In many markets, e-commerce is a dominant force, but that shift has come more slowly for business-to-business (B2B) sales. In the U.S., e-commerce accounts for less than a tenth of B2B sales, and even though this still represents a large amount of money, it's clear that the full potential isn't being seen. This will not always be the case. Recent data from Forrester shows that B2B e-commerce sales will grow significantly over the next five years. A lot of B2B marketers use the Internet to develop leads, such as by using LinkedIn, but when it comes to the final sale, much of this happens on traditional channels.According to a new report from Forrester Research, e-commerce will account for 9.3 percent of B2B sales in 2015. This is a low percentage, but it represents an estimated $780 billion in B2B e-commerce sales this year, so it’s still a sizeable market. And that market is set to grow dramatically. It took 25 years for e-commerce to take 9 percent of the B2B market share, but by 2020, e-commerce will account for 12.1 percent of B2B sales, or $1.13 trillion, growing by about a third.
It’s important to understand some of the reasons why B2B adoption of e-commerce has occurred more slowly and why this will change going into the future. One thing to consider is that there are far fewer sites for B2B sales than there are for consumer retail, which means it's easier to use a traditional buying method than to try and search for a website that can handle a large order from a business. As more B2B sites are set up and their services are advertised to business owners, e-commerce B2B sales numbers will rise as an inevitable effect of better prices online take their course. One of the reasons the Alibaba IPO was such a big deal was that it was a site that specialized in connecting B2B retailers with buyers around the globe.
This is backed up by the data from Forrester. According to the study, 74 percent of B2B buyers research at least 50 percent of their work purchases online. This suggests that although businesses are searching for items online they can’t find an online retailer to deliver exactly what they need. A second consideration is the trust factor. Many business owners are older and have built supply-line relationships with companies and reps they’ve known for years. More business owners are beginning to recognize the savings available online and can find online retailers who have been around long enough to garner trust.
Future of B2B e-commerce
The Forrester study shows that business owners are looking for online retailers that can provide many of the products they need at the best value. The researchers found that 60 percent of B2B companies say buyers spend more overall when interacting with multiple channels. The future looks bright for e-commerce sites that cater to B2B sales. The data from Forrester suggests that more businesses will search for and buy from B2B e-commerce sites in the near future. The researchers estimated that 56 percent of B2B buyers will complete at least half of their work purchases online by 2017.
This study from Forrester gives B2B retailers a lot to consider. For sites that devote only a small portion of their marketing to B2B sales, the time has come to ramp things up and to begin aggressively marketing these services to businesses. For B2B retailers with no online presence, revenues will decline as more people to turn to B2B e-commerce sites, so it’s time to bite the bullet and get a site developed.