Supply chain disruption, shipping delays, worker shortages, and global conflict have changed how the world does business. 2022 has already seen a number of emerging trends take off and make their way into B2B ecommerce: faster-fulfilled orders, personalization, and customer self-service being just some.
If you haven’t already taken advantage of these trends in 2022, you have another chance to improve your marketing and sales strategy. B2B ecommerce is only set to continue to grow throughout the rest of 2022 and into 2023. This article will walk you through key B2B ecommerce trends to help guide your online sales strategy.
Table of contents
- What happened in 2021 and 2022?
- B2B ecommerce trends to look out for in 2023
- Faster fulfilled orders
- Selling through third-party online marketplaces
- Market and sell through social media
- Companies lean into sustainability
- Personalized experiences
- Mobile-first websites
- Self-service customer portals
- Going headless
- Upgrading legacy systems
- Facing supply chain disruption challenges
- Better inventory management
- Seamless omnichannel experience
What happened in 2021 and 2022?
B2B ecommerce continues to grow. Statista research suggests that in 2023, an estimated 17% of B2B sales are expected to be generated digitally. Plus, the North American B2B ecommerce market will reach $1.8 trillion in 2023.
Ecommerce is no longer a novelty sales channel that B2B businesses experiment with, either. McKinsey & Company research shows that 65% of B2B companies are exclusively selling online in 2022. And, for the first time, B2Bs are more likely to offer ecommerce over in-person sales.
According to Digital Commerce 360,B2B ecommerce remains the fastest growing channel. In 2021, manufacturers, through their own websites and apps and on B2B marketplaces, grew ecommerce by 18.4%, to $543.25 billion from $458.7 billion. These growth rates are 1.45 times greater than the growth in all manufacturing sales and 1.42 times bigger than the increase in all electronic sales.
B2B ecommerce trends to look out for in 2023
B2B commerce growth shows no signs of slowing down during 2022 and beyond in 2023. To stand out from competitors and meet customer expectations, brands should take note of the ecommerce trends currently shaping the second half of 2022.
Let’s dig into some of the key themes that are defining the industry this year and beyond.
Faster fulfilled orders
Customer expectations around order delivery time are growing. Pre-COVID, UPS had an average transit time of 2.96 days. But by the end of 2020, it had gone up to 4.96 days. During the end of 2021, it was back down to around 2 to 2.35 days, faster than before COVID.
Customer desire to receive goods faster is driving this push for shorter delivery times.
Faster fulfilled orders are another way B2B brands can appeal to buyers. B2B brands can turn to third-party fulfillment (3PL) to streamline their fulfillment process. Using 3PL can help businesses lower their fulfillment and inventory management costs too.
Andreas Blomst, GM of omnichannel fulfillment software Extensiv, explains how outsourcing fulfillment can benefit businesses along with customers.
“In 2023, I predict increased outsourcing of fulfillment services to 3PLs,” he says. “This system allows for brands to benefit from fulfillment expertise and distributed inventory without the overhead. It lets the brands focus more on sales and digital marketing.”
Andreas adds that by prioritizing digital transformation and integrating the right tools into the ecommerce technology stack, B2B brands can deliver orders more efficiently.
“Better order management tools that sit between the ordering platform and the warehouse will become commonplace to provide order fulfillment routing to the best location with available inventory, allowing businesses to deliver wholesale orders as efficiently as their B2C orders,” he says.
Selling through third-party online marketplaces
Many B2B buyers start their search for products through marketplaces. Browsing then often turns into buying. Over the second quarter of 2022, Amazon’s net sales generated through its third-party seller services grew by 13% over the same period a year prior.
Plus, 20% of UK buyers and 15% of US buyers make their purchases through Amazon Business. That’s just one example of many available third-party B2B marketplaces too.
One key benefit of third-party online marketplaces is their ability to attract new buyers. This provides B2B brands with a new opportunity to test new products and reach global markets.
Market and sell through social media
Social commerce is often considered to be more of a B2C ecommerce strategy, but B2B brands are increasingly getting in on the action too.
