B2B suppliers are trying to keep up with the standards set in the B2C world by expanding their e-commerce platforms and overall omnichannel capabilities. And that's a good thing, according to a new study that found consumer shopping habits are influencing how B2B purchasers expect to buy from suppliers.

Nearly half of business buyers (49 percent) prefer making work-related purchases on the same websites they use for personal purchases — prompting a whooping 83 percent of B2B suppliers surveyed to recognize a need to upgrade their e-commerce capabilities.

More than half of all business buyers expect at least half of their purchases to be made online within three years, according to the study, Building The B2B Omni-Channel Commerce Platform of The Future, conducted by Forrester Consulting in North America, France, Germany and the United Kingdom on behalf of Accenture and hybris.

Satisfying Desires

“Every B2B buyer is really just a consumer at heart — when they go to work, they may take off their consumer hats, but they’re still looking for the same great online experience they get on the weekends from their laptop or tablet,” said Stefan Schmidt, vice president of product strategy, hybris software.

Gone are the days of the paper catalog. “A few years ago, placing an order via phone using a print catalog was a standard part of most procurement processes,” said Schmidt. Today the world is changing, which is good news if your B2B site looks a lot of like consumer offerings — and a big problem if your online business isn’t keeping up with the times.

The findings are based on responses from 930 buyers of B2B products online and 526 executives selling to businesses across the United States, Canada, France, Germany and the United Kingdom from July to September. Survey respondents were from companies with at least 1,000 employees.

Among the things on the wish lists of B2C customers:

A seamless online experience:Develop a comprehensive onmichannel experience. But don’t forget your customers still also want low prices, good service, broad selection and delivery options.

Speed and updates: About 80 percent of B2B buyers surveyed want the things they order the next day, when possible, or, failing that, a clear picture of when they it will arrive.

Current inventory information: Nothing is more frustrating than finding the product you want and then  learning it’s out of stock. More than 70 percent of buyers want to know what in stock and what’s not when they’re shopping.

Good service: Not surprisingly, B2B buyers don’t want to struggle to make a purchase. They want service to be supportive helpful and targeted.

More B2B Shopping Online

B2B websites have already been playing catch-up as volume surges. And, as other research just last month confirmed, buyers are impatient. If they can't get the experience they expect from their suppliers, they're turning to third-party e-commerce sites like Amazon, according to the 2014 Acquity Group State of B2B Procurement.

In fact, Schmidt said, B2C and B2B experiences are starting to merge. "One of the surprises in this study is how rapidly the shift is happening. We're quickly reaching a tipping point, with the majority of B2B buyers expecting that more than half of their purchases will be made through websites in three years. That's a big jump from the 30% who currently make most of their work-related purchases online,” he said.

B2B suppliers need to make sure they're giving customers the things they really want, which means thinking about more than price.

“B2B buyers rank customer service and a broad product selection as just as important as consistently low prices when making repeat purchases. It's important for sellers to realize that low prices don’t automatically translate into customer loyalty,” said Schmidt.

3 Strategies that Work

So how can you make sure that your company is ready to compete?

  1. Fix your mistakes. “B2B companies that aren’t aligning their e-commerce technology initiatives with customer expectations are going to lose out,” said Schmidt. “For example, 60 percent of B2B buyers ranked enhanced search functionality on supplier websites as a top desired feature, but only 48 percent of B2B sellers plan to make that a priority over the next 18 months. That disconnect is going to lead to lost revenue as customers demand the rich experience they enjoy as consumers.”
  2. Plan. “Establish how you’re going to implement omnichannel capabilities. Take into account both the technology investment and the organizational change required for success,” said Schmidt.
  3. Get moving. The quickest way to doom your organization is by keeping on your current course. “The only thing B2B companies can't afford is doing nothing. So identifying an opportunity inside the organization that's promising and will show fast results for the customer and the organization is key,” said Schmidt.  

Online B2B shopping is only likely to grow, so now is the time to take action. Buyers are "going to have little patience for companies that refuse to keep up with the times and they will start giving their business to the companies ready to meet their high demands,” Schmidt said.


Title image by Leo Reynolds  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.