sales globally in 2030. It also identifies some key trends shaping that growth trajectory.
This explosive growth forecast in digital B2B commerce over the next six years is good news for suppliers. However, it also underscores some significant changes. These include the ways B2B buyers will purchase digitally and how suppliers sell and market their products, according to the report.
Most important B2B ecommerce trends
In breaking down the shifts that will drive growth for B2B ecommerce, Merkle highlighted the following four trends:
- The growing ubiquity of machine-to-machine commerce
- Significant growth in ecommerce marketplaces
- Increased speed to market for new products
- Greater traceability, or the ability to identify and track the entire chain of sourcing, production, and movement of any product at any stage
When it comes to machine-to-machine ecommerce, Merkle predicts that by 2030, about one-third of all B2B ecommerce — or $8 trillion — will be made through machine-to-machine interactions, with no human involvement. The change will be driven by the integration of new technologies. These may include the Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and smart devices being integrated into sellers’ operations.
As users become more comfortable with these technologies, businesses will begin to allow machines to make decisions and transact with increasing independence. Areas ripe for this shift include commodity-like activities such as restocking supplies for a medical office. Brands already use software apps that automatically identify when inventory is low. In many cases, they send messages to other apps, asking for stock to be replenished. Amazon.com, for example, has developed its own shelving units and warehouse control systems. These systems autonomously reorder items when supplies run low, according to Merkle.
While B2B sellers have been deploying increased ecommerce technology in recent years, all the potential efficiencies and data insights such technologies can bring cannot be unleashed without interoperability among systems, which allows data to flow more seamlessly.
Merkle forecasts the potential value that can be achieved through interoperability can exceed $10 trillion in 2030 and that B2B applications will make up more than 60% of that value.
Digital B2B marketplaces will also play a significant role in the B2B ecommerce landscape by 2030. B2B marketplaces are expected to account for $12 trillion in sales in 2030, Merkle says. That comes out to about 50% of all B2B sales. In comparison, less than 15% of global B2B purchases took place through B2B marketplaces in 2023. During the same period, about 60% of B2C ecommerce took place through marketplaces, according to the report.
3 B2B marketplace trends in ecommerce
In its analysis, Merkle also assessed trends that will be relevant for B2B marketplaces specifically. These included the following:
- Direct B2B ecommerce, or digital experiences and commerce platforms owned and operated by manufacturers and/or distributors selling directly to B2B buyers
- Industry marketplaces that emphasize specific categories
- Mega marketplaces offering diverse arrays of B2B products and services
One advantage to selling on B2B marketplaces is that they provide “an obvious on ramp to sales,” according to the report. For example, Alibaba’s 1688 marketplace operates in 20 countries, including China. It has average order values of more than $5,000 and over 10 million business accounts.
That kind of sales volume is grabbing the attention of investors. In 2022, the 10 largest privately held B2B marketplaces in the United States received more than $6 billion in private equity and venture capital investments, Merkle says. Venture capitalists’ interest in B2B marketplaces could prove to be a lingering trend. As that occurs, more small B2B suppliers could shift away from a strategy of building their own ecommerce sites. As they do, they may instead favor presences on marketplaces.
Some 66% of business executives across B2B categories plan to build a larger ecosystem of third-party sellers, service providers, and products, Merkle says. Aerospace manufacturer SE and Toyota Motor Corp., for example, have scaled global marketplaces for OEM parts and service across a large network of dealers, suppliers, and SKUs.
When it comes to how fast manufacturers can bring new products or services to market, Merkle expects artificial intelligence (AI) to play an increasingly larger role. By 2030, Merkle predicts that major changes in how brands design, test and deliver goods to market will accelerate speed to market by up to 300% across all industry categories, due to the influence of AI.
The role of AI
While AI itself is not new, its sibling, generative AI, is. Generative AI is artificial intelligence capable of producing text, images or other media. It commonly does so using models that learn the patterns and structure of their input training data. Those systems then output new data that has similar characteristics.
A key advantage of generative AI is that it enables brands to develop prototypes in hours. In many cases, the alternatives may take weeks or months. It can also aid the creation of personalized products on demand.
Generative AI also opens the door to creating digital twins. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a product or system. It may use simulation, machine learning and reasoning to help identify issues during digital product design, which ensures fast development time. Digital twins can improve a developer’s ability to spot potential problems during the development process by 80%. The global digital twin market is set to grow from $10 billion in 2022 to $110 billion by 2028, the report says.
Increasing focus on traceability
Finally, traceability will play a significant role in the development of B2B commerce by 2030. Traceability is the ability to track the information about a product from the procurement of raw materials to production. This occurs through the distribution channel, and finally to the end user.
Traceability will become important for manufacturers. That’s because without it, “reputational risk looms large for brands that cannot align their product sourcing and business practices to their customers’ values,” the report says.
With B2B buyers more aligned with the principles of traceability, and more likely to work for companies that reflect their views about traceability, it is more likely those buyers will demand to purchase “ethical goods” from their suppliers. In 2020, for example, there was a 24% increase in large-scale purchasers requesting environmental data from suppliers compared to 2019, according to the report.
Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 B2B News, published 4x/week. It covers technology and business trends in the growing B2B ecommerce industry. Contact Mark Brohan, vice president of B2B and Market Research Development, at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @markbrohan.