6 B2B eCommerce trends that you can't miss in 2024

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The landscape of B2B eCommerce is changing in front of our eyes. User expectations are quickly increasing while the tolerance for suboptimal experiences diminishes. As a result, businesses that for a long time have accepted the clunkiness of their systems are finally making decisive steps to improve the situation. 

Smoothing out customer journeys, streamlining processes, and pushing toward agility are the qualities that will define B2B eCommerce in 2024. But how exactly are those things accomplished in practical terms? What should your business be doing to not fall behind?

These are the questions that we’ll consider in detail in this overview of B2B eCommerce trends for 2024.

1. Omnichannel

The days of doing business exclusively from a computer while sitting behind a desk in an office are behind us and likely aren’t coming back. Freed from these constraints, procurement specialists expect their business partners to keep up with the times and make themselves available through as many channels as possible to ensure seamless cooperation. Because of these rising expectations, having an omnichannel presence is currently one of, if not the most, important factors in retaining customers in a B2B setting.

It’s hardly news that customers favor the omnichannel approach, and the change in B2B approach has been long in the making. To illustrate this, let’s go as far as 10 years back to an Aberdeen Group report that stated that businesses with a strong omnichannel approach retain an average of 89% of their clients. That’s significant when compared with the market average retention rate of 33%. Retention rates in a B2B setting tend to be higher, so the difference wouldn’t be as staggering, but it was still a very clear sign of the direction that the global market is heading. B2C eCommerce paved the way over the last decade, and now B2B companies must follow or they’ll be left behind.

Image source: Envato elements

The omnichannel approach simply fits well with the way B2B purchases currently happen. The buyer’s journey was never a straight line from the first touchpoint to transferring money, but it used to be simpler. Now, you need to expect customers to take multiple stops and detours, and even backtrack a little along the way. In difficult economic times, you can’t blame them for being extra cautious and considering every option twice. It does mean, however, that if you build the buyer’s journey as a straight line, you’re almost sure to lose the client somewhere along the way. On the other hand, the omnichannel approach makes it possible to stay in touch through all the potential obstacles and finalize the deal.

omnichannel banner

2. Headless architecture

Implementing an omnichannel strategy, of course, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A shift as significant as this comes with a number of conditions and consequences that need to be taken into account when planning such a project. When it comes to technology, the most significant of those prerequisites is building modern headless architecture that will bring all the different channels together into a well-connected whole. 

In simple terms, headless architecture means separating the front end and back end of an eCommerce platform. The back end runs independently of the front end, and the two are connected via API. As a result, the back end can be seamlessly connected to any front end that supports this type of connection and, as it happens in the case of an omnichannel approach, multiple front ends at once. 

A few years ago, headless eCommerce solutions had to be custom-built and were considered a luxury reserved only for the largest brands. Now, the situation has changed significantly. There are plenty of powerful readymade options available, such as BigCommerce, commercetools, and Magento for the back end and Vue Storefront for the front end, that can be implemented fairly easily and inexpensively. This makes building headless architecture one of the key trends for modern eCommerce that will only keep rising in significance and market share.

3. Personalization

Personalization has always been a large part of the B2B experience, but it’s been done primarily in an “analog” way. Businesses negotiated and fleshed out all the details in person, over the phone, or via email in a slow and inefficient process. Now, the big push to streamline B2B customer experience means that personalization processes have started to be reflected in the eCommerce sphere like never before.

There are two major levels of personalization in B2B eCommerce. The first level manifests itself in the offering and customer experience, very much like it happens in the B2C environment. The details, however, are different. B2B buyers tend to make more measured choices and planned purchases, which means that basic personalization tricks that aim for quick, emotion-driven effects won’t be of much use. 

Instead, B2B eCommerce managers should be looking into personalization tactics that can help customers find the product they’re looking for or compare those with similar specifications. Another area that’s worth exploring is personalization that analyzes readily available data to, for instance, find patterns in order history and send customers reminders at the appropriate time. 

The second level of personalization relates to the products themselves. The business world is gradually moving away from branded pens, lanyards, and other gadgets that have been flooding us for the last few decades, but there’s still much demand for personalized items in a B2B setting. Traditionally, the process of ordering such products would involve many emails back and forth to agree on the design and other crucial details. Now, this can be eliminated almost completely with self-service web apps that allow customers to do all the personalization on their own and within minutes. 

Antigro Designer offers an intuitive module for designing and ordering business cards.

4. Marketplaces

For the past few years, the significance of marketplaces in B2B eCommerce has been rising consistently. It’s easy to see why. They bring a number of advantages for vendors and customers alike, and establishing your presence on such platforms is becoming easier and easier. We expect this trend to continue in 2024, so let’s take a closer look at what this channel has to offer in a B2B setting. 

