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The Rise of B2B Commerce Part II: Achieving Parity with B2C Commerce

By Dale Laszig

Digitization has improved the customer experience across mobile, omnichannel, B2B and B2C commerce channels.

But digitization is about more than customer service. Today’s B2C customer routinely shops online and now expects the same experience for B2B transactions, according to Forrester Research’s “The Future of Commerce Technology” report. Beyond improving customer and vendor relationships, researchers note that advanced digital technologies can drive efficiency, cash flow and profits.

“As this landscape shifts, [new, dual core technology stacks] center around experience and operations,” Forrester writes. “Digital businesses will gravitate toward either a complex but dually focused new stack or a new breed of all-in-one solutions that are more flexible, affordable, easy to use, and quick to deploy or update.”

Experts believe that these myriad form factors, technologies and use cases may soon be known simply as commerce. And as enterprises begin to transact across multiple channels securely, interactively and in real-time, they are expecting more choice, deeper engagement and service from their third-party providers and partner organizations.

In part two of our series on the rise of B2B commerce, we explore how the B2B tech stacks of operations and experiences benefit from digitization, the importance of embracing B2C commerce types that balance digital touchpoints with human assistance, and choosing partners with deep experience in building secure, compliant, flexible and modular payment solutions.

"Dual-Core" Commerce in Operations and Experiences

Forrester observed that legacy enterprises with monolithic tech stacks are ill-equipped to compete in the current commerce market, where personalized experiences, real-time stock checks and order tracking are baseline requirements.

Unless they innovate and iterate quickly, traditional players will lose share to digital-first companies with modular offerings that are easy to configure, upgrade and deploy, researchers warned. These capabilities enable businesses to selectively curate their own best-in-class solutions, and deeply embed commerce into adjacent, vertically focused ecosystems.

The notion of commerce as capability rather than product may at first be difficult to grasp, especially for a traditional enterprise, but is key to unlocking a scalable, interoperable and inclusive ecosystem that researchers positioned as the future of commerce.

“There will always be orchestration and personalization at the digital point of purchase,” Forrester notes. “However, when commerce is just that, it will be frequently folded into one of the new dual cores. Then vendors will assemble experience suites and operations suites around the data that each shares: inventory and orders for operations, and customer and content for experience.”

As core commerce functionality migrates to other areas of the ecosystem, Forrester predicts that vendors will expand front-end or back-end capabilities with low-code and no-code setups.

Balancing the Touchpoints

The same automated, self-attended technologies that create interactive consumer experiences can enhance B2B commerce, according to the 2023 State of B2B eCommerce Report, coauthored by Andy Hoar and Brian Beck of MasterB2B. Their survey of 100 B2B buyers and 100 B2B sellers found growing demand for streamlined, hybrid commerce that balances digital touchpoints with human assistance.

Using Amazon as a performance benchmark, 61% of executives surveyed said they could meet or beat Amazon’s customer experience, MasterB2B reported, and 81% claimed to provide a better experience than direct competitors.

“B2B sellers recognize that their online success rests in large part on how well they’re able to provide a personalized experience for their customers and, even more importantly, whether their site search provides relevant, actionable results,” the authors wrote, adding that 61% of sellers plan to implement AI-driven tech in 2023 to futureproof and streamline platforms and processes.

The authors acknowledge that B2B companies are not known for immediately embracing new technologies but emphasize AI’s potential to enrich the customer experience and data hygiene and help enterprises stay competitive. Ultimately, ecommerce success depends on choosing the right partners, they added, stating 84% of respondents believe good partners can help companies reduce time to market and overall cost of ownership and improve flexibility.

Overcoming B2B Technology Challenges

While B2B digital commerce methods could reach nearly $200 trillion by 2028, commercetools researchers would like to see faster growth in the sector, especially considering the current economic climate, which they noted brings opportunities and challenges. Ideally, they stated, the B2B customer experience will borrow from the consumer shopping playbook by blending easy-to-navigate product catalogs with abundant payment options.

“However, a pure B2C-like approach doesn’t work if B2B-specific features aren’t part of the deal,” commercetools researchers wrote. “B2Bs operate differently than business-to-consumer companies, and certain functions like reordering and order scheduling are crucial to managing inventory, for example.”

Chief among challenges facing traditional B2B service providers are manual, paper-based approaches to Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, invoicing and payouts, which experts have noted are costly, time-consuming, inefficient and error-prone. Paper checks, for example, were a B2B staple in 1915, when Deluxe Corp. unveiled its signature flat-pocket checkbook. 108 years later, paper checks represent less than 38% of the company’s revenue, according to an April 2020 interview with the company’s CEO, Barry McCarthy. After rebranding from DeLuxe Check Printers in 1988 and acquiring an electronic check services provider in 2015, the company is committed to digital transformation, McCarthy stated, in “Deluxe Isn’t Just Paper Checks Any Longer,” by Forbes contributing journalist Tom Groenfeldt.

“I think we are moving to a time when the consumer has a choice in how they get paid,” said McCarthy. “We’re into our second year of the e-check product and have been relatively quiet about it, but when you think of the billions of non-recurring checks written each year by financial institutions, health care and insurance, it is a huge problem solver. We take out all the handling cost and can get the customer paid much more quickly.”

Choosing the Right B2B Payments Partner is Key

As digitization continues to drive convergence of all types of commerce, partners with deep experience in building secure, compliant, flexible and modular solutions can help enterprises tap into advanced, automated, AI-powered technologies to improve time to market, increase profit, lower costs and harden security.

Payfactory’s low to no-code payment facilitation platform maximizes value for enterprises by delivering embedded commerce benefits without the cost of building a payfac platform. This gateway-agnostic model is modular, configurable and continuously updated in response to ever-evolving payments industry trends, regulatory compliance and technical innovation. Contact us to learn more.

Dale S. Laszig is a payments industry journalist and guest columnist for Payfactory. Previous to her writing career, she managed business development for leading payments acquirers and POS manufacturers. Connect with her at [email protected], LinkedIn and Twitter.