Young B2B buyers wish to break away from the old, impersonal B2B practices of yesterday in favor of more modern, content-driven and socially-interactive options.
In our earlier article, Top 10 eCommerce Trends for 2023, we listed that Millennials (born between 1977 and 1994) and Gen-Z (born between 1995 and 2010) are the new key demographic that retailers will be targeting this year. That’s because the Millennials and Gen-Z, combined, hold nearly $3 trillion in spending power and are considerably more impulsive and far less inhibited when it comes to making purchases. This is in stark comparison to the more frugal and prudent Boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen-X (1965 – 1976) generations. It was also found that 66.6% of young people aged 25 to 40 do most of their buying online, meaning that for younger people, Internet shopping has become the norm.
This is also proving to be the case in regards to modern B2B practices. As more and more young people start filling the vacancies left by older and retiring B2B professionals, they’re bringing with them their modern Internet and eCommerce sensibilities. According to this article by Digital Commerce 360 based on findings by Intershop Communications AG, the B2B youth movement has already introduced significant changes in how B2B operates today.
- Online sales account for 57% of all global purchases.
- The number of buyers using online purchasing channels is expected to increase by 60%.
- Online shopping has opened the doors to 62% of buyers discovering new brands and retailers.
- 62% of buyers wish online shopping was more entertaining.
- 65% of buyers already purchase through social media.
- 70% of millennials already work in procurement, and a third are the sole decision-makers.
The term ‘digital natives’ refers to people in today’s society–specifically, the Millennials and Gen-Z–who are comfortably adept with using computers and the Internet technology because they were introduced to them at a fairly young age, if not having been virtually raised alongside them since birth. Young people who view computers and the Internet as a regular parts of everyday life have little or no qualms about extending their personal shopping habits to the corporate B2B fold; they become the decision-makers since there’s no hesitation or reluctance to adapt to a new or foreign technology whereas older people either need to be instructed step-by-step on how to use the Internet or outright refuse to learn out of distrust (or the inherent human fear of change).
Gartner states that 44% of Millennial buyers prefer not to communicate with a live sales rep during the purchasing process and are actually even more initially distrusting of sales reps than Boomers. B2B companies are taking note of these new trends in the purchasing process and realize that they, along with their partners in the supply chain, need to have their B2B eCommerce efforts match their traditional person-to-person B2B sales operations.
What Do Young B2B Buyers Want
Consumers drive demand through their preferences. This is same for both B2C and B2B with the main difference being that the B2B buyer tends to have greater insider knowledge in regards to the product and the ins and outs of corporate purchasing. At the same time, the B2B buyer is, in a way, still a consumer and with young people now leading the charge, their B2B buying behavior will reflect on their own personal B2C experiences, likes, and dislikes.
Top 5 Features for Modern B2B
- Fast Search
- Virtual Commerce/Visual Commerce
- More Interactivity and Social Media Integration
- Expanded Payment Options
When a random shopper visits a retail website and can’t immediately locate what it is they want to purchase, there’s little reason for them to stick around. According to the Wunderman Thompson Commerce report, 32% of B2B buyers say that being able to quickly and efficiently find the products they want is the biggest challenge of doing B2B shopping online. 35% of the Wunderman Thompson Commerce survey respondents abandoned their shopping carts prematurely because they could not find the products they were looking for quickly. Unlike the top retail brands online which need to keep up with modern eCommerce trends and breakthroughs, It is common for manufacturers and B2B distributors to lag behind B2C websites in terms of artificial intelligence-driven search capabilities. As a result, they don’t fully take advantage of the personalization capabilities offered by modern eCommerce systems.
Personalized shopping in eCommerce is increasingly important, but the same kind of personalized shopping for consumers may not be suitable for corporate shoppers. Corporate shoppers typically need more options, but they also appreciate businesses that take care of them, just like regular shoppers. A search engine powered by AI can increase average order value by 10%, optimize conversion by 20%, and discover what products buyers really want. An AI-powered search engine can also pay for itself in 3 months, says Intershop. Self-service tools and apps are also highly requested. Chatbots, customer support portals, FAQs, basically any resource for customer assistance that minimizes any and all interaction with a live human agent on the other end. As B2B buyers increasingly favor self-service tools, customer portals have become an integral part of the digital B2B buying experience, as they allow buyers to access account information, invoice and order history, order status, and other digital self-services online.
Virtual Commerce/Visual Commerce
The concept of virtual commerce includes features such as the ability to preview products in a virtual environment and visualize what spare parts can be used to upgrade or repair existing equipment. The adoption of VR and AR technology will lead to a rise in virtual commerce in the future. B2B eCommerce has also embraced visual commerce, or online purchasing with 360-degree images, interactive 3D models, and in some cases, augmented reality. B2C brands began creating enhanced visual experiences shortly after visual commerce was introduced by the gaming industry. Wholesalers–and their customers–can benefit from visual commerce through engaging user experiences. A virtual showroom might offer curated collections that can be purchased online. Or, it can be a mixed-use tool. Buyers browse fixtures and materials in a real showroom and place items in an online cart on a device while they shop. Through this process, customers can be cross-sold, saving them time and money.
More Interactivity and Social Media Integration
B2B shoppers want to minimize the contact they have with live sales representatives, but they also want more engaging and interactive features in their shopping journeys and they also want further integration with social media. The latter sounds especially ironic: social media integration in an otherwise impersonal environment. On the other hand, that says nothing about users sharing the content with non-business affiliated parties such as friends on social media. While their activity may have little relevance to typical everyday consumers, the younger generations enjoy user-generated content and sharing said content online. The chances of it resulting in additional outside sales are slim, but social media is still one of the most effective ways of free word-of-mouth advertising. As interactivity is concerned, features that allow users to custom-tailor their shopping preferences themselves are preferred over personally working with a sales representative from the supplier’s company. This way, when a return visit is warranted, the shopper can go back to the website and pull up their past orders and reorder easily and efficiently. This also can appear to be very cold and impersonal, considering that in general, consumers appreciate being made to feel special and wanted by the companies with whom they do business, the self-serve approach to B2B appears to have an advantage due to its efficiency and speed.
Expanded Payment Options
The more payment options you give your customers, the easier it is to cultivate long-term relationships. Checks, ACH payments, wire transfers, credit cards, and cash are the most common B2B payment methods. In B2B, paper checks still rule, despite the advancements in electronic currency transfer over the Internet. Checks make up 80% of B2B transactions. The second most popular payment method is cash, with 70% of small businesses swearing by it. Although credit cards are widely used, they are sometimes reserved as ‘last resorts’ because vendors want to avoid additional processing fees. Occasionally, companies will issue special corporate credit accounts to their most loyal customers but this depends on if the B2B vendor/supplier is financially stable enough to provide this option. Maintaining positive business relationships by keeping a variety of payment options available for new and long-term B2B customers will help.