Is convenience overtaking innovation in B2B e-commerce?

20180604-Sana-MT-Arno Is convenience overtaking innovation in B2B e-commerce?
Arno Ham, Chief Product Officer at Sana Commerce

From communicating to learning to shopping, as consumers, we’re increasingly using technologies to streamline our once-manual tasks and complete them in a way that’s more convenient for us. We’re becoming less tolerant of experiences (digital or otherwise) that require tedious or lengthy processes, and in B2B e-commerce, the trends we’re witnessing also reflect this mindset.

In our recent survey of B2B buyers, we asked respondents which aspects of their online customer experience, as consumers, they’d like to see in their online B2B buying experience, and ‘easier and faster checkout’ came at the top of the list, ahead of various innovative new technology. But what does this mean for B2B e-commerce?

  1. Digital-first B2B commerce for younger buyers

Three-quarters of millennials are now entering – or even managing – the decision-making process for B2B purchases in their organizations, and their reliance and preference for digital channels is driving expectations for convenient digital transactions. But simply having a B2B webstore isn’t enough. Research found that almost 60% of millennial buyers would stop doing business with a B2B vendor based solely on a difficult-to-use mobile experience, and another 79% expect B2B sellers to use e-commerce technology and insights to create personalized buyer journeys. To be able to offer this kind of experience, your webstore needs to be supported and enhanced by your sales team, offline channels, and other tools and resources.

  1. The proliferation of voice search

Voice search and voice-enabled technology have been on our radar for some time, but it seems to be rapidly gaining popularity as the new go-to way to search and place orders. Many of us use voice-enabled home assistants, like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, and while this is currently being used in more of a B2C capacity, as with many developments, it’s thought that B2B will quickly follow suit. Before the end of the year, we’re expecting to witness the first major wave of voice-enabled ordering in B2B, particularly on mobiles and hands-free functionality in vehicles.

  1. AI and machine learning are waiting in the wings

While voice search is very much having its moment, AI and machine learning are still finding its feet. It’s growing, but slowly, and we’re not currently seeing enough practical opportunity or the purpose for it to play a valuable role. However, according to Gartner, AI-derived business value is expected to reach $3.9 trillion in 2022, thanks to its sizeable impact on customer experience, cost reduction, and new revenue growth. Moving forward, we expect it will optimize e-commerce to boost conversions; improving search functionality by suggesting better search terms, understanding customer service requests regardless of phrasing, and predicting orders based on order history and browsing behavior, to name just a few.

  1. B2B will begin to embrace online marketplaces

As digital demands continue to change and markets get more competitive, we’re seeing businesses merge or working together to more easily serve their customers. As a result, it’s predicted that we’ll see a larger number of online marketplaces, like Amazon and eBay, but also a larger number of brands selling beyond their own webstore. However, these mergers and collaborations are likely to come with complications, with branding and operational changes at the front-end of the webstore requiring the management and integration of logistical processes at the back-end. This competitive pressure against other brands and marketplaces requires ecommerce businesses to take a more holistic approach to success and think about factors like digital performance, service, design and integration in addition to their digital presence.

  1. Faster order fulfilment

With businesses like Amazon raising the bar for delivery expectations, next-day delivery is often preferred (or even required) before a customer will complete a purchase with you. As a result, businesses will need to invest in more efficient and reliable order fulfilment. For example, if your customer needs a specific product on a job site, they want to turn to a business that will go above and beyond to make these kinds of things happen. Could even delivery within the hour become a reality?

  1. The demise of the app store?  

Alongside the rise of convenient omnichannel experiences comes the rise of progressive web apps (PWAs), but will they make mobile app experiences as we know them obsolete? PWAs offer better performance and extensive offline capabilities to create a more streamlined, frictionless customer journey, particularly for those who browse and purchase across multiple channels. It’s likely that cross-channel purchasing cohesive flow rather than distinct behaviours that we need to connect and unify.

While convenience is evidently a hugely important factor for today’s B2B buyers, technology and innovation are crucial to underpin it. In the ruthless market landscape, a quick, intuitive and hassle-free path to purchase is vital to prevent customers turning to competitors.