If 2020 accelerated the growth of eCommerce, 2021 proved rapid growth is here to stay. B2B eCommerce will continue to be how manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers improve their customer experiences. As the year closes, let’s look back at what happened in the world of B2B digital commerce in 2021 and look forward to the key trends for 2022.
For our 2022 B2B eCommerce trends report, we reached out to top experts in B2B eCommerce. We surveyed leaders working in technology and solutions service companies that integrate and implement B2B eCommerce solutions.
These experts live and breathe B2B eCommerce. They understand what B2B buyers want and what the B2B purchase process entails. They share trends on the way up and those on the way out, and explore critical challenges in the coming year.
2022 B2B eCommerce Trends
While many B2B verticals still rely on offline and online sales channels, the degree to which they use a particular channel varies. Either way, digital is increasingly gaining a central role in helping B2B organizations grow and retain their customer base.
We anticipate the following trends for 2022:
Trend 1: Self-service portals
Last year’s report predicted increased growth and investment in marketplaces, cloud adoption, security, and more. For 2022, we see a slightly different landscape, with greater interest in self-service portals. While marketplaces will continue to dominate, brands will approach their marketplace projects with caution, and within the realm of their overall B2B eCommerce strategy.
The Amazon experience is synonymous with easy researching, comparing, ordering, reordering, and shipment tracking. It's also quickly becoming the expectation among B2B buyers. In 2022 and beyond, we'll see self-service become mainstream as manufacturers, distributors, and other B2B organizations create or adjust their digital strategies.
Trend 2: B2B eCommerce platforms
During the pandemic, 75% of B2B buyers preferred digital over in-person interactions, and that is still their preference. Those who previously paid little attention to digital channels suddenly realized its necessity. We see this reality reflected in survey results, with an increased preference for software solutions.
In 2022, the top technology investments for B2B businesses will be in B2B eCommerce platforms (91%), with CRM (61%) and PIM (61%) systems sharing the spot for second place. This makes sense. As digitization increases, assembling customer data across systems and harmonizing product information gets complicated - attracting investments to the area.
Trend 3: Customization and flexibility
Last year, businesses had to change priorities quickly and work with fewer resources. The research confirmed what we already knew: B2B businesses value customization and flexibility (87%) when selecting digital commerce technology. The need for B2B eCommerce features out of the box (65.2%) was not far off.
In 2022, B2Bs will be more attuned to technology trends and how they fit into their vendor product roadmaps. Technology leaders will look for solutions that not only work for their business today but can change with markets and customer expectations.
Trend 4: Integration a top challenge
For some, 2021 was the year to adjust their eCommerce strategy, while others only started to develop theirs. As they move to digital commerce, businesses take their legacy systems with them. Growing tech stacks push the demand for more integration options. All this makes integration 2022’s biggest challenge.
Upgrading legacy systems (48%), finding the right software (44%), and finding the right solution partner (44%) round up the main challenges.
Trend 5: B2B marketplaces
Over the year, we’ve seen incredible demand in B2B marketplace solutions that connect industrial sellers and buyers. Earlier in 2021, Forrester predicted that 17% of sales would flow through B2B marketplaces by 2023, and further changed its projection to this year due to the pandemic’s acceleration. They’re not the only ones.
In 2020, B2B marketplaces accounted for only 7% of total B2B online sales. This number is expected to jump from $1 trillion to $4 trillion by 2025, a 32% CAGR. This selling channel will make up for 14% of total B2B eCommerce sales - a 7% increase from today - and a remarkable number of such a relatively new business model.
According to a study by BE Shaping the future, online marketplaces have lots of room to grow. This is due to the relatively low stage of maturity of the industry, especially when compared to the B2C marketplace market which cemented Amazon, Alibaba, and Taobao as undisputed leaders. All this creates huge opportunities for marketplaces in B2B verticals such as manufacturing, distribution, franchising, corporate and government procurement, and so on.
Discover what you can learn from the success of the Alibaba marketplace model.
Trend 6: Content matters
Outdated industrial marketing strategies such as cold calling, brochures, and catalogs are being phased out in favor of digital efforts. Even as in-person events come back, B2B marketers will see high-quality leads come from SEO, web content, emails, and virtual events.
According to a study by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 90% of respondents used short articles/posts for content marketing purposes in the last 12 months. Email newsletters, long-form articles, and podcasts gained prominence this year, and we anticipate these content types to continue their upward trend in 2022.
In-person events lost the most appeal during the year, but virtual events also dropped a few percentage points. This points to the fact that B2Bs struggle to articulate their brands and build relationships over webinars.
But too often, marketers have failed to deliver the content users want. In 2022, content must communicate that vendors understand and can solve problems.
According to Forrester, over 90% of B2B buyers believe it’s important for B2B vendors to offer them relevant content at each stage of the buying process. They seek convenience, transparency, and relevant content tailored to their stage in the buying journey. To connect with their audience in 2022, vendors must focus on their audience and meet their content needs.
