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Five ways business-to-business retailers can capitalise on ecommerce

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12th May 2015
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Whilst business to consumer (B2C) ecommerce is undoubtedly thriving (worldwide sales accounted for more than $ 1.4 trillionin 2014 alone), business to business (B2B) ecommerce has been slower to take off. However, with Forrester predicting that B2B retailers will have more than 50% of their customer base buying online from them within the next three years, it’s clear that business to business ecommerce is starting to gain momentum. In the electrical industry, for example, Voltimum conducted a survey of 15,000 users across five key geographies, which revealed that 66% of electrical professionals are now buying their electrical equipment online. As this highlights, within certain sectors ecommerce is rapidly becoming the preferred channel for B2B sales.

The potential of B2B ecommerce is something several major B2C players such as Amazon are starting to recognise. With sites such as Amazonsupply.com in the US stocking a wide range of wholesale products and other major B2C retailers reportedly eyeing up the B2B market, the tide appears to be turning. However, as an increasing number of B2C players start to enter the B2B space, it’s essential that business to business retailers stake their claim soon, to ensure they’re able to reap the benefits an online sales channel can bring.

Whilst the advantages of rolling out an online sales channel for B2B retailers are clear, for those that don’t already have an ecommerce solution in place, establishing one can present a few challenges. To help address these, DMC Commerce Consultants have published a guide detailing key steps businesses can take to implement a successful and strategic online sales channel:

  1. First things first, it’s important to build a real understanding amongst the management team about  why you’re introducing ecommerce and what you’re looking to gain from it. This will enable you to plan a strategic approach and ensure any concerns are addressed early on.
  2. Secondly, make sure you set realistic objectives. Establish how you expect ecommerce to contribute to the operating results, and whether this will be directly or indirectly, on a short, medium or long-term basis. As DMC points out, the success of an ecommerce strategy will ultimately be decided by the bottom line, so make sure your objectives reflect this. 
  3. Develop a distinct position and understand what makes your channel stand out on the market. To help your company be distinctive, ask yourself what customers are looking for and identify areas in the market where their needs aren’t currently being met.
  4. Understand digitalisation and know it has altered distribution models. Digitalisation means that customers now search for a product first and choose a channel second, meaning that it’s important to adopt a product-centred marketing strategy.
  5. Establish a platform that works alongside distributors. A solution that supports both parties adds value for both the manufacturer and the distributor, and ensures that the distributor is able to benefit from the fact that the manufacturer is introducing an ecommerce platform. Multichannel distribution, for example, provides a way to allow both parties to work together to support each other.

As Voltimum’s ecommerce survey also revealed, product comparison and price played a key factor in people’s decision to buy online, so it’s also important to bear these things in mind when developing an online sales channel, to ensure you’re able to offer an attractive offering to potential customers.

With professionals’ lives becoming increasingly busy, finding a way to conveniently purchase products is more important than ever. E-commerce enables people to shop at a time that suits them, and browse from a range of products quickly, simply and easily, and with such clear advantages, it’s easy to see why it’s gaining momentum. As a result of this growing demand ecommerce now presents a window of opportunity for B2B retailers. In today’s digital age, it’s therefore important that B2B players recognise the shift towards online sales and adapt accordingly, to ensure it’s not B2C retailers that end up dominating the business to business market.

Wolfgang Schickbauer is CEO of Voltimum.

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