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What Lessons have B2B Suppliers Learned from the Pandemic?

In this blog, we'll be examining what changes have impacted B2B wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers over the past 18 months.

Kevin Faulkner - Marketing Executive Written by Kevin Faulkner - Marketing Executive 15 Sep 2021 in B2B eCommerce

Now that the covid-19 has pushed many wholesalers, distributors, manufacturers and their customers further into the world of eCommerce, B2B companies are continuing to build out their eCommerce operations to maximise market share and create customer loyalty.

With vaccination rates growing and many countries opening back up, it feels as if the end of the pandemic is almost upon us. Many businesses are now feeling that things are returning to some sort of normality which is long overdue.

It could be assumed that as these feelings of normality grow, online sales will dip and most buyers will go back to buying in physical stores, but that is not the case.

B2B e-commerce has truly disrupted how B2B trade customers will buy forevermore.

If you’re a B2B supplier ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my customers behave the same as they did a year ago?
  • Have we entered a new era of buyer behaviour, forever shifted by adapting to the pandemic?.

Some B2B companies already knew the answers to the above questions. The answers are only now being realised by many wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers, who launched eCommerce operations over the past year out of necessity.

But for some, in their desire to return to normal, we are seeing many businesses still ignoring the signals that their customers’ buying behaviours have changed… forever.

Caught Off Guard by Covid

Before March 2020, eCommerce had been on the digital roadmap for many wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers for several years.

Setting up an online webshop was something that many knew was important, but they kept kicking the can down the road due to a mix of time restraints, budget, and lack of resources.

Naturally, the pandemic pushed eCommerce to the forefront of everyone’s roadmap.

Forced to restrict in-person sales, the numbers of customers allowed in-store at any one time and the closure of non-essential businesses, meant many B2B companies flew headfirst into eCommerce to maintain sales and to keep their customer base happy.

Online sales, in addition, to click and collect, helped to preserve some level of revenue in a very uncertain time.

While many will now publicly acknowledge the benefits they realised from adopting an eCommerce webshop during the pandemic, they're also privately kicking themselves for not getting into eCommerce before now.

The forced closures at the start of the pandemic hurt a lot of B2B companies and hopefully, having taken note... most will be determined to never be caught off guard again.

Maintaining the Benefits of eCommerce

During the past 18 months, I’m sure eCommerce might have felt like a sort of stopgap for some companies.

The reality is that it represents their biggest opportunity to build market share, increase sales, remove friction from their sales channel, and create better customer loyalty than ever before.

They now appreciate that there are so many more benefits to selling online that go far beyond just keeping the lights on. Statistics show that half of B2B suppliers with eCommerce capability now turn more than 10 to 20% of their overall revenue through eCommerce. For many, who started from a baseline of zero, they saw huge growth in online sales throughout 2020 and into 2021. For now, part of the “return to normality” mindset presumes that online sales will tail off and most buyers will go back to buying in physical stores, but it seems that’s not the case.

Forecasts show the rate of eCommerce growth is slowing down after the massive spike in 2020, but that it will not decline much further. It seems, B2B eCommerce is here to stay and B2B companies can safely assume that the online/offline sales split isn’t going to return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon.

This is because a large portion of the B2B buyers who adopted eCommerce are going to continue to buy online, and there’s an opportunity to continue growing that online sales channel by recruiting new B2B buyers who are actively pursuing online purchasing options.

Online and Always Open 24/7

The change in B2B buyer behaviour and B2B customers’ expectations of online sales may be much greater than many think, even after covid-19.

As an eCommerce advocate, I believe it’s unfortunate that it took a global pandemic to almost force many wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers to launch an eCommerce solution. However, it will have marked a giant leap forward for most, and there’s no going back for them now.

Their B2B customers have experienced the ease of online ordering, customer self-service and have come to expect this same convenience across the rest of the B2B commerce world.

Now it’s just a question of how many other B2B sellers out there want to take advantage of their next biggest business opportunity through eCommerce and how many want to get left behind.