B2B e-commerce; the reality is around the corner – by Niranjan Gidwani

By Niranjan Gidwani, consultant director – Texub, member UAE – Superbrands council, charter member – Tie Dubai, HBR advisory council

The evolution of B2B e-commerce from a niche segment of the commercial market to where it will soon equal or surpass traditional channels has been underway for some time now.

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Going back in time, over the last several decades, B2B purchasing was, and has even till recently, been dominated by a generation that has believed in and favoured centralised, face-to-face interactions and personal relationships. Even though this older generation controls the purse strings and is still holding on to the traditional reins, with the baton being in the process of being passed on, B2B purchasing is now the responsibility of the much more internet-savvy Generation X.

And whether we like it or not, this activity will soon be under the management of the first all-digital generation for whom devices are an extended appendage of their bodies. Globally, the world chooses to call them Millennials.

Unlike the previous generations, millennials are entirely at ease with the online buying process. It needs to be understood very clearly that they have no problem extending their B2C shopping practices to their B2B purchases. And they will.

Giant online retailers like Amazon have been the pioneers in creating frictionless experiences that consumers have gotten used to these days. Such experiences are now commonplace across almost all B2C categories, and no good online platform can survive for long without super seamless experiences.

The same buyers are now getting into positions where they are becoming responsible for work as well as business-related purchases. B2B vendors are rushing to adopt the same principles and methods to their own online buying experiences.

In all probability, the B2B e-commerce model is likely to be a hybrid model, where buyers would like to shift between online and offline transactions and interactions for purchases and services. As this gains traction, the importance of putting together the data and creating seamless experiences will only gain in importance.
By 2023, Gartner forecasts 15 per cent of mid-to-large B2B brands to launch their own marketplaces, and 70 per cent of all marketplaces to support B2B transactions.

The transition to digital is not without risk, and the high-profile cyberattacks and increased fraud are going to cause their share of problems. In the case of B2B, transactions are likely to be of higher value and therefore more concerning.

For both B2C and B2B businesses, securing customer data and protecting company infrastructure from fraud and security breaches are as important as any other aspect of eCommerce. Adopting and investing in a mobile strategy, especially as more Millennials and younger digital generations take leadership roles, will be key for any B2B business looking to sustain and grow its eCommerce revenue into the future.

As per Gartner and other analysts, the only way forward for B2B is a greater reliance on eCommerce and the continued development and advancement of the trends and technology we are used to seeing.

B2B sales organisations are not selling the way today’s buying customers want to buy. This is slowly but surely creating a growing buyer-seller divide. This current phase is a truly pivotal moment for traditional B2B sales leaders and organisations. It’s time to acknowledge that the world has changed and that we can’t sell the way we used to.

It is imperative to learn from the habits of highly successful B2C organisations like Amazon to truly understand the customer and use data and deeper insights to be more effective. Since online B2B is likely to be bigger than online B2C in a few years’ time, this provides organisations with a fresh opportunity to co-exist alongside the Amazons of the world.

Interesting times ahead. We may get to hear of some upcoming startups from this region creating new success stories of the future.