Study B2C to Understand B2B Channels

Nov. 6, 2013
B2B companies find it easier to build loyalty with online-only than offline-only customers according to new research.

U.S. business-to-business (B2B) players that fail to embrace online and mobile channels risk losing market share in the short and medium terms, and sustainable competitive advantage in the long-term, according to Forrester Research. The firm reports that e-commerce revenue has more than doubled that of business-to-consumer (B2C), with $559 billion annually in sales.

hybris, an SAP company and e-commerce platform provider, commissioned this study and presented the results during the inaugural Game Plan B2B E-Commerce Forum, which took place last month in Chicago and in Berlin.

Entitled “Online and Mobile are Transforming B2B Commerce,” this research explored what impact e-commerce has on how B2B companies sell their products and services and found that a fundamental transformation is happening in how businesses are acquiring and retaining customers in this market.

“B2B companies must implement effective e-commerce strategies sooner rather than later or risk losing customers to competitors who are already doing so,” said Brian Walker, senior vice president, strategy, at hybris.

Overall, the research yielded three key findings:

  • Selling online and on mobile devices represents a significant new opportunity for B2B companies.
  • B2B companies that wait too long to implement eCommerce assume a big risk.
  • Self-service tools are changing the way in which B2B customers interact with companies.

B2B customers are also B2C customers, and have become accustomed to performing consumer product research online, the researchers stated. This has transformed how they expect to research business purchases as well. To underline this point the study showed that “fifty percent of B2B companies currently selling direct to business partners online indicated that their end user B2B customers are using either consumer websites or B2B versions of consumer websites to purchase products or services for their companies.” 

This trend towards increased online buying was picked up in another part of the study which noted that “69 percent of B2B companies currently selling direct to business partners online expect to stop publishing their print catalogs altogether within the next five years.”

In addition to researching and making purchases online, the study also showed that B2B customers are increasingly using mobile devices to buy online. Forrester’s research also shows that B2B companies already selling online report that more than half of their customers use smartphones to research and make purchases and more than half are also using tablets to make business purchase decisions.

Forrester found that online-only customers are more likely to add additional items, order products in bulk and make repeat purchases than offline-only customers. B2B companies surveyed also indicated that cross selling and upselling strategies and building loyalty are much more effective online than offline.

Forrester’s research also shows that B2B customers want more flexibility when buying online – including access to online and mobile customer service tools 24 hours a day.

In this study, Forrester surveyed 717 B2B companies across three major geographies (North America, Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA), and the Asia Pacific region), or an average of about 240 respondents per geography. Nearly 50% of all respondents, or 353 companies across all three major geographies, indicated they are “currently selling direct to business partners online (B2B).” Each of the three major geographies (North America, Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) and the Asia Pacific region), produced a minimum of 100 respondents that are “currently selling direct to business partners online (B2B).” All respondents represented companies that produce a minimum of $250 million in total sales annually, and who were personally responsible for or deeply involved with selling the company’s products or services online.

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