Fixing Broken B2B eCommerce

More than half of B2B executives admit that their respective eCommerce experiences are “broken”, according to a recent study.

b2b buyer demands are not being met by b2b sellers in 2024
Today’s B2B buyers expect more but B2B sellers aren’t delivering.

High Expectations, Missed Opportunities, and Underwhelming Experiences

It is becoming increasingly difficult for B2B sellers to meet the expectations of today’s younger, tech-savvy buyers as B2B itself continues to transition from outdated in-person practices to modern electronic execution. Today’s B2B buyers expect eCommerce experiences that mirror their own online shopping habits. They demand fast, convenient, and personalized shopping experiences comparable to what they find in everyday online retail and while B2B sellers are well aware of their customers’ demands, many are yet to be able to accommodate them.

Findings from a newly published report by Zoovu and Forrester Research has given valuable insight as to the challenges faced by B2B companies. In a survey of nearly 400 B2B executives from North America and Europe, a disconcerting 65% of respondents believed that their respective company’s eCommerce systems were “broken”.

The Blame Game

SOURCES: Zoovu, Forrester Research, Agility PR Solutions

The majority blamed their shortcomings on not having set product data strategies in place for making products saleable on their websites but what might be even more alarming is the 83% that stated their product data was heavily flawed; either incomplete, inconsistent, inaccurate, or out-of-date. 81% even revealed that their eCommerce platforms were inadequate to handle large scale B2B operations. As such, these B2B businesses have been and are continuing to be operating at limited capacities. Only 44% of the executives surveyed said that their buyers do have some form of access to self-serve features like advanced search to help guide their buyers to the products they want to purchase.

Respondents also revealed that almost all of their corporate revenue–as high as 83% of it–does require some level of human interaction, be it through interpersonal communication ( customer service agents, sales reps, etc.) or digitally-enabled selling (apps, automation, increased AI implementation, etc.) in conjunction with traditional B2B sales.

The complexity of most B2B products also makes it difficult for manufacturers to meet their customers’ needs with current product discovery solutions. 82% of the survey participants said that their organization needed a product discovery solution for highly configurable, complex products.

Apart from the difficulty of adding new products to their existing ecommerce platforms, surveyed B2B executives also reported these additional challenges:

  • Customer frustration (35%)
  • Decreased conversion rates (29%)
  • Higher cost of sales (28%)
  • Loss of revenue (27%)
  • Increased customer churn/customer turnover (25%)

As it pertains to B2B buyers, 75% expect their online B2B experiences to have the same speed, efficiency, and convenience as when they purchase everyday consumer products. Our article, What Today’s B2B Buyers Want, lists the top 5 most requested features that B2B buyers expect when they shop online:

  • Fast Search
  • Personalization
  • Virtual Commerce/Visual Commerce
  • More Interactivity and Social Media Integration
  • Expanded Payment Options

Meanwhile, findings from a buyer survey conducted by Digital Commerce 360 and Forrester Research and published last December reinforced the connection between B2B and B2C eCommerce sales. 85% of the 150 buyers surveyed reported good or excellent experiences on B2B eCommerce platforms. It also stated that B2B buyers are doing their own independent research when it comes to learning about the products they purchase but once they’ve committed to purchase, they do so in higher frequency and volumes.

SOURCE: Digital Commerce 360

Still, the B2B seller (or B2B manufacturer) does retain some power over the B2B buyer. As stated in our piece, Manufacturer’s Websites Dictate B2B Buyer Preferences, B2B buyers purchase directly from manufacturer’s websites because they trust that the data is up-to-date and accurate. However, if the information is either incorrect or missing outright, a B2B buyer could still soldier through the purchase process, albeit begrudgingly, because they do prefer purchasing directly from the source as opposed to going through outside third-party channels.

Increased AI Implementation: Feasible Solution or Cheap Cop-Out?

To address the faults that were discovered in the survey, the B2B survey participants were asked to rank their priorities going into 2024. Unsurprisingly, the majority (80%) planned to implement more AI features to automate and personalize the customer experience. Over half of the respondents expect to heavily invest into AI incorporation under the belief that AI-driven automation will produce metamorphic benefits. 79% expect AI to improve the customer experience while lowering operating costs and boosting revenue were reasons given by 74% and 71% of the participating B2B executives.

SOURCES: Zoovu, Forrester Research, Agility PR Solutions

“This research shows how essential it is for B2B businesses to invest in structuring and enriching product data to make their solutions more discoverable, wherever their buyers are. Many B2B operations rely heavily on well-trained sales teams to be experts on huge catalogs of complex products, configurations, and bundles. It’s clear that businesses are hungry to find and maximize efficiencies in this process. This requires the consumerization of the B2B sales process, which prioritizes exceptional customer experiences through product discovery at scale. Those that make this a core focus of their business will undoubtedly gain a competitive advantage in the years to come.”

James Novak
CEO of Zoovu
February 19, 2024

Now, the question posed here is will increased reliance on AI actually make for a better customer experience or is AI becoming more popular with business executives as a way to lower profits with minimal effort? AI is a hot-button topic. We discussed the potentials for both good and bad with AI in our piece, The Potentials and Potential Dangers of Artificial Intelligence. AI is already being used in customer service bots and to refine search results. It’s also being used to automate UX design as well as generate aural and visual media. This, naturally, has led to the debate as to whether AI automation when used for creative works can be considered truly original pieces or forged works. AI, itself, is limited to what data it has available from which to work but whether its use will result to our benefit or detriment relies heavily on us. In order for AI to have a positive impact on the world, we must interact with it responsibly and ethically. Whatever the case, B2B eCommerce and AI are here to stay and both will continue to grow, regardless of the challenges ahead.

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