B2B suppliers invest in e-commerce to deliver better purchasing experience for buyers, Accenture and hybris show

As the volume of business-to-business (B2B) purchases being made online continues to grow, B2B suppliers are responding by expanding their e-commerce platforms and overall omni-channel capabilities, according to new research from Accenture and hybris software, an SAP company.

Fifty two percent of business buyers expect at least half of their purchases to be made online in three years’ time, as shown in 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.

The study also found consumer shopping habits are influencing how B2B purchasers expect to buy from suppliers. Already, nearly half of business buyers (49%) prefer making work-related purchases on the same websites they use for personal purchases. Consequently, the study also found 83% of B2B suppliers surveyed are either in the process of implementing or upgrading their e-commerce suite or planning to do so within six months.

“Business buyers are coming online with high expectations across the board,” said Brigid Fyr, managing director for North America omni-channel commerce, Accenture Interactive, part of Accenture Digital. “With three out of four buyers stating they would buy again from a supplier with an easy-to-use website, sellers have a large opportunity for growth by focusing on making the entire purchasing experience as easy as ordering a book online or downloading music onto a smartphone.”

How business suppliers meet buyers’ expectations

When asked to cite the top features or functions they would most like from suppliers in the selling process, most business buyers chose enhanced search functionality on their website (60%), followed by showing ratings and reviews of products and services (58%) and improved personalised product or service recommendations on their website (50%). Additionally, nearly seven out of 10 business buyers (69%) prefer to use direct, instant online forms of payment, such as credit cards or payment systems, rather than purchase orders and invoices.

According to the study, suppliers are listening: In the next 18 months, nearly half (48%) are planning to improve search functionality on their website, and four out of 10 (42%) are planning to enhance personalised product or service recommendations for their business customers. Already, 86% of B2B sellers allow customers to use credit or debit cards when making a purchase, and 79% allow online payment services.

Omni-channel efforts are driving investment in technology 

Two-thirds of B2B suppliers (66%) acknowledge that shifting customer expectations are driving their technology investments in omni-channel initiatives, such as implementing or upgrading e-commerce platforms and mobile services. More than eight out of 10 B2B companies (83%) agree that an omni-channel strategy is critical to a company’s long-term success by driving more sales and profit. Additionally, 85% recognise technology investment decisions will be centered on the omni-channel strategy.

Importantly, B2B sellers are also beginning to look beyond e-commerce and omni-channel to the technologies that will drive the future of their businesses. When asked to identify the areas in which their companies would invest in the future, nearly two-thirds of sellers (62%) cited automated pricing options, while the use of wearable computing in distribution centers to increase the efficiency of the supply chain process was cited by nearly half (49%).

“Business suppliers have made a good start adapting to changing buying patterns,” said Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at hybris. “Now it will be important for them to ensure a truly seamless experience for their customers at all times and on all touchpoints. For instance, if a customer starts a process at their desk but has to leave for a meeting, their sales journey has to move with them via a digital device, offering minimal fuss around payment, shipping and other purchase options. For many B2B suppliers, this will require significant integration efforts – of back-end and fulfillment systems, as well as with their call centers and popular social media platforms.”

Challenges enhancing the digital buying experience

The study indicates that most challenges suppliers face when enhancing digital customer-facing channels are related to organisation and structure. Survey respondents said the biggest barrier to implementing an omni-channel approach is a difficulty in integrating back-office technology across channels (cited by 44% of suppliers), followed by difficulty in sharing customer data and analytics across the organisation (42%); limits by distribution partners, franchises or wholesale customers (40%), and conflict between channel organisations (36%). These challenges are similar to what retailers face when trying to implement omni-channel capabilities, as Accenture and hybris found in a study focused on consumer businesses.

“Today’s consumer is digitally enabled and demands a relevant and seamless omni-channel experience from brands – both inside and out of the office,” said Bob Barr, managing director for North America digital transformation and operations, Accenture Interactive. “For companies, this means they not only need to harness digital technologies, they also need to align their company’s culture and organization around offering the best, most customer-centric offerings possible. The B2B companies that calibrate their organizations around their customer and focus on providing digital and seamless omni-channel experiences will seize a strong foothold in securing buyer loyalty.”