Once upon a time, it was predicted that B2B e-commerce would become a multi-trillion dollar market by 2004. These predictions, of course, turned out to be hugely exaggerated – 10 years on from the prophesied date and the U.S. market stands at a mere $559 billion, and when combined with the rest of the world, totaling an estimated $1 trillion in value. Although not a figure to be sniffed at by any stretch of the imagination, the market nonetheless has significantly underperformed as compared to those early predictions.
However, these early forecasts, far from being too optimistic about the overall potential of B2B e-commerce were perhaps rather just a bit too optimistic about the timescale. After more than a decade of (very) steady growth, the market now seems poised to explode, and what’s driving the sudden surge is the B2B buyer demand for a buyer experience more like what they get in the world of B2C. This demand is finally being met by more and more B2B enterprises.
Indeed, in Germany alone, the B2B market is considerably larger than B2C, accounting for over 95% of the entire e-commerce market volume, and generating more than €870 billion turnover . Perhaps surprisingly, however, there are comparatively very few statistics for B2B e-commerce as compared to B2C. But no matter where you look, when you do find some reliable numbers, the undeniable trend is that B2B e-commerce is large and growing at a faster rate as each quarter ticks by.
B2C Higher Profile, To Date
No question, to date, the success of B2C e-commerce has enjoyed a much higher profile than B2B, despite the fact that it stands as only a $252 billion market – half that of B2B. However, the trend seems to be that B2B e-commerce is evolving more and more to resemble B2C in terms of functionality and usability.
The reasons why are quite understandable. B2B buyers are human, and these humans are part of the billions of other humans that frequently use consumer (B2C) websites too. This naturally sets the high expectation of a website experience that B2C sites have spent years refining and perfecting. Shopping carts, account holder histories, search, special offers, and delivery prices and information are now finding their way onto B2B e-commerce sites – providing the clarity, simplicity, and familiarity, which is proving to be very appealing for the B2B set of buyers.
Traditionally, B2B marketing has correctly been viewed as a much different beast than the promotion of consumer products. Pretty much every element of the buyer journey was clearly distinct – buyers themselves had different expectations of the experience, sellers were different, sales models were different, and communication was different.
The Changing Marketplace
But this is now changing – or rather, that B2B and B2C e-commerce are beginning to look alike, albeit superficially. For example, today’s typical B2B e-commerce website now makes key features previously reserved for their B2C counterparts standard, including:
Multimedia Content: Messages and concepts are now being delivered on B2B marketing sites in much more compelling ways than simple blog posts and whitepapers. Indeed, online slide presentations, infographics, and especially video are all being used to get the marketing messages across. Indeed, according to video content marketing expert Bob Leonard, B2B executives are watching more and more online video, with 75% saying that they watch work-related videos on business sites at least once per week .
Entertaining Content: B2B content is finally being injected with a lot more vibrancy. Brands’ personalities are being shown off, humor is being used, stories are being told, and prospective buyers are being inspired through tales of what customers have already achieved with their purchases.
Focusing On Personal Benefits: Technical product specifications, financial justification and other specifics will always, of course, be part of B2B online content, but there is a distinct focus now on the personal benefits of a B2B purchasing choice for the buyer. Highlighting job security (this product represents the ‘safe choice’), career enhancement (be the hero of the company), work/life balance (make your life easier, get home earlier without the hassle) – these emotional appeals are now pervasively being found on B2B e-commerce sites.
Businesses are waking up to the fact that if they are to fully embrace the digital world, then they must start to find the means of adopting a B2C-style e-commerce model immediately. However, it is not easy. Many companies serving the B2B market segment are finding that they do not have the resources or even the capital to create the e-commerce capabilities that are now increasingly becoming the norm. But they must, for they will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage if they do not find a means of implementation soon. It requires investment and a longer-term view. If you want heat from a fire, you have to put the wood in first.
B2B growth strategies clearly need to incorporate the greater incorporation of B2C e-commerce models into their websites to match the increasing demands and expectations of business buyers – it’s what the market expects, and will become one of the defining elements for the growth of the B2B enterprise.