Fixing Broken B2B eCommerce, Part II: What B2B Sellers Get Wrong

eCommerce is the latest evolutionary step in B2B sales, but B2B sellers are still not quite up to snuff when it comes to selling online.

8 things that b2b ecommerce sellers are still getting wrong in 2024.
B2B topped $2T UD in sales last year, but B2B sellers are still not fully on board with what it takes to run a successful B2B eCommerce outfit.

Last year was a big win for B2B eCommerce sales. According to data released in Digital Commerce 360’s 2024 B2B Market and Customer Experience Report, B2B internet sales topped $2 trillion and grew 17% by year’s end. This is in stark contrast to manufacturing and distribution sales in the United States, which were flat at $14.87 trillion in 2023. B2B marketplaces also became the hottest eCommerce segment last year with 100% year-over-year growth and up $224 billion from 2022’s $113 billion. 1.3% of all B2B sales came from B2B marketplaces and more than half of B2B buyers are doing more than 25% of their sales through online marketplaces, also noted in Digital Commerce 360’s report.

However, many B2B businesses are still behind the curve in regards to moving their operations online. In our earlier piece, Fixing Broken B2B eCommerce, B2B sellers admitted to working with underperforming platforms and utilizing bad data which, in turn, had a negative impact on their conversions. Today’s B2B shoppers have evolved far quicker than B2B sellers and while the sellers are more than aware of their shoppers’ demands, an astonishing majority of them have put forth minimal effort in accommodating their customer bases.

Yet, B2B eCommerce still managed to achieve exponential growth and success last year.

Today’s young B2B professionals incorporate their typical, everyday consumer shopping habits into their B2B practices. This has led to a higher demand for self-serve online shopping experiences, more personalization, greater access to product information, and expanded interactivity. B2B shoppers also favor manufacturer websites because they assume that the direct manufacturer will have the most up-to-date and accurate information about the products they offer for sale; the products that will be purchased by the B2B buyer. The problem, as noted in our Fixing Broken B2B eCommerce article, is that not all manufacturers and wholesalers have the most precise information about their product lines. Despite this, B2B shoppers still trust them and will begrudgingly continue to do business with these companies. This would explain last year’s massive B2B eCommerce boom. But as is the case with any business, this success will not be repeated if the customer continues to be let down. Eventually, they’ll have enough and look elsewhere, to a seller that WILL take care of them and give them exactly the shopping experiences that they want.

If you’re a B2B seller that is still yet to get with the program, pay close attention. Here’s our list of the most common mistakes that B2B sellers are making with their online operations.

8 Most Common B2B Mistakes

  1. Bad Data
  2. Error-Prone Order Processing
  3. Assuming That B2B Buyers Are Not Shopping Online
  4. Failing to Deliver a B2C Shopping Experience
  5. Ignoring Mobile Users
  6. Using the Wrong Platform
  7. Limited Payment Options
  8. Complacency

Bad Data

In a report published by Zoovu and Forrester Research, flawed product data and inaccurate customer data is one of the biggest foul-ups done by B2B sellers online. Zoovu and Forrester Research found in their report that organizations are handicapped by siloed data, insufficient technology, and a lack of internal skills and knowledge. Over 60% of businesses surveyed for the report have “poor” data, and more than 40% struggle with siloed data and lack the technology, staff, and strategy to make data more useful to eCommerce.

In an attempt to rectify the ‘bad data’ issue, however, the majority of survey participants stated that they would dedicate the early part of 2024 to implement more AI into their programs. This is under the belief that AI automation would improve the customer experience while lowering overhead, thus boosting profits. The degree of AI implementation was not discussed, but it’s not at all farfetched to assume that this emphasis on AI has more to do with cost-cutting rather than making a genuine and concerted effort in improving their respective data collection and technological shortcomings.

In most cases, improved data collection, data sharing, and presentation can be had by utilizing supplemental add-ons and integrations that are solely for the purpose of B2B eCommerce. Choosing the right eCommerce platform for B2B sales can also have a positive impact on B2B operations (more on this later).

Error-Prone Order Processing

In a B2B environment, customers want order processing that is error-free, and other users expect the same when buying goods and services online. A new Sana Commerce survey of 1,000 professional buyers from manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors across the US, Mexico, the UK, Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands suggests that many sellers are not up to the task of delivering the eCommerce results buyers demand.

