As the most globally disruptive year comes to an end, it’s time to look at where to take your B2B eCommerce business in 2021 to remain competitive. In this blog post, Arno Ham, Chief Product Officer at Sana Commerce, discusses the top emerging trends in B2B eCommerce for 2021 and beyond.
Like our 2018, 2019, and 2020 predictions, most of the 2021 B2B eCommerce trends are about enhancing customer experience and convenience. The same topics also re-emerge as technology gets smarter and enables previous trends to evolve even further in 2021.
Many of the B2B eCommerce trends that are now entering the space are trends that are already prevalent in B2C — but not always for the same reasons. Read on to discover our top predictions for 2021, as well as future eCommerce trends.
Is your B2B eCommerce platform falling behind and unable to keep up with these trends? Perhaps it’s time to consider an eCommerce re-platforming project.
Looking back: How did our 2020 trends predictions pan out?
In a year where every plan or forecast was thrown down the drain in March, trends also shifted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some of the trends we forecasted for 2020, such as AR and VR, will be trends that need more time to be adopted in B2B. With our new eCommerce platform Sana Commerce Cloud, we’ve prepared for these new technologies, but we know that they might take more time to pick up in the B2B space. Voice commerce is another trend that everyone was expecting to take off in 2020, but this also took a back seat while priorities shifted.
COVID-19 has accelerated one 2020 trend: personalized online experiences. Because of the pandemic, B2B companies have had to take their business fully online and are looking to be able to provide their customers with the same offline experience they are used to in an online environment.
2021 B2B eCommerce Trends
1. eCommerce adoption becomes inevitable
The coronavirus pandemic has pushed B2B companies over the edge when it comes to digital transformation. According to 2020 research by McKinsey & Company, more than 75% of B2B buyers and sellers say that they prefer purchasing online and prefer remote interactions with sales reps over the traditional in-person sales interactions. This feeling has only been strengthened after the first lockdown was lifted. Only 20% of B2B buyers say they want traditional in-person sales to return.
The good news is that, according to research by McKinsey & Company, B2B buyers are willing to spend more when shopping online.
It is no longer the question of if you should put your business online but when. Many B2B companies that do not yet have an eCommerce solution are now starting the process of looking for solution providers. Even the companies who in 2020 said they were just trying to keep afloat amid the pandemic have stated that they will be implementing an eCommerce solution in 2021.
As priorities changed in 2020, some B2B organizations even pivoted their entire business to sell products to combat the coronavirus online. For example, Pepco started manufacturing hand sanitizers and selling them online. In 2021, we will continue to see B2B companies take their business fully digital.
2. API-driven B2B eCommerce becomes a must-have
It’s a mixture of eCommerce functionality visible through API (application program interface). An API basically sets the rules on how software should cooperate and communicate with each other. API-driven eCommerce includes shopping cart, checkout, payments, and ordering functions. It has all the basic transaction functions of an eCommerce site.
I strongly believe this will become a must-have for all B2B companies in 2021 and beyond.
API-driven eCommerce solutions allow companies to innovate faster and to continuously evolve to meet ever-changing customer expectations. We know API-driven B2B eCommerce is the future. That’s why we’ve taken the steps to accommodate it in our solution. Sana Commerce Cloud was built with an API-first approach. The early adopters are already using API-driven eCommerce, but this is a trend that we’ll see take off in 2021.
In headless commerce, an API is put between the front and back end. That API then manages the exchange of data. For more information, read our eCommerce terms page about headless commerce.
Interested in learning more about Sana Commerce Cloud and its API-driven functionality?
Read more here: Sana Commerce Cloud.
3. Niche B2B online marketplaces continue to increase in popularity
Instead of shopping on platforms such as Amazon, where even specific product searches return thousands of hits, niche platforms will provide a more tailored experience and simpler user journeys. We’ve already seen niche marketplaces emerge in the healthcare industry in 2019. And in 2020, even after the stay-at-home orders were announced back in March, Forrester predicted the full (re)emergence of niche B2B marketplaces. These niche online marketplaces will continue to appeal to B2B sellers and customers in 2021.
Online marketplaces offer sellers both pros and cons. They can be a fitting choice for new B2B sellers, as they require no upfront investment nor is there much need for marketing to grow into a new market. However, once sales increase, the transaction fees start eating into profit margins. But what we see as the main disadvantage of online marketplaces is that they keep customer contact and data for themselves. This means that, in this age of personalization and optimal customer experience, sellers, manufacturers, and brand owners miss out on connecting with and getting to know their customers.
4. The rise of progressive web apps (PWAs)
Unlike mobile apps, which are built specifically for Android, IOS, etc., PWAs are delivered through the web and are designed to work across all mobile devices and operating systems. This provides benefits for both companies, who only need to create and maintain a single, generic app; and customers, who no longer need to download and install the app from the app store. PWAs also offer better performance, as well as offline capabilities.
Nowadays, your marketing efforts alone aren’t enough to reach your customers. Statista predicts that mobile eCommerce sales will account for 73% of worldwide eCommerce sales in 2021. That means that you need to be providing your customers with the same experience cross-device. The best way to provide visitors with a stellar mobile, tablet, and web experience is to opt for eCommerce built with PWA technology.
In 2020, we saw a surge in B2C web stores using PWA technology. But now, we’ve also built one of the first fully PWA eCommerce solution for the B2B market. In 2021 we will see a surge in B2B web stores that are built as PWAs.
B2B eCommerce Future Trends: Beyond 2021
5. B2B eCommerce focuses on eco-consciousness
We’re already seeing B2C eCommerce businesses make a move toward reducing their environmental impact. This includes highlighting the impact of certain actions on their customers. For instance, some web stores label narrow delivery time slots as having more CO2 impact than broader delivery slots.
This empowers customers to lower their impact while, at the same time, improving the efficiency of the delivery process for the business.
This is not yet the norm in B2C, and we don’t expect it to have a big impact on B2B eCommerce trends in 2021. But with people across the world and across demographics becoming more conscious of environmental issues at home and at work, displaying and offering more sustainable options in the web store will give B2B companies a competitive edge.
Not only that but companies often also have to report on their emissions and other environmental impacts. Optimizing their delivery chain and other eCommerce processes can be key to meeting such targets. This is where eCommerce software and the right system integrations can play a significant role, not only to reduce environmental impact, but also to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of ordering and fulfillment processes.
6. Untapped tool: Augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR)
In B2C, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) is a growing trend, focused on delivering an inspiring and immersive customer experience. There are big opportunities to use AR and VR in real-life scenarios in B2B. For example, it can be used to show and suggest the correct spare parts or to sell custom designs.
We like to talk a lot about AR and VR because we see it so prevalent in B2C, but I realized after speaking to experts that right now in B2B, it’s a bridge too far to cross for the majority of the B2B companies. It would benefit our customers a lot and would make the B2B buyers' buying experience more convenient. Skipping a lot of steps and saving your customers time.
B2B eCommerce trends 2020, 2019 and 2018
Wondering what past eCommerce predictions looked like? Here’s a quick recap of the B2B eCommerce trends we discussed in 2020, 2019, and 2018:
- Digital-first commerce to cater to millennials who account for the majority of B2B buying decisions
- The rise of voice search
- Lightning-fast fulfillment through automated order management systems
- The growth of B2B online marketplaces
- Focus on conversion rate optimization
- The move to headless commerce
Discover more B2B eCommerce trends and stats
- Find out why Sana Commerce Cloud offers B2B companies a more flexible and future-facing solution than ever before.
- Discover the top B2B eCommerce providers. Get your complimentary copy of The Forrester Wave™: B2B Commerce Suites, Q2 2020.
- Get to know your customers: download our B2B Buying Process 2019 Report for stats and insights into the behavior, preferences, and challenges of buyers, based on a survey of 500+ B2B customers.