B2B eCommerce and COVID-19: 6 Challenges and Solutions for 2021

As 2021 approaches, and as the economy adjusts to new realities, the outlook for B2Bs looks promising.

B2B buyers have radically changed their opinion about online purchases, driving up adoption rates, engagements, which is excellent news for B2Bs looking to sell online.

Traditionally, the job of B2B eCommerce was to deliver great shopping experiences to business customers while accommodating back-office processes. This means digitizing pricing, shipping, ordering calculations, evaluating system integrations, and addressing customer needs for omnichannel and self-service experiences.

While B2B eCommerce brands face many challenges, there are several technology solutions to help them overcome gaps in the customer experience, serve their customers better, and increase their market share.

Challenge 1: changing purchase patterns

The COVID pandemic impacted every industry, some harder than others.

According to Common Thread Collective, specific industries are doing better than others: essential medical supplies and hygiene products are the top drivers of eCommerce sales. Goods associated with apparel, luxury, and travel have seen negative growth, and these trends will continue.

While some buyers have reined in their purchasing, they are still receptive to personalization and self-service. To attract customers and keep them long-term, brands need to take these trends seriously and meet emerging customer expectations.

The solution: workflow engines

B2B eCommerce businesses must rely on the right data when interacting with customers. A workflow automation engine can deliver order information to customers or personalize promotions or suggested products based on buyer preferences. Look for eCommerce systems that can automate manual processes to improve selling efficiency.

Challenge 2: flexible shipping options

Shipping is an essential aspect of the customer experience. Even before the pandemic, 60% of customers would have chosen a competitor with more convenient delivery options. Today, B2B brands expect eCommerce shipping methods, strategies, and options to match the ways they do business.

As partial lockdowns and reopenings got underway, it muddled our understanding of the shopping experience. Alternative shipping options are exploding as customers seek out the most suitable option. For example, while some would prefer to get their items shipped to a specific address, others prefer to shop online, pick up in-store, or opt for curbside pickup.

Solution: 3PL itnegration

Shipping and order fulfillment is not a manual process. Meeting your customer’s shipping needs depends on B2B eCommerce platforms with powerful and flexible integration options. Integrating with your fulfillment and 3PL provider facilitates the flow of order information and other data between your shipping partner and your back-office systems.

Challenge 3: Alternative B2B channels

Forbes has reported that over the past year, 52% of DTC brands have surged in demand. That’s remarkable, given that the majority of traditional retailers have seen their revenues tank since the beginning of the pandemic.

COVID has not only shifted many B2B selling activities online but also opened the door to lesser-known selling models such as B2B2C and D2C. Business sellers realize that the ability to shift to new or adjacent business models can save their business.

Solution: flexible eCommerce

B2B sellers must look for eCommerce platforms that have the flexibility to sell not only B2B but B2C and D2C. It gives brands the ability to customize these selling channels to a specific audience with a targeted and relevant eCommerce experience.

Challenge 4: Omnichannel

Buyers want to purchase on their own terms, and retailers are having trouble keeping up. Consumers and businesses alike use multiple devices on the go and expect brands to be there. Whether it’s mobile, phone, email, or social media, B2B sellers who monitor these channels will take a larger customer mind share.

Omnichannel means more than that, however. At times, it means supporting additional experiences that customers are looking for beyond sales. For example: integrating with additional payment providers, offering various invoicing options, or tailored shipping services.

The solution: ERP integration

For many B2B eCommerce brands, an ERP (enterprise resource planning) software is their single source of truth. It combines inventory data from the warehouse with customer data, their orders, invoices, and more. A strong and flexible ERP integration not only shares vital data with your eCommerce system – but also your CRM, WMS, 3PL, or eProcurement systems.

Challenge 5: Self-service

B2B selling is getting more unpredictable, and for B2Bs, tracking a confusing path to purchase is getting all too challenging. It’s not surprising that more than 70% of B2B buyers admit that buying from a website is more convenient than dealing with sales representatives.

Like consumers, B2B buyers want more control over their experiences. Consumers expect seamless Amazon-like experiences with as little friction as possible – these experiences migrate into the B2B world. B2B sellers are responding to these trends and are investing in powerful, personalized self-service portals.

Solution: Self-service portal

When determining your need for self-service, keep your customer’s needs in mind. Many B2Bs re-order the same items, while others may need to request quotes or negotiate prices further. Look for self-service options that allow customers to be notified about product restocking, managing their order statuses, and interact with sales professionals.

Challenge 6: Poor platform fit

A crisis or an unforeseen situation can identify a lot of shortcomings in your platform. Since business buyers depend on larger sales cycles and order more complicated products than consumers, they will notice any hiccups in the customer experience. Ensure that your eCommerce experience is convenient, reliable, and secure.

For example, B2B sellers that display relevant pricing, product availability, and personalized suggestions all in a responsive interface will get their customers to return. Ensure your solution is easy and intuitive to use for both end-users as well as back-office staff.

Solution: eCommerce platform

Your B2B eCommerce website must meet your user’s requirements – or they’ll go elsewhere. Buyers look for an accessible and easy-to-use storefront with accurate data and a simple ordering process. Look for a platform that accommodates your sales process’s nuances and offers customers the experience they require. Lastly, don’t forget about flexibility and extendability as your business matures.

What should we expect in 2021?

We know all about the social and economic changes brought upon the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But what should we expect in the years ahead? Experts anticipate that the demand for B2B eCommerce is unlikely to slow down in the coming years.

One thing for sure, brands that pulled back or lagged on their eCommerce investments have not fared so well.

On the other hand, organizations that stayed on course and pushed forward during challenging times have seen success. The good news is that it’s not too late: businesses can still implement digital technologies that let them capitalize on fast-emerging digital revenue streams.

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