B2B ecommerce is now the norm for complex and high-value orders, says Sana Commerce; 2 out of 3 B2B buyers prefer to place their orders online through suppliers’ websites while 79% prefer to place repeat orders online. 58% of survey participants state that they want to conduct these transactions over the Internet. The survey also revealed that B2B buyers aren’t getting what they want online in regards to an ideal B2B shopping experience. B2B buyers are more likely to switch suppliers if an alternative B2B web store offers a better experience; US B2B buyers, in particular, were even more likely to shop elsewhere, with percentage peaking at 91% for US shoppers versus the other 74%.

B2B sellers have tried to keep up with demand by prioritizing scaling their capacity, but this has only opened up the door for more problems. 68% of B2B buyers avoid ordering online due to order errors, according to the survey. According to the data, 33% of B2B buyers experience order errors on their online orders, a significant increase from the 28% reported in 2019, in spite of the advances in automation that took place.

Assuming That B2B Buyers Are Not Shopping Online

As stated earlier in this article, B2B eCommerce experienced tremendous growth last year, continuing a trend of year-over-year success that even managed to outpace regular retail eCommerce that’s slated to carry on well past this year, into the next decade, and beyond. This can be attributed to older B2B professionals aging out of the workforce and entering retirement, being replaced by Millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are far more tech-savvy, far more progressive, and less apprehensive in regards to adopting new technologies.

Modern B2B buyers are using their personal B2C shopping habits and practices in the B2B professional field, leading to changes in the industry itself to reflect this change in dynamic. B2B online experiences are now being designed to closely mimic regular everyday B2C retail and this has proven effective for the top leading B2B sellers. Despite this, there are still holdovers from the “old guard” at many B2B firms that continue to hold onto outdated and antiquated business methods. This generational gap has much to do with the divide between B2B seller and B2B buyer.

Some B2B sellers have (very minimally) attempted to reach out to the younger B2B shopper demographic, but have limited themselves by using faulty data and inappropriate eCommerce platforms not suitable for large-scale B2B operations. On the other end of the spectrum, are B2B sellers who refuse to change their ways and are willingly ignoring the younger B2B demographic that has now become the majority of the customer base itself. Needless to say, willfully ignoring a significant chunk (or, in this case, the entire bulk) of a market is pretty much business suicide.

Failing to Deliver a B2C Shopping Experience

Because of the influence younger B2B buyers have over the industry, the line between B2B and B2C sales are now more blurred than ever before. B2C eCommerce has already existed for many years and society has grown accustomed to sites like Amazon, eBay, and others that offer a user-friendly and personalized buying experience for consumers. The customers are now expecting the same level of expertise from other outlets as well, including B2B, which means they expect a quick, easy, and convenient purchasing experience from beginning to end. It’d not only be easy, but also shortsighted to chalk up this focus on the youth demographic as basic appeasement but the fact of the matter is that the combined spending power of Millennials and Gen-Z is $2.86 trillion, and their shopping habits are much less restrained than that of the older generations.

Young people drive today’s commerce due to several factors, including employment, living expenses, and lifestyle. In recent years, the largest online brands and retailers have targeted a younger clientele–and with good reason. Over 66% of young shoppers between the ages of 25 and 40 do their shopping over the Internet, with the type of products they purchase ranging from a wide range of categories. These new potential customers are driving many businesses to make extra efforts to accommodate them. As a result of having been exposed to computers and Internet technology at a young age, or even virtually since birth, Millennials and Gen-Z are comfortable using them. It is not uncommon for young people to extend their personal shopping habits to corporate B2B markets when they view computers and the Internet as regular parts of life; they become decision-makers because there is no hesitation or reluctance to adapt to new or foreign technology.

So when these young B2B shoppers encounter a B2B website that’s not up to par with their expectations, while they may make a few initial purchases, don’t expect them to be sticking around for very long afterwards.

Ignoring Mobile Users

Mobile usage today now accounts for the majority of Internet traffic, meaning that most sales also come from mobile devices. Chances are, you’re even reading this article through a mobile device! Advancements in computer, Internet, and communications technology have allowed for smartphones to be as powerful as desktop computers (and, in some cases, even more powerful) and with the prices of computer parts being on the rise post-COVID, many people are using their smartphones as their PC or main computer.

In general eCommerce, being mobile friendly and having a mobile responsive design was important so that these on-the-go users could easily use and navigate an eCommerce site without the frustration of desktop PC layouts and load speed performance issues that come with advanced coding, high-res images, etc. This was done to reduce the bounce rate, or the rate of visitors that leave a website almost immediately after logging-on. With general eCommerce as big as it is and B2B following in its footsteps, mobile-friendly web design and performance has become paramount. Still, some B2B (as well as B2C) sellers are still unwilling to step into the 21st century and upgrade their websites to something that’s more aesthetically and operationally relevant to today. ANY business, B2B or B2C, that DOESN’T have a mobile-friendly or responsive website in this day and age is basically throwing up the white flag and letting their customer bases know that they’ve given up. That sounds harsh, but what other explanation is there and what excuse could there be for willfully shutting out pretty much all of the buying public?

