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5 Key Themes in B2B eCommerce
Although eCommerce has been a disruptive force across many business-to-consumer (B2C) markets, for many business-to-business (B2B) companies it has not been top of mind. This is particularly true in industries where the barriers to B2B eCommerce are considered to be high, for example, where products are highly specified, the purchasing process is complex, or where key purchase decision makers have been slow to embrace digitalization.
Yet changes are underway that are tearing down these barriers. Technology, such as augmented reality, can render online buying experiences that are as good or better than live interactions. Online tools, in some cases enabled by artificial intelligence, can provide highly knowledgeable advice and recommendations. And today’s younger generation of digital natives, who are taking over key purchase decision making roles, think online first and, in many cases, prefer interacting and transacting digitally.
eCommerce is becoming harder and harder to ignore. As we have engaged with our clients to help them think through the opportunities and threats of eCommerce, we have identified 5 key themes which have significant implications for how companies should approach eCommerce:
- Digital disruption is underway in almost all industries, it’s just at different stages
Some markets are farther along than others, but just because you don’t have 25% of your sales going through online channels doesn’t mean your industry isn’t being disrupted or is not at risk of being disrupted by eCommerce. Other aspects of the buying process, such as discovery and evaluation, are already being disrupted or have the potential to be disrupted by moving online, which can have a significant impact on your business. Companies must be vigilant in monitoring for signs of digital disruption from multiple angles and put in place plans to stay ahead of it.
- When digital disruption happens, it happens very quickly
Even in “slow to change” markets, once eCommerce gets a foothold it tends to grow rapidly, as it’s easy to scale. We have seen numerous client situations where eCommerce driven sales have moved from a low single digits percentage of the market to double digits in less than 24 months. When eCommerce hits, companies must move quickly to develop a digital strategy or risk being left behind. It’s best to get ahead of the game with a well-defined strategy on how to respond or to even lead if eCommerce activity is still minimal in your markets.
- The buying process is changing as a result of digital disruption
eCommerce is not just an online transaction, it encompasses the whole buying process from discovery and evaluation to purchase and even on to delivery and support. As you think about how to play in eCommerce you need to understand the end to end customer buying process and how it’s changing or could change in an eCommerce environment.
- B2B customers/buyers are increasingly expecting a B2C buying experience
Going digital means changing the buying experience, it’s not just taking the current experience and making it digital. The true value in going digital is that it can improve and enhance the customer’s buying experience. As a result, this has created a transference of expectations—B2B buyers expect to have a similar digital-enabled experience that they enjoy as B2C buyers.
- Pricing is becoming more and more transparent
Going digital, especially selling online, has significant implications on how you need to manage your business. One of the key areas that undoubtedly requires greater attention is pricing. The greater price transparency that often comes with eCommerce, and the ability for anyone to sell to anyone and anywhere, means you need to be much sharper and more diligent in how you manage pricing.
As eCommerce becomes more of a force across B2B industries, companies need to become more proactive in understanding how their market is evolving digitally and determining how they should play, and make sure it aligns within their omnichannel strategy. They need to:
- Constantly monitor for signs of digital disruption and plan to stay ahead of it
- Move quickly to develop a digital strategy or risk being left behind
- Fully understand the customer buying process and how it’s changing or could change in an eCommerce enabled environment
- Fully understand the customer buying experience and how to improve and enhance it using digital capabilities
- Monitor and maintain pricing discipline as they move into eCommerce
 David G. Hartman & Atlee Valentine Pope, Business-to-Business eCommerce: A Call to Action, Blue Canyon Partners, Inc. © 2016