Ever feel like not doing something that you should have – such as pursue a new skill, hobby, or get into shape?
I don’t know about you, but I tend to have many excuses to fall back on, such as not having enough energy outside of work, or enough time on the weekends. If that fails to convince anyone, I could chalk it up to my lack of expertise and experience.
If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s how quickly change can happen and kick-start us into action. How fast not just people – but multinational organizations can change how they’ve been operating for years.
One business function thrust into the spotlight is eCommerce. With much of the public limited to their homes, businesses that set up a B2B eCommerce platform before the pandemic have emerged as clear winners.
Impact of COVID-19 on eCommerce, Brands and Doing Business
While some businesses were well prepared by investing in B2B eCommerce early on, others were caught off guard. Businesses that either dragged their feet or chose not to invest in their digital transformation and eCommerce initiatives had to contend with increased phone orders, email communication, and managing orders manually.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s impossible to anticipate the future. But many brands lost a considerable chunk of business, which might have been avoided with a decent B2B eCommerce strategy.
There’s no shortage of things to take away from COVID-19, so let’s take a look at some of the biggest lessons we learned.
1] Flexibility is not a buzzword anymore
Smaller businesses, particularly those with low profit margins, do not have the ability to change from offline to online overnight. Larger retailers might have an online presence, warehousing, or automated systems for managing ordering and fulfillment duties.
In either case, the importance of agile processes and clearly laid out contingency plans cannot be overstated. If this is new to you, start by establishing clear communication channels and relationship-building initiatives that allow the flow of ideas within your organization.
For many others, COVID-19 opened up an opportunity to connect with their customers, upskill their workplace, reevaluate how they do business, which means adopting B2B eCommerce technologies.
2] Your audience expects you to be there
When times are tough, leaders and brands have an opportunity to connect with worried customers and truly focus on the relevance of their products and services. However, this requires a new way of communicating without the aim of selling.
Rather, focusing on empathizing, informing, but most importantly, helping. Brands that communicate with timeliness, transparency and truthfulness will stand out among their peers – especially when the audience is bombarded with opportunistic and anxiety-inducing messaging.
Look beyond a B2B eCommerce system with great CMS capabilities – communicate inventory levels, out-of-stocks and order tracking with the help of API and integrating with your ERP system.
3] Buyers are comfortable purchasing online
For most of us, conducting our meetings using webcams or working from home has gone without a hitch. So has purchasing everything from furniture to stocking up on consumables. If anything, this has taught us that technology can cope – and that sellers should be embracing it.
Even before the crisis, online commerce has been growing at a stable rate of at least 15% year-over-year, taking a bigger piece of the pie from offline.
This has created numerous opportunities and niches for B2B industries that want to focus on personalization, convenience, and position themselves as alternatives to their in-person counterparts.
That’s why it’s important to select a B2B eCommerce platform that fits your business structure, including complex access and visibility requirements within separate sites and portals.
4] Mobile is taking a bigger share of traffic
In a mobile-first world, people are looking for more convenience, intuitive recommendations, and easier ordering experiences. A year ago B2B eCommerce was the primary revenue source for over 21% of B2B businesses. Now, mobile customers interested in making purchases are flooding businesses.
They are looking for easy checkout, quick recording and clear shipping options. They also want their transaction history and other self-service options easily accessible from the seller’s portal.
It’s no wonder that choosing a mobile-capable B2B eCommerce platform brings you more customers, and in turn, more sales.
5] As one market dries up, another emerges
As eCommerce trends progress, the demand for selling on multiple channels follows suit. Brands traditionally focused on B2B or B2C must explore alternatives, such as DTC.
In this model, the manufacturer, distributor, or wholesaler can sell directly to the consumer, bypassing the retailer. One example is Adidas or Dollar Shave Club selling through their website, as well as Amazon directly to consumers.
Thus, select a platform that can actually handle multiple business models and selling channels, rather than just repurposing a B2C solution for B2B duty.
6] Our supply chains need reworking
The crisis has demonstrated the unpreparedness for global supply chains to deal with shocks. Businesses have been relying on suppliers that have been risky, with little visibility or ability to intervene in production or fulfillment status.
Furthermore, little to no planning was done in establishing supply chain alternatives to minimize disruptions, or adapting facilities or workforce to meet high-demand hotspots.
With a multichannel B2B eCommerce strategy integrated with the ERP and fulfillment system, you can move quickly and take advantage of the demand their competitors might miss.
What lessons COVID-2019 taught us about choosing a B2B eCommerce platform
Digital commerce has been around for a long time, but difficult times are going to change the way businesses operate for some time. The lucky ones will need to accommodate more customers, require help with managing orders and customer-facing tasks.
In other cases, businesses will have to explore new models such as B2B2C and D2C in order to adapt to new demands and markets. Here are some points to keep in mind as you examine B2B eCommerce platform options and organize your return post lockdown.
- Customers prefer a shopping experience that works regardless of device. This means consistent mobile, tablet, and deskop-optimized experiences, especially if these are new customers that visit you for the first time.
- Today’s buyers have little patience for slow-loading pages. Every page must be tested for speed, accuracy, and compatibility with all operating systems, devices, and connection types.
- We have little concern for inaccurate or missing information. If you can’t offer accurate, real-time stock numbers, pricing, and shipping information, start thinking of ways to do so.
- Technology raises our expectations for personalization, and customers are no different. Promotions, products, prices, and order options should be unique to each client.
- Keeping a single source of truth and automating repetitive data entry not only improves workplace productivity. It streamlines operations and helps businesses save money.
- Integration with ERP, CRM, PIM and WMS systems (even if you don’t have any) future-proofs your business, breaks down data silos, and helps you make decisions that save time and money.
While the new pace of change in business and within institutions can seem daunting, we can count on technology to connect to customers and open new avenues of doing business.
If there’s one thing that our experience with COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that B2B eCommerce will remain a viable way to build value for suppliers, distributors, partners, sales reps, and customers.
As we move further away from the peak, businesses should ask themselves an important question: Did we come out smarter, stronger, and more prepared out of the lockdown than going in?
Many businesses will, but only if they act on opportunities presented to them during this crisis. This includes changing how they communicate with customers, exploring new markets, and beefing up their supply chains.
At the center of it all is a B2B eCommerce solution that makes selling more flexible, resilient, and more conducive to business growth.
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