With good reason––the global social commerce market is set to reach US$2.9 trillion by the year 2026. B2B brands will probably find that their target audience is already looking for products on social media platforms too. Currently, 46% of B2B buyers use social media to learn about available solutions, 40% use it to compare solutions, and 35% use it for need-to-know information before they complete a purchase.
The key to success is to pick the right social media platforms for your business. Consider which ones are most relevant to your audience. Create a variety of posts like product demo videos or customer testimonials and see what resonates best with your target audience.
When you’re ready to embrace social commerce tools, add your product catalogs to each platform so customers can browse your available inventory.
Here’s a great example of a Facebook Shop catalog from wholesale book retailer Bulk Bookstore:
Companies lean into sustainability
As climate change awareness increases globally, more and more companies are creating initiatives around sustainability. And while these goals are great for the environment, they’re also great for business.
After all, studies show that customers are 4.3 times more loyal to eco-friendly businesses and that conversion rates of those businesses increase by up to 20%.
One great way to showcase sustainability in your business is by using sustainable packaging. Ecommerce B2B brand Avery Dennison—a label manufacturer—uses this tactic in its business to ensure customers are satisfied with the way their products arrive.
In the brand’s words, “The world can’t afford to continue wasting materials. And neither can you.” This is why it approached packaging in a different way, ensuring the customers purchasing from it are satisfied they’re purchasing from a more eco-friendly brand.
Whether it’s packaging, product materials, or reducing energy consumption in manufacturing, finding ways to be more environmentally friendly is going to be an important trend going forward.
Personalization is key to creating a buying experience that makes your customers feel special.
But it looks like B2B ecommerce brands could do more to tailor shopping experiences to their customers. Thirty-nine percent of B2B buyers believed that the relationship with suppliers was the biggest challenge when buying on the internet.
Plus, B2B buyers want brands to do more to personalize the buying experience. A McKinsey & Company survey of close to 3,500 decision makers in 12 markets found that along with more channels and more convenience customers want a more personalized experience.
B2B buyers also want brands to communicate more relevant targeted messages. In a recent survey, 27% of respondents shared that they’re most frustrated with inconsistent messaging from brands, and another 27% said they’re most frustrated with irrelevant marketing.
B2B brands can better understand their audience by regularly collecting customer data and using it to personalize the buyer’s journey.
Ryan Turner, founder of email marketing agency Ecommerce Intelligence, explains that B2B brands need to match B2C brands when it comes to personalizing shopping experiences.
"Being able to provide a customer experience that rivals the best B2C brands is becoming a key factor for any B2B company wanting to increase new customer acquisition via ecommerce channels and stay competitive online,” he says. “This means fast and lightweight websites which are easy to navigate on any device, on-site personalization, and well-crafted multi-channel communications across email, SMS, and the key social channels.”
Personalizing the shopping experience by using first-party customer data could look like:
- Personalizing product recommendations based on pages customers have already viewed
- Using retargeting initiatives to push hesitant customers toward making a purchase
- Creating campaigns around abandoned carts to remind customers of forgotten items
Showing customers you’re paying attention to what they’re shopping for helps improve the user experience and increase B2B sales all in one fell swoop.
The mobile customer experience needs to be top notch, especially considering statistics have shown that people are 62% less likely to purchase from a brand after a negative mobile experience.
According to estimates, retail ecommerce sales via mobile devices in the United States exceeded $360 billion in 2021. By 2025, that figure is forecast to grow almost twofold, amounting to approximately $710 billion.
If they haven’t already, companies should prioritize creating a responsive mobile website or a downloadable mobile app. Next, in the coming year, B2B ecommerce stores could consider introducing one-click checkout to their sites.
This payment method requires customers to provide their payment information only once––they can then use the one-click option to make purchases without having to enter it again. Offering mobile wallets as a payment option is another great way to improve the mobile customer experience.
Insider Intelligence forecasts that US m-commerce will nearly double its share of total retail sales between 2020 and 2025. To capture some of these sales, it’s worth considering how you can improve the mobile shopping experience for new and existing customers.
Self-service customer portals
As B2B brands embrace selling products online, buyers are becoming increasingly comfortable purchasing products with limited to no support.
