Don’t look now — ecommerce has arrived!

Paul Nolan

That emergence of B2B ecommerce that you’ve heard so much about? It’s here, experts say, and if you’re not alert, it will pass you and your company by.

“You can easily streamline your B2B sales by NOT implementing a B2B ecommerce model. Your competitors will take care of the orders for you!” tweeted Brian Massey, cofounder of website optimization company Conversion Sciences.

A survey of more than 300 director-level ecommerce professionals around the globe by Oracle, DigitasLBi and Spindrift found that virtually all companies surveyed plan to at least maintain their ecommerce budgets. More than seven in 10 companies (72 percent) in the Asia Pacific region plan to increase — 37 percent by more than 10 percent. More than half (53 percent) of the companies polled in Europe, the Middle East and Africa plan to increase their ecommerce budget, and 56 percent of North American companies plan to increase ecommerce spending — one-third of them by at least 10 percent.

“For most businesses, it’s become obvious that ecommerce is a critical component for success,” the survey report states. “In both mature and emerging markets as well as across industries, ecommerce provides opportunities to reach new customers, enter new markets, increase operational efficiencies, and reduce costs. From inspiration to researching products and brands, through the actual transactional exchange of currency, order tracking, and eventually customer service, ecommerce will continue to exert a greater influence over both direct and indirect sales.”

Where the buyers are

In a recent webinar sponsored by Conversion Sciences, Jeff Philipp, CEO of Blue Fish Development Group, a B2B ecommerce solutions provider, cited research that shows 74 percent of B2B buyers prefer to buy through a website. Unfortunately, only 25 percent of B2B companies sell online today, according to Forrester Research. “Buyers are way ahead of sellers,” says Forrester’s Peter Sheldon.

If and when suppliers catch up to B2B buyers’ ecommerce demands, they will reap more than increased revenue, Chris Guerra, CMO of ecommerce optimization company Blue Acorn, recently told web design company 216digital.

“Once companies take the first step to establish a B2B presence online, they will quickly learn how valuable the analytics beyond purchase data are. From understanding what categories, product and content buyers are interacting with it helps build a deeper profile and understanding of buyer interests,” Guerra states.

Meeting high expectations

The B2C online experience sets a high standard that B2B sellers will be expected to meet. “Customers will simply not accept substandard B2B customer experiences,” states the Forrester Research report “Digital Is Busy Transforming B2B Commerce.” “B2C sites like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Sephora have set the standard by which all commerce sites, B2C and B2B, will be judged.”

B2B companies tell Forrester they aspire to create the “Amazon experience,” yet just 29 percent of B2B companies say their current B2B ecommerce technology systems are capable of effectively supporting an Amazon-like customer experience.

“Technology is agnostic, whether you are using it for business purposes or personal purposes,” says Joseph Mastrangelo of Masthead Marketing, a brand and digital marketing consultant. “People who want to separate the B2B and B2C online experience don’t realize that users don’t make that distinction. People use technology in a consistent way.”

Investing for success

When asked how much their ecommerce budget changed since last year, 59% of respondents most frequently selected an increase, although the percentages varied widely; the number-two response was unchanged (34%). Regionally, APAC reported the largest percentage of increasing budgets (71%) and EMEA the lowest percentage of increasing budgets (53%).

How much has your ecommerce budget
changed since last year?

                                                   APAC         EMEA           NA           TOTAL

            Up 25% or more                6%             9%           15%           12%

                 Up 11%–24%              31%           17%           18%           20%

                   Up 1%–10%              35%           27%           23%           28%

                     Unchanged              24%           40%           34%           34%

              Down 1%–10%                4%             5%             6%             5%

            Down 11%–24%                0%             2%             4%             2%

       Down 25% or more                0%             0%             0%             0%

The top three technologies that companies invested in last year were:

                                                      APAC                            EMEA                            NA

1 Mobile Apps                  Commerce Platform           Mobile Apps         Web Site Analytics

2 CRM                                     Mobile Apps                      Tablet                Email Marketing

3 Email Marketing                       CRM                              CRM             Content Management