Despite the variety of challenges that organisations have faced for almost two years, there have been some incredibly inspiring responses and revolutionary changes to the way we do business amid COVID-19. It hasn’t been a smooth process, but the pandemic has accelerated business transformation and emphasised the importance of ecommerce for business success in the 21st century.

As we begin to see economic recovery and look forward to 2022, it’s crucial that business leaders remain vigilant and continue to identify risks that could impact their organisation. While B2B has traditionally been slow on the uptake, an optimised online experience is now essential and brands must plan ahead to protect their business.

I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight the ongoing challenges and urgency for B2B ecommerce, and share my own predictions for the year ahead.

Benefits of B2B ecommerce

Unbelievably, with many manufacturers still relying on fax, phone and email for order placement and inquiry, there are now significant efficiencies to be realised throughout the customer journey.

We know the common drivers that push a B2B organisation to adopt ecommerce are:

  1. Improving the customer experience
  2. Growing revenue
  3. Reducing costs and improving overall efficiency

For a start, the audience is changing. More than half of B2B buyers are now millennials, and they expect a personalised experience through streamlined, digital channels – the same as they receive as B2C buyers in their personal lives. A powerful ecommerce platform is therefore essential to remain relevant and deliver an engaging customer experience for this consumer.

The rise in B2B ecommerce allows access to more B2B buyers than before, targeting them globally anywhere and anytime. It gives access to new geographies, product catalogues and divisions, making B2B selling easier than ever before, and therefore fundamental to revenue growth.

B2B ecommerce enables the seamless online ordering and processing of goods between retailers, distributors, manufacturers and wholesalers. With transparent and efficient operations, organisations can significantly reduce costs and drive overall efficiency.

Ecommerce challenges to anticipate in 2022

We’ve come a long way, but the digital landscape and business sectors are constantly evolving. The key challenges to consider are:

  • Increased consumer expectations. Customers continue to expect the best from a digital experience, including free and reliable shipping, personalisation, 24/7 support and multiple payment methods. However, providing all of these elements is costly and demanding, and can lead to significant disruptions in the ecommerce workflow.
  • Increased competition. More brands have an online presence than ever before, with many building their ecommerce solution during the COVID-19 lockdowns. With more choice available to customers, the competition between organisations is fierce. Businesses need to stay sharp and continually improve their offering, especially the level of personalisation available.
  • Adopting appropriate technology. Advanced technologies can solve the complexity of ecommerce, however, it is critical to select the right solution to service the consumer. Businesses should keep an eye on emerging technologies and thoroughly research them before making a decision.

B2B ecommerce trends for 2022

According to one global B2B ecommerce market report, the top investment priority for the majority of B2B organisations is a move to ecommerce by 2023 amid COVID-19. The transition to digital sales is a tremendous challenge for any B2B business, which is why investing in omnichannel by 2023 was seen as an important move for over 80% of B2B leaders across the globe.

With billions of dollars pouring into the industry, I anticipate the following areas as the key trends that will provide businesses with an edge in such a competitive market:

  • AI and Machine Learning. With the ability to predict shopping habits based on browsing and shopping history, algorithms will improve the customer experience by customising websites for each unique visitor. While very few organizations have the volume of data needed for true AI, some ERP and CRM systems include machine learning features to assist in cross-selling and upselling.
  • Mobile-first. With 50% of B2B search queries occurring on smartphones today, consumers are relying on smarter mobile shopping tools. Research suggests that mobile reduces time to purchase, thereby increasing revenue and reducing costs. By embracing a mobile-first approach and exploiting unique smartphone capabilities such as location data and click-to-call links, businesses can combine their own data with relevant third-party data to uncover better insights into customers, helping further improve the experience and drive loyalty.
  • Field sales to digital salesforce. The pandemic has disrupted the traditional sales relationship. Business leaders should focus on their digital sales strategy and provide training to transform sales reps into true salespeople focused on relationships, rather than passively taking orders. Key to this is the understanding that their organisation’s optimised digital platforms will enable them, rather than compromise their commissions.
  • More automation. Automation streamlines procurement, invoicing and fulfilment, ultimately reducing errors and costs. Forward-thinking B2B organisations should focus on differentiating their business through automation, for maximum efficiency.
  • Multichannel customer support. From live chat or phone conversation to email, social and text, different customers prefer different support options. However, organizations should consider providing multichannel customer support such as chatbot tools, which can lighten the customer service workload, improve the customer experience and be part of a well-rounded customer experience.
  • Logistics challenges. These difficulties will persist next year, as the global supply chain disruption is set to continue through all of 2022. Organisations must focus on having the right solution in place, with an ecommerce logistics partner that can help you diversify and future-proof your supply chain to mitigate ongoing issues and increase opportunity to scale.

Fatima Said is co-founder and managing director for eWave.