Trend 7: New supply chain normal
Supply-chain disruptions, volatility, and uncertainty will continue. Snarled supply chains can lead to lower earnings for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. According to McKinsey, B2B delivery volumes are likely to remain stable for the foreseeable future.
In 2022, brands will prioritize maintaining end-to-end visibility into supply chains. They will seek out multiple suppliers and fulfillment partners to de-risk supply chains and mitigate capacity constraints. They may partner with more than one freight forwarder, a local carrier, and an independent broker. In warehousing, on-demand warehousing and service providers will be popular solutions for those needing temporary warehouse space.
Key Takeaways: What We Learned
In 2021, the pandemic didn’t go away. But economies around the world proved their resilience. As the year progressed, worker shortages and delivery delays hit industrial businesses hard. Nevertheless, corporations and households maintained spending. The business outlook remains overwhelmingly positive as investment and value-creation steadily rise.
As we look back at our monthly round-ups, we see that companies investing in digitization and digital selling channels saw results. Even late adopters now understand the importance of a digital-first mentality and how technology can offer differentiated customer experiences, improve productivity, and future-proof their operations.
Many 2021 difficulties will carry forward to 2022. The pandemic, inflation, and supply chain challenges will persist. But demand is strong, innovation is high, so there’s no shortage of opportunities.
The Ebb and Flow of B2B eCommerce
In 2022, B2B eCommerce investments will be a top priority. Manufacturers, distributors, and B2B sellers will look to various technologies like automation and artificial intelligence in eCommerce to improve efficiency and insulate against labor market uncertainties.
Our survey respondents agree: all anticipate B2B eCommerce businesses to increase their technology investments. But not all trends are created equal.
Some trends are losing steam while others are proving evergreen.
Most B2B eCommerce brands expect to double down on initiatives they think are accelerating. Self-service portals top the list with virtual and artificial reality rounding out the bottom.
According to a Frost & Sullivan survey, 81% of enterprise customers demand self-service. Self-service tools enable B2B businesses to engage with customers in new ways and result in increased efficiency and cost savings. As we move into 2022, B2B customers will increasingly prefer to solve problems themselves with the help of online tools over contacting support.
Business process automation
B2B customers expect greater order accuracy, faster shipping, and an improved customer experience. But 50% of total B2B sales are still processed manually leaving major room for errors. Automation reduces errors, improves compliance, enables growth, and elevates the customer experience. We expect automation to play a central role in tackling business inefficiencies.
A Gartner study predicts that by 2022, a typical digital commerce experience will be created from over 30 integrated applications. Advances in technology have increased implementation speeds, offering companies increased flexibility, efficiency, and costs-savings. With unified, composable, and microservices architecture, businesses build resilience while maintaining control of individual elements and functionalities of their systems.
Honorable mentionModularity and composability. As eCommerce experiences evolve, businesses will demand technologies to enable these experiences. These technologies include modularity, composability, and unified eCommerce systems. They enable decoupling, modifying, and adjusting the eCommerce environment to meet customer expectations, maintain agility, and future-proof their business.
Many trends will continue in 2022. Survey participants expect the following trends to continue:
Just like in 2021, marketplaces, data management, and security will continue to dominate in 2022. According to Digital Commerce360, marketplaces grew 29% faster than the 24% growth of digital commerce. That is echoed by others – Research and Markets forecasting that the B2B industry is likely headed to a marketplace-dominated distribution model in the near future.
Various sources predict that the global big data market will reach $208 billion by 2022 and reach $250 billion by 2026 for a growth rate of 10% CAGR. Big data is nothing new to B2B eCommerce. Companies will continue to use data solutions and analytics to quickly pinpoint market trends and make informed decisions. In 2022, the amount of data generated will grow to make data management an important issue.
The global cost of cybersecurity breaches such as ransomware is increasing, and security will remain a priority for B2B organizations. Numerous security experts already warn that the frequency and sophistication of attacks are growing. In 2022, B2B businesses will continue investing in security strategies, technology, and human resources to shield themselves from these threats.
Honorable mentionOmnichannel. As lockdowns recede and in-person business activities reemerge, omnichannel will take center stage. Business buyers will demand connected experiences between digital channels and physical locations. While some will expect to stay online, others will favor picking up in-store or utilizing curbside pickup, while others will prefer even more specialized experiences.
Nothing lasts forever, these are the technology trends that we see as pausing or losing steam.
While B2C retailers seek authentic and creative ways to stand out, B2B sellers are interested in growing partnerships with thought leaders and customers. Additionally, business buyers are not using social media to purchase or research, preferring other forms of content such as industry reports, whitepapers, and webinars. Social commerce for business sellers will not be a high priority.
Despite much noise around innovative payment options, many financial institutions lag in cryptocurrency adoption. According to PYMNTS, just one in ten institutions supports cryptocurrency. As a result, cryptocurrency will lack widespread acceptance among B2B customers, even if some consumer-focused industries edge toward its acceptance.