Currently, B2B buyers purchase 67% of their products online. Plus, 18% of B2B buyers prefer remote self-service purchasing channels (i.e., being able to make a purchase without having to speak with someone) when working with B2B companies.
Justin Smith, CEO of ecommerce marketing agency OuterBox, says, “When it comes to B2B ecommerce trends, I think we’re going to see a continued push for self-service buying models, much like we see in the B2C world.
“With more millennials becoming decision makers in their respective organizations, we’re seeing that the more traditional methods of B2B buying, like over the phone, are becoming less popular.”
Smith finds that B2B buyers want to research and buy within the same channel without having to speak to a sales representative. Recent research revealed that 86% of customers preferred using self-service tools as opposed to contacting sales.
“While more complex sales cycles will always require some form of human interaction, the more automated you can make your buying process for simple transactions, the better,” he says.
But how can a self-service B2B ecommerce customer portal work for your business?
B2B brand Beauty Solutions sells products, tools, and education to beauty professionals. It currently sells to B2B customers in seven states in the US.
To access the self-service portal, see prices, and place orders, beauty pros must hold a cosmetology license. If they do, they can request login credentials from Beauty Solutions. An account also lets them save items to a wish list, track orders, view previous orders, and use multiple shipping addresses.
Beauty professionals can search for specific brands or product types, like hair colors, extensions, makeup, or tools. They can filter products by customer ratings, stock availability, size, and product line.
Product pages indicate locations where the product is available, along with sizes in stock and their current stock levels.
Having a self-service online portal streamlines the process for each of the companies accessing this website and ensures they can easily manage their orders via this online marketplace.
Headless commerce architecture lets B2B brands separate the website’s front end from its back end. This structure gives retailers more freedom to build and customize anything they like.
One of the reasons businesses are choosing to go headless is it can make it easier to create and deliver personalized shopping experiences. Once it’s up and running, headless makes it easier to lower your website budget, as you won’t need technical support to update the back end every time you want to make a slight adjustment to the front end.
Headless platforms provide B2B retailers with more tools to reach their growing audience than a traditional ecommerce platform would.
Here are some of the benefits of going headless:
- Complete customization
- Faster page loading times
- Less need for IT support
- More control and faster scaling
- Faster time to market
Companies with headless architecture are also 77% more likely to be expanding into new channels compared to non-headless companies (at 54%).
Sustainable clothing brand Allbirds uses a headless architecture to enable more functionality and flexibility across its site:
Upgrading legacy systems
Leaving behind legacy systems is considered a significant challenge in 2022 for 36.6% of distributors. But as B2B brands realize the need to deliver a more polished B2C-like experience for customers, you’ll need to have the right systems in place.
Some businesses make the mistake of only upgrading their systems when they desperately need a new tool or feature. But that can make it more challenging to implement tech further down the line.
McKinsey & Company explains how switching from a monolithic structure can reap huge rewards and results for ecommerce brands:
“A Brazilian retail player transitioned from its monolithic architecture by prioritizing the transformation of all customer-facing business capabilities before upgrading its back ends. These efforts were key factors in the launch of a digital marketplace, which generated astonishing growth: over a four-year span, the stock price increased more than 18,000 percent in value.”
Facing supply chain disruption challenges
Between a pandemic, war conflict, spiraling inflation, and shipping delays, retailers are all too aware of supply chain issues. While these challenges won’t disappear overnight, B2B brands are finding new ways of dealing with them.
Avoiding any kind of disruption in the supply chain is essential to maintaining customer loyalty, which is why supply chain resilience has been a major trend.
There are a number of supply chain resilience strategies that companies have taken throughout 2021, including:
- Nearshoring: using distributors that are nearby or within the same region to have more control over the supply chain
- Multisourcing: having a wide range of distributors as a backup plan in case some are unable to deliver
Having suppliers close by, as well as a number of options in case a disruptive event were to occur, helps to build resilience and ensure your company always has access to new inventory.
Kurt Ellis, President of GLF E-Commerce Fulfillment, explains that supply chain disruption probably won’t resolve in the latter months of 2022, but says brands can better prepare themselves and customers to avoid frustrating delays.
“With recent lockdowns in China, unpredictability around COVID, inflation, international conflicts, and the onset of the 2022 hurricane season, it doesn’t look like Q3 2022 supply chain woes will ease up,” she says.
“To mitigate supply chain delays and shortages, don’t wait until the last minute to order materials or goods you need for peak season––order them now. Now is also the time to work out any kinks in your inventory management program. Does your software need updating? Do you have enough storage or warehouse space? Are you able to report in real-time?”
Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Partnerships at B2B not-for-profit supply chain standards body GS1 US, adds that businesses should try to use a range of suppliers.
“To maximize performance in 2023, business-to-business brands will need to focus on diversifying suppliers and potentially narrowing the number of products they offer and bringing manufacturing closer to the intended destination,” she says.
Kurt adds that there are plenty of ways for brands to help customers navigate shipping delays.
“Encourage customers to shop early. Prepare them for the possibility of holiday shipping delays on your website, and entice them to get ahead of the game with discounts, free shipping, or small perks,” she says.
Better inventory management
As supply chain disruptions continue, ecommerce businesses need to keep a better handle on how goods move through the system. Doing so will help them more easily meet customer expectations around what’s in stock and when it can be delivered.
Melanie says businesses can successfully integrate physical and digital channels by getting clearer insight into their inventory levels.
“The consumer reigns supreme and businesses must continue to offer frictionless omnichannel shopping and fulfillment,” she says. “In 2023, creating the seamless ‘phygital’ experience for consumers will be more important than ever, but that is only possible when sellers and all links in the supply chain have an increased level of visibility.
“When supply chain data is digitized and by leveraging technologies like RFID, sellers have that next level of inventory visibility and can see and sell what’s in stock, down to the last item, across all channels and locations. This level of visibility allows for the seller to fulfill the order how the customer prefers, if the seller is set up to do so—curbside, BOPIS, home delivery, etc.”
Using tech to keep better track of stock units will help your brand better deliver on its promises to customers and ensure your stock is where you need it to be.
Seamless omnichannel experience
Omnichannel selling allows customers to browse or make purchases from a variety of different channels, whether via traditional methods, remote interactions, or self-serve options.
Victoria Morrissey, chief marketing officer of Ferguson Enterprises, explained to McKinsey & Company how businesses need to first understand the customer journey before identifying which information to supply through different channels.
“The power of true omnichannel is understanding all the channels our customers use, and how they want to use them, throughout their entire journey,” she said. “If you don’t understand what that journey is, you can’t provide the right information at the right time.”
B2B customers expect to be able to purchase from multiple channels. According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, B2B buyers now regularly use 10 or more channels to interact with suppliers, up from just five in 2016.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only enhanced omnichannel purchasing experiences too. According to a recent survey, 94% of respondents view today’s B2B omnichannel reality—in which customers buy face-to-face, remotely, and online—as effective or more effective than before COVID-19.
What will B2B ecommerce look like in 2023?
As we close out 2022 and head into 2023, keep these B2B ecommerce trends in mind so you can start implementing them over the course of Q1. Ensuring you’re on top of new marketing strategies and tactics helps keep your business at the forefront of customers’ minds.
To make it easy for your ecommerce site to stay up-to-date, consider using Shopify as your B2B ecommerce platform.
Common Questions Related to B2B ecommerce
What is B2B ecommerce?
B2B ecommerce is the marketing, selling, and distribution of products from one business to another through an online or digital portal.
What's the difference between B2B and B2C ecommerce?
While B2B ecommerce involves one business buying from another business, B2C ecommerce involves an individual buying from a business.
What are the characteristics of b2b ecommerce?
Some of the key characteristics that differentiate B2B ecommerce from B2C ecommerce include multiple decision-makers and a longer time-to-purchase.
How do I start a b2b ecommerce company?
To start a B2B ecommerce company, you’ll first need to decide what you want to sell and evaluate whether there’s market demand. You’ll also need to set up an ecommerce website to list the products you’ll be selling.
Which is more profitable b2b or b2c?
B2C sales are only about a third of the size of B2C sales, making B2B ecommerce the most profitable model in terms of global gross merchandise volume.