E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods and services over the Internet. In business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, e-commerce has grown to become a powerful force in retail. In just the 1st quarter of 2019, e-commerce accounted for more than 10 percent of all retail sales in the United States. Brands like Amazon and Shopify have grown into powerful companies on the back of the e-commerce wave.
However, for all of the news about B2C e-commerce, you don’t hear as much about business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce — or online transactions between two companies. Like it’s B2C cousin, B2B e-commerce has the potential to completely revolutionize the economy, helping businesses to operate more efficiently and more effectively. Many companies are realizing this — in 2018, total B2B e-commerce sales in the United States surpassed $1 trillion. Let’s find out why e-commerce is becoming so prevalent in B2B sales.
In B2B e-commerce, buyers use an online portal to make purchases for their business. On the face of it, this isn’t too different from a standard B2B transaction — just replace the salesperson, order form, or storefront with an online portal. However, moving the process online allows for companies to dramatically alter the way they make B2B purchases and sales. By working with an online portal, it’s possible for buyers to integrate inventory management software with their suppliers, identify inventory trends, streamline the purchasing process, and ensure that their inventory never runs low due to human error.
There’s a reason why B2B e-commerce has become so dominant so quickly. It offers game-changing benefits to both buyers and sellers who adopt the online model.
Just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing is a process wherein companies order raw materials from their suppliers “just in time” for those materials to enter the manufacturing process. In principle, this dramatically cuts down on the time that these materials need to spend sitting in inventory. Of course, in practice, JIT manufacturing is especially susceptible to human error. An order form could be misplaced, a sales rep could be slow to process the order, or someone might make a miscount while determining manufacturing needs.
JIT manufacturing requires precision and speed at all levels of the inventory process, and e-commerce can help to deliver that. Sales orders are processed instantly through an online portal. Meanwhile, it’s possible to integrate an online portal with inventory management software so that JIT manufacturing doesn’t fall behind due to human error in the inventory or ordering processes.
In a conventional B2B marketplace, companies spend a lot of time and money on sales and marketing. E-commerce streamlines both of these things — the online sales platform replaces the traditional salesperson. Meanwhile, the ability to reach a national (or even global) audience online means that you can stretch your marketing budget further, getting a better ROI on the money that you put towards advertising.
An online sales platform can easily integrate with accounting software, creating customer invoices instantly and making payments and payment tracking easier and more accurate.
In a drop-shipping model, businesses order products on behalf of their clients through a third party, eliminating the need for brick-and-mortar locations and cutting down on inventory costs. An online platform can integrate customer purchases with shipping orders, cutting down on waste and streamlining the drop-shipping process.
The traditional B2B marketplace thrives on trade shows, cold calls, and in-person visits from sales reps. So, under the conventional marketplace, the scope of a company’s sales reach is limited by things like travel budget, regional demand for their products, and luck. With B2B e-commerce, however, clients all around the globe are accessible through the Web, all for the same amount of spending on your website and online advertising.
Here are some of the most prominent examples of B2B e-commerce in action.
Modern e-commerce is enabled by platforms that allow companies to move their operations seamlessly onto the Web.
Amazon Business: Amazon is easily the most dominant brand in B2C e-commerce. With Amazon Business, this company is branching out to the B2B market as well, offering business-only pricing for every type and every size of business. The service also integrates with Fishbowl, allowing for streamlined order fulfillment.
Shopify: Shopify is an e-commerce platform that allows users to start, develop, and manage a business. The platform allows sales across multiple locations, including e-commerce sales like the Web, mobile apps, and social media, alongside brick-and-mortar locations or pop-up shops. Like Amazon Business, you can also integrate Shopify with Fishbowl.
Squarespace: Squarespace is another well-known e-commerce platform. In particular, they offer services to help businesses create their very own websites and then launch marketing and sales campaigns from those websites.
Many businesses have thrived by adopting an e-commerce model. Here are just a few companies that have found success in e-commerce:
Sole Envy: Sole Envy is an online retailer for women’s shoes. By starting their business in the e-commerce marketplace, they were able to go paper-free, helping the business to be more eco-friendly and saving money on waste.
Stego: Stego specializes in plastic to control moisture beneath a building’s concrete slab. By using e-commerce, they were able to streamline their inventory and manufacturing processes, saving up to 20 man-hours a week.
Quality Pet Products: Quality Pet Products supplies pet foods to veterinary clinics and retail pet stores within a six-state region. By adopting an e-commerce model, they were able to integrate their software on multiple levels, making their entire sales process more efficient and saving the equivalent of 16 man-hours a day in time and expenses.
In order to get the most from your B2B e-commerce platform, it’s important to:
Accept a Wide Range of Payment Options: For many people, the appeal of e-commerce is the convenience. Double down on that convince by accepting as many payment options as you reasonably can, allowing your clients to pay with whatever they have available.
Don’t Neglect SEO: If you’re operating online, then you’re probably saving a lot of money on conventional advertising costs. Make sure that you put that money to use for search engine optimization (SEO) so that your company’s website ranks well in search engine results.
Integrate Your Software: One of the greatest benefits of e-commerce is the ability to integrate different pieces of software so that they all work together. Automatic integration can cut down on inaccuracies, double recording, and inefficiencies in your sales and inventory processes.
Streamline Your Website: By its very nature, e-commerce operates over a website. Make sure that your website looks good, is easy to use, and conveys all of the relevant information to buyers so that you can get the best conversion rates possible.
Work on Customer Retention: B2B e-commerce makes it easy for you to pick up new customers, but it also makes it easy for them to move over to your competitors. Try to provide the best customer experience possible while matching competitor prices so that your customers feel motivated to stick with you.