VR and AR
Lastly, we’ll see VR and AR continue losing significance, especially as physical stores reopen. While real-world interactive technology is advancing, its applications are not clear in many B2B industries and eCommerce categories. Instead, B2B buyers in select sectors may gravitate to new digital channels, such as IoT and smart devices to streamline complex sales cycles.
An overwhelming 92% of respondents agree that B2B eCommerce platforms will be the top technology investment for 2022. Among those who are implementing eCommerce platforms, 81% prioritize customization and flexibility. For 57%, integration is a challenge. Lastly, 44% report it’s difficult to find suitable partners with adequate experience in their industry. That is likely to stretch business evaluation timeframes, postpone implementations, and lengthen time to market.
As B2B buyers become more comfortable engaging via digital channels, they will seek out self-service portals. Over 83% of respondents identified that self-service will be the biggest trend in digital commerce. As for content, 90% of marketers prioritize short blog articles, and 66% use videos, but they sometimes miss the mark. Recent supply chain challenges promise to persist well into next year, and businesses will try innovative strategies and solutions to stay ahead.
Fast-changing customer preferences and emerging technologies translate to countless trends. How do you choose which areas of B2B eCommerce matter for your industry and business and prioritize investments accordingly for a better online experience?
Here is our advice when determining whether a trend will make sense to you:
Focus on industry and customers matters
Every B2B business is different, but every company must maintain a focus on their industry and their changing customer behavior. Keeping up with macroeconomic supply and demand trends, industry developments, and building teams with a strong customer focus keeps you connected.
Evaluate the competition
Your digital marketing strategy is more important than ever. You must continually compare what you are doing with the competition and fill in the gaps. Are they hosting webinars and posting white papers on a single topic? What are they missing and how can you fill those gaps?
Embrace the MVP approach
When selecting and implementing technology, companies must consider the benefits, the required investment, and the overall ROI impact. We found companies embracing the MVP approach to reduce risk, save resources, and shorten time to market.
Keep Up With 2022 Trends with the B2B Commerce UnCut Podcast
We’re starting 2022 with a bang and a brand new podcast. B2B Commerce UnCut is a one-of-a-kind live discussion with a single mission: unwrapping the real truth about B2B eCommerce. It’s also an interactive event, powered by contributions by anyone interested in the topic.
In our new series, we’ll decipher buzzwords, misleading information, and real-life concerns B2B businesses have along their digital journeys. Instead of sunshine and rainbows, we promise an honest and casual conversation about the biggest eCommerce challenges. Every episode will include industry experts and business owners sharing their experiences and advice (you may or may not want to hear).
Looking for more 2022 B2B eCommerce trends? You’re in luck. In our premiere of B2B Commerce UnCut, Distinguishing signal from noise: B2B eCommerce trends for 2022 that matter, the brightest minds in B2B eCommerce discussed existing trends and uncovered new ones in more detail.
What else is new at Oro?
Aside from the podcast, we launched the scheduled LTS (long-term support) release in January 2022. We’ve added lots of new B2B eCommerce features, functionality, and improvements. Watch the LTS demo recording, where we explain what’s behind the newest features and upgrades.
In 2022, we’ll also be celebrating Oro’s 10th year anniversary. While we hope for an in-person event, much will depend on how the in-person events landscape unfolds. In either case, we plan on taking all possible precautions for a safe meeting experience. We’ll share more information as we get closer to the date.
Questions and Answers
Why is B2B eCommerce growing?
Customers have changed how they research and shop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses realized that they must be online and offer customers a great experience to survive. Even as economies and physical stores reopen, eCommerce will continue to attract sellers and customers due to increased efficiency, convenience, and cost savings.
Do B2C eCommerce trends impact B2B eCommerce?
Many B2C eCommerce trends targeted millennial buyers, who value self-service, transparency, and personalization. However, Baby Boomers and Gen X traditionally preferred interacting with sales reps, attending trade shows, and referencing print literature. As internet usage exploded and trade shows closed, these B2C trends spilled over into the world of B2B eCommerce.
What do customers want in B2B eCommerce?
We see customers increasingly drawn to B2C-like experience, personalization, and transparency offered by giants like Amazon. Customers look for personalized product catalogs, product information, prices, and lead times according to their location. They appreciate personalized purchase suggestions, promotions, emails, and checkout processes.
What are the latest B2B eCommerce trends in 2022?
Our research demonstrates that the fastest-rising trends of 2022 will be self-service portals, business process automation, integration, and composable commerce. Other trends will continue from 2021 and include omnichannel experiences, marketplaces, big data, and security concerns.
What marketing tactics are used in B2B eCommerce?
Not all B2C marketing strategies will work with B2B buyers. Sellers must use different content types (and more of them) to engage with various individuals in the buying process. The most popular content types allow buyers to learn about solutions at their own pace. They include articles, newsletters, videos, online events, case studies, and whitepapers.
Why are brands hesitant to use B2B eCommerce?
When brands move to digital channels, they often enter uncharted territory. The biggest challenges to adopting B2B eCommerce include integration and upgrading legacy systems. Other challenges include finding the right software, solution partners, calculating ROI, managing workflows, and internal adoption.