Wholesale B2B purchasing is increasingly resembling B2C purchasing in a few crucial ways.

First, B2B buyers (who tend to be Millennials) are accustomed to making purchases online. These are digital natives who are happier with a self-service approach to making purchases versus reaching out to a sales rep or organization (unless they absolutely must).

A recent case study published by Salesforce notes how Adidas addressed this growing B2B buying trend by creating a B2B sales portal enabling wholesale customers to browse their entire catalog digitally, pre-order merchandise for upcoming seasons, reorder in-season merchandise and manage their accounts.

Salesforce also notes that the brand and retailer relationship is shifting within the consumer goods (CG) industry that includes categories like food and beverage companies and industrial tools & equipment manufacturers.

For companies that do business in the B2B wholesale space, understanding the shifting dynamics of how B2B buyers interact with the brands they purchase from is critical when developing a B2B digital strategy. In this post, we’ll review some compelling B2B eCommerce trends and list some clear strategies that businesses can use to better serve today’s wholesale purchasers.

Expectations of The Modern B2B Buyer

In a recent Salesforce survey, 81% of business buyers said that a good customer experience was as important as a company’s products and services, and 73%  said their standards for good experiences are higher than ever. Additionally, an astounding 96% of B2B buyers said they’re more likely to be loyal to a company they trust.

Source: Salesforce

The stakes are high for businesses, particularly when it comes to ensuring good customer experiences.

A good experience as it relates to eCommerce (even B2B eCommerce) is now inextricably linked to the availability of digital tools, account access, responsiveness, personalization and reliability.

From a buyer’s perspective, here’s what that means:

You don’t have to limit yourself to one platform, either. The breakout rooms feature on Zoom might be great for one part of your event, while a platform that allows private one-to-one networking opportunities might be ideal for another section of your event.

  • B2B buyers expect B2C-like experiences enabling them to customize and personalize service when ordering and reordering products.
  • Buyers crave personalization, such as account-specific storefronts that provide easy access to their customer information.
  • Customer-specific features such as product recommendations are value-adds for B2B buyers who are looking for complementary products to round out their inventory.
  • Another personalization piece that’s helpful to buyers — custom catalogs and pricing that enable them to see their specific negotiated prices and view pre-filtered product lists based on prior purchasing behavior, categories, interests and more.
  • As with B2C buyers, B2B buyers expect relevancy and personalization from vendors’ websites such as dynamic content that delivers information based on a buyer’s account information and history. This might look like a customized landing page, product recommendation or individualized catalog.

To meet the above expectations, wholesalers must turn to technology. The B2B eCommerce platform sector, which accounted for roughly $717 billion in 2018, is poised to grow by nearly 12% between 2019 and 2027.

B2B eCommerce platforms differ from B2C platforms in that they have specific features and tools designed to meet the unique needs of B2B buyers and B2B transactions. Here are a few must-have features to consider when shopping for a platform:

Customer segmentation capabilities

This is important so that wholesalers can classify different types of customers into groups. This enables them to customize things like pricing, minimum order requirements, promotions, shipping incentives and other elements based on these profiles.

Customer-specific catalog/pricing

As we noted above, this is another feature that should be native to a B2B commerce platform. What wholesalers sell and how much they sell it for varies widely based on factors like geographic location, order volume, reorder frequency and quantities ordered. Custom catalogs make reordering much easier and have the added bonus of providing a good customer experience.

Bulk discounts

This allows B2B buyers to purchase items in cases, pallets or other wholesales quantities paired with volume discounts accommodate different buying needs and, again, equal good customer service.

A minimum order quantity (MOQ)

A feature like this that prevents buyers from ordering products below a certain set minimum is a must for wholesale transactions.

Flexible checkout

This allows for a variety of company-specific rules, such as enabling B2B customers to charge the shipping to their UPS/FedEx/USPS accounts, purchase orders tied to customers based on credit approval, and restricting certain products from being shipped to specific locations.

Usability components

Usability components like mobile responsiveness, website search, intuitive navigation and quick order capabilities for returning customers improve the overall digital experience. These are features that B2C buyers have come to expect from a good eCommerce website, and they absolutely carry over to the B2B side of things.

A Word About COVID-19

COVID-19 is accelerating the need for digital transformation for both B2C and B2B commerce.

In 2018, Digital Commerce 360 reported that 49% of companies made between 50% and 74% of all their corporate purchases online, and nearly half of companies purchased products online at least once a week. 

Fast forward to today’s post-pandemic world, and this need for digital transformation is even more pressing. Salesforce research conducted in May and June of this year revealed a 40% increase in new online shoppers.

Yet the relationship between consumer goods (CG) companies and retailers still drives most CG sales, even when you factor in the added dependence on digital channels for selling. CG merchandising and marketing plans must consider this drastic shift to digital shopping, particularly since 52% of CG leaders say their merchandising and marketing plans aren’t executed as intended in stores.

This requires that wholesalers reimagine how they work with retailers, particularly when it comes to product merchandising in the online space. This may be more applicable to fast-moving consumer goods than other categories, but since so many buyers are moving the purchase process online, it’s something all B2B wholesalers need to factor into their growth strategies as we move into the fourth quarter of 2020, and beyond. 4

Measures of Customer Satisfaction

If there’s one key takeaway that B2B wholesalers can glean from changing shopping paradigms and buying trends it’s that focusing on customer satisfaction is critical to survival. One prime example of this is shipping.

TradeGecko, an inventory and order management platform, notes that “Ship to promise” is one of the biggest indicators of customer satisfaction in the B2B eCommerce space. This is another instance where B2C expectations have made their way into the world of B2B buying.

Understanding the changing expectations of B2B wholesale buyers is the first step in creating a customer-focused plan of action that helps meet those expectations. Selecting an eCommerce platform that’s built specifically to meet the needs of B2B buyers is another important move.

Conclusion

The future of B2B wholesale purchasing is bright and decidedly digital. Preparing yourself to meet the challenges posed by the modern B2B shopper is the best way to stay competitive and achieve growth.