Covid-19 exposes B2B e-commerce weakness

Published on the 21/08/2020 | Written by Jonathan Cotton

Covid b2b ecommerce limitations

It’s time for B2B players in A/NZ to up their online game…

As a B2B operation, there are plenty of great reasons to embrace digital e-commerce: Modern platforms bring with them sophