By Bobby Morrison, Chief Revenue Officer at Shopify
When you think about successful online retailers, who pops into your head? I’ll bet it’s a direct-to-consumer (DTC) company like Brooklinen or SKIMS. These digitally native brands have built enormous businesses by making the shopping experience simple and personalized for their customers.
Success stories like these, along with millions of others, have grown DTC commerce into a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s alive and well—but it’s only a small portion of the overall opportunity of online commerce.
There’s one massive piece of that opportunity that we don’t talk about nearly enough: business-to-business (B2B) commerce.
Ecommerce B2B sales alone are worth an estimated $7.7 trillion globally.
I’m calling it: B2B is the next big opportunity space for businesses of all sizes, in 2024 and beyond.
You might hear that and think, “That’s fine, but B2B is an archaic industry with big barriers to entry, no thanks.” Let’s myth-bust this: all of that is no longer true. Shopify is giving the B2B industry a massive makeover, modernizing and streamlining this space into something incredibly valuable for businesses of all kinds.
You might hear that and think, “Sure, but I have no idea how to navigate the world of B2B, I’m only familiar with DTC.”
Here’s a secret that B2B titans don’t want you to know: it turns out, B2B isn’t all that different from DTC. Here’s why.
The B2B opportunity
There’s no denying it, B2B used to be an ecommerce industry laggard, with slow digital adoption, archaic tech, and manual processes.
But this is changing. In fact, when it comes to the most effective way to sell to B2B buyers, ecommerce has surpassed all other channels.
The reason is simple: B2B and DTC shoppers are one and the same.
You read that right. There aren’t two different categories of buyers. They’re just people, looking for good products and a great shopping experience.
Millennials and Gen Z make up 64% of today’s business buyers. They expect purchase experiences that reflect their personal shopping behavior. For them, buying online—whether for personal or business purposes—should be more than a transaction. It should be intuitive, seamless, and most of all, easy.
Making B2B as simple as DTC
Even though B2B and DTC buyers are the same, their business needs are very different.
Business purchases are inherently more complicated: various payment terms, purchase orders, wire transfers, volume pricing, seasonal catalogs... It’s why one-third of B2B sales still happen manually. 🤯
Luckily, the B2B industry is ripe for digitization, and buyers are ready to spend. McKinsey found that 35% are comfortable spending up to $500,000 on a single digital transaction; another 15% of them would spend up to $1 million.
But this new generation of B2B buyers has higher expectations from their vendors. They don’t have patience for outdated technology and manual legacy solutions, and they won’t keep their dissatisfaction a secret. So, many companies are scrambling to modernize.
Herein lies the problem. Many brands that scaled with DTC have force-fit their B2B needs into the DTC model, using their old faithful tools like spreadsheets, PDFs, and emails.
But when your buyers are making six- or seven-digit purchases, a force-fit solution is likely going to fail.
So what does this look like, when done well?
Brooklinen’s roadmap from DTC to B2B
Remember Brooklinen, the beloved DTC brand? They’ve nailed how to evolve beautifully into the B2B space. They got into hospitality by accommodating bulk orders from hotels. But they knew they needed to move away from the time-consuming, manual process of phone orders.
So they used B2B on Shopify to build a new storefront. It perfectly mixed the intuitive DTC features their customers expect with the functionality needed for wholesale. Things like customer-specific pricing, flexible payment methods, and discounts for bulk orders.
As a result, Brooklinen employees confirmed they’re now able to spend 80% of their time working with customers rather than handling back-end admin.
Just like DTC, the foundation of strong B2B commerce is creating personalized, long-standing relationships with your customers.
Apply a DTC mindset to B2B
At Shopify, we’ve made it our mission to simplify commerce in all forms. That includes taking our learnings from nearly two decades of DTC success and applying them to the wholesale merchant experience. Our B2B solution is built on the foundation of DTC, with many new layers added to address the unique challenges faced by those selling B2B.
Over the past 12 months, Shopify has moved at an unprecedented pace to meet the needs of B2B merchants. We’ve released more than three dozen new features, built right into Shopify’s core platform. These features simplify the B2B buying process, allowing businesses to quickly source inventory and integrate with the tools they already rely on.
At this rate, we expect to surpass traditional names in this space within a year. We are all in.
Mark my words: You’re going to see explosive opportunities and growth in B2B for whole new sectors, industries, and regions in 2024 and beyond. This space will be an incredible boon for enterprises who take the time to understand how to do it right.
Bobby is the Chief Revenue Officer at Shopify, joining the executive team in August 2022. He brings 25+ years of experience in transforming multi-billion dollar organizations.