On the vendor’s side, marketplaces are an excellent asset in expanding market reach, brand awareness, and product discovery. First, they make it possible for your products to appear in generic searches like, for example, “office PC mouse” instead of “Logitech mouse.” Second, marketplaces typically offer some kind of recommendation feature in the style of “customers also viewed…” This is an often underappreciated avenue to make your presence visible. Lastly, marketplaces work in your favor if you know that your offer is simply better than the competition’s. Comparison tools make it easier to cut through the marketing noise and objectively pick the best deal in terms of price or features. 

The last point is a benefit that’s shared by vendors and buyers. Having access to multiple offers in the same place can save vast amounts of time in research, data consolidation, and comparison. The majority, if not all, of the work is already done. Marketplaces also enforce standardization such as, for instance, in terms of category names or attributes, which means that buyers can be sure they’re comparing apples to apples when needed.

Image source: Faire

A high barrier to entry has traditionally been one of the main worries for B2B businesses when they consider entering a marketplace. Having to migrate all of your product data and, if needed, adjust it to the marketplace’s standards can be a daunting task. However, the issue is becoming less and less prevalent. Modern product information management (PIM) systems come with plenty of tools to facilitate the export of data and adjust it automatically. The recent boom of AI-powered tools can make this process even more efficient.

5. Building custom platforms

In a B2C eCommerce setting, the broader customer journeys and solutions that facilitate them are quite universal. Regardless of the specific industry that a given business operates in, stores themselves tend to be very similar, give or take one or two features or tools. For B2B companies, the situation is very different. Processes vary a lot between companies, and to complicate things even more, this happens on both sides of the equation: the vendors as well as the buyers.

There are two ways to tackle this obstacle. First, B2B enterprises can try to adjust an out-of-the-box solution to their specific needs. This is how it’s been traditionally done and, in theory, it’s a fairly safe bet because all the foundations are already in place. However, companies are starting to see more flaws than benefits in this approach. The ability to customize a solution can be limited, it might be difficult on a technical and strategic level, and you’ll almost certainly have to make some compromises and workarounds. Above all, you can’t be sure that all the custom work that you’ve done won’t break with the next update of the solution.

This is why more and more B2B eCommerce companies are starting to opt for the second option: building an entirely custom solution. It is, of course, the more complicated and expensive option in the short term, but the investment starts to pay off as soon as the platform is released. A custom solution ensures that all the intricacies are reflected precisely in the architecture and creates a seamless experience for both sides of the procurement process. It’s a matter of convenience and image but also tangible savings that result from optimizing those processes. 

6. B2C-like experiences

We finally arrive at the point that, in a way, has been an unspoken theme of this list: the move toward creating B2C-like experiences in the B2B environment. It’s hardly a groundbreaking discovery to say that B2C eCommerce is convenient. All the elements that come together into the shopping experience, such as the navigation, search and recommendations, checkout process, and so on, have been fine-tuned to provide a seamless and intuitive journey. Traditionally, their B2B counterparts have been lagging quite far behind. Now, this is starting to change.

We tend to think about businesses as faceless abstract entities, but it’s still people who run everyday operations such as procurement. What’s more, these are the very same people who, in their free time, experience the wonders of B2C eCommerce and set them as the benchmark for the tools that they use at work. It’s still true that a B2B setting is a whole different environment that poses certain limitations that businesses need to account for. However, as user expectations grow, this becomes a problem to solve in a creative way rather than an excuse for poor experiences.

As an example, think about the approval process in B2B procurement. It usually goes through a chain like this: an employee requests a purchase that is then verified in terms of strategic usefulness by their manager and then approved by the financial department. The process is complicated by design to ensure accountability and isn’t likely to change anytime soon. What can change, though, are the tools that support the process. What if, instead of a clunky dedicated tool that the manager has to deliberately open and check, they would get a notification on their phone and approve the purchase with a single tap and fingerprint, just like in modern bank apps? This way, the business preserves the necessary process but makes adhering to it resemble the convenience of B2C experiences.

Image source: Bitventure

Big changes in B2B eCommerce are coming

The trends that we’re currently observing in B2B eCommerce underscore a paradigm shift within the sector. Gone are the days of accepting B2B experiences as inferior to their B2C counterparts. User expectations are growing, and businesses must respond if they don’t want to be left behind.

The future of B2B eCommerce is clear: it’s a dynamic fusion of technological prowess, personalized experiences, and a relentless pursuit of convenience, just like in the B2C sector. Only companies that embrace these shifts will thrive in a landscape where adaptability is the key to unlocking success. 

Depending on the current state of your infrastructure, this might be a major project, but it’s one that you can’t afford to neglect. If you find yourself in such a position, make sure to reach out to us, and let’s talk about making your eCommerce fit for 2024.

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Published February 15, 2024