Using the Wrong Platform

To gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, enterprises must bring innovation and advancement in order to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors. Digitally transformed eCommerce strategies have become increasingly popular in the B2B industry. Companies that choose to continue on with an outdated eCommerce platform won’t be able to differentiate themselves from their competitors because of the lack of features and functionality that it provides.

Additionally, if an eCommerce platform is outdated or technologically-insufficient, it can also cause performance problems that deter shoppers from making purchases. These performance issues may be caused by a number of reasons, including the fact that a database cannot handle growth or that the system cannot handle upgrades as a result of the fact that the platform has been customized so much. As a result of these issues, buyers have a terrible experience with the platform and, thus, will not be inclined to do business with a seller that uses said-platform.

Furthermore, using the wrong eCommerce platform can adversely affect a company’s chances for survival, as it handicaps them in a variety of ways. The risk of legacy technologies for businesses is that they may be stuck with outdated versions, be limited in what they are able to use, or have patched systems that cannot adapt to market changes if they’re stuck with outdated versions. On these types of platforms, they will not be able to expand into new revenue channels or grow long term.

Limited Payment Options

Checks, ACH payments, wire transfers, credit cards, and cash are the most common methods of B2B payment used by businesses in order to develop long-term relationships with their customers. In spite of the advancements that electronic currency transfer over the Internet has made, paper checks remain the most popular method of payment for business to business transactions. Small businesses rely on cash as the second most popular payment method, with 70% relying on it, while 80% of B2B transactions are conducted by checks.

A vendor sometimes reserves credit cards as a ‘last resort’ as a means of avoiding additional processing fees. There are times when a company may provide its most loyal customers with special corporate credit accounts, but this is determined by the financial stability of the B2B vendor/supplier. B2B customers, both new and long-term, should have the opportunity to choose from a variety of payment options as a means of keeping them satisfied.

When B2B sellers limit the availability of payment options (or, in the worst cases, refuse to expand beyond a single option), they’re essentially telling the customer “it’s my way or the highway” and that’s not the message a seller should want to tell any prospective customer.

Complacency

Complacency kills success. This is true in just about any and every aspect and it is especially true in the business world. Even those once considered ‘too big to fail’ can fall due to complacency (for example, just check out the entrants on this list by Statista). It’s a very rare exception that a business can survive on mere history alone and even so, they still modernize (to a degree) and adapt to changing consumer climates, customer behaviors, and public demands.

In B2B eCommerce, much of the root cause of complacency has to do with B2B’s inherent structure of tradition and old-fashioned practices. The old B2B archetypes of traveling salespeople and in-person schmoozing have given way to electronic selling, through virtual showrooms and automated sales staff by way of apps and integrations (even AI). Even so, as mentioned in this piece numerous times, there’s an appalling majority of B2B sellers who are either so stubbornly set in their ways or too cheap to invest in developing the appropriate programs for B2B eCommerce that they’re voluntarily discarding their customer bases to others who are hungry and are actually doing what they can to meet the demands of these forsaken buyers.

With the numerous surveys that were referenced in this article, it appears that the most frequent explanation as to why B2B sellers are not answering their customers’ requests all has to do with money. Companies are not willing to spend the money it takes to revamp their B2B programs. Now, whether that has to do with the current state of the economy (as of this writing, March 2024) or simple corporate greed, that’s neither here nor there in this case. B2B companies are not investing in their B2B eCommerce operations, which is leading to dissatisfied customers which, in turn, will ultimately lead to shutdown once their customer bases have moved on to greener pastures with a supplier who will cater to their needs.

And while it’s true that B2B surpassed B2C sales in 2023 and is slated for even more greatness, this is in regards to the industry as a whole. The individual businesses within it, namely, the ones who refuse to evolve, can expect an outcome similar to those companies who did not adapt to going online during the pandemic when non-essential operations were forced to go into temporary hiatus over the global COVID shutdown. Those who went online or were already established online, were able to not only stay afloat but also flourish while those companies who were reluctant to shift towards eCommerce were left behind with many fading into obscurity and, eventually, closure. The B2B industry will continue to advance and it will continue to have even greater presence over the Internet. If your B2B company has not yet made the necessary arrangements to continue operating at a competitive level, expect a similar outcome for your business in the near future. It seems harsh to end this piece on such a sour note, but there’s plenty of data out there from the past 4 years to back up this bold statement.

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