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How COVID-19 changed the B2B eCommerce industry

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It’s already been more than a year since the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shook up the world. However, as 2021 came around, it became clear that many trends have stuck and will be with us for some time. 

If you struggled during the pandemic, you’re probably looking ahead and planning for your road to recovery. However, before laying out your plans, it’s a good idea to look to the past. The height of the crisis turned out to be a calling for the eCommerce world, and taught us many things. It’s also safe to conclude that B2B eCommerce plays a much more significant role today than a few years ago. 

So let’s look at what opportunities the pandemic created for eCommerce B2B brands and how capitalizing on these trends will help them realize business success.

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Changing Landscapes

The coronavirus has impacted businesses and customer behaviors in many ways. Every business sector was affected by either demand spikes or steep declines in business activity. This reflected on customer behaviors, too.

Businesses have changed

While many businesses in the medical and consumer goods sectors have thrived, the travel and hospitality industries were the hardest hit. Companies moved to remote operations, and scrambled for digital tools to help them maintain continuity. For many, eCommerce remained the lifeline that kept them afloat. 

Reliance on self-service

As everyone isolated themselves in their homes, established eCommerce businesses could quickly jump in and solve customer problems easily. They recognized the importance of digital experiences like powerful search, easy checkout, payment, or self-service for order management. Many took notice and too accelerated their entry into digital commerce.

New customer expectations

Businesses learned that their customers require quick, timely, and relevant information. For B2B customers, it’s not merely a nice-to-have but a business requirement. Business buyers aren’t concerned about browsing or finding an ideal substitute but about getting a job done. As a result, they’ve gotten more sensitive to poor experiences.

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Streamlining Operations

The shifts in business activity have forced brands to reevaluate their operations. This meant going back to the drawing board to figure out how to appeal to changing customer behaviors. In other cases, it meant investment in technology like digital commerce.

New roles of physical stores

Before the pandemic, many businesses relied on in-person sales and used eCommerce as a way to complement that experience. The pandemic changed all that, forcing physical stores to either adapt to be part of the digital journey or close entirely. Storefronts found a second life as curbside pickup locations or fulfillment centers.

Remote operations

People around the world have become accustomed to working remotely, and this trend has dramatically changed their daily lives, including shopping habits. What’s more, many workplaces still don’t expect employees to return to the office, which doesn’t affect digital commerce brands in the slightest.

Automating human workflows

With less human interaction and fewer resources available, we’ve seen increased consolidation of functions and job automation. Many B2B brands such as manufacturers, distributors, and B2B retailers started looking for ways to cut costs, and B2B eCommerce offers many opportunities to streamline back-office operations.

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Reinforcing Supply Chains

While the shortages of 2020 are behind us, worsening trade relations between the United States and China risk continuing well into the future. These developments place strain on supply chains and push B2B to diversify their suppliers and seek local alternatives.

Resilient supply chains

It’s no secret that the pandemic demonstrated many weaknesses in global supply chains. The immediate reaction was to diversify, but long-term solutions will involve engagement with partners on the national and international level. We’ll also see more investment in robust, scalable, and integrated eCommerce solutions.

Flexibility to optimize

Technology helps businesses realize on-demand fulfillment and insourcing scenarios. These can be an excellent alternative to 3PL and traditional warehouse services. Shifting these responsibilities around can lead to greater opportunities, efficiencies, and lower costs for eCommerce businesses.

Last-mile consolidation

Customer tastes might shift, but their expectations are not going down. If you saw increased demand during the crisis, you’ll know the importance of streamlining the last mile. Digital commerce brands will seek to leverage existing locations as fulfillment options or seek out additional locations for faster last-mile deliveries.

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There’s No Going Back in B2B eCommerce

To say that the experiences of 2020 only accelerated shifts we expected to occur on their own is an understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how businesses operate and engage with customers. The way businesses manage their employees, internal systems and resources, to how they grow customer relationships and market their products.

In any case, B2B eCommerce continues to play a pivotal role in B2B sales, and its importance will only continue to increase. B2B businesses that keep up the pace of innovation as the crisis subsidies will be in a better position to capitalize on emerging market  trends, quickly-changing customer habits, and business opportunities. 

And that’s only a small fraction of what eCommerce can do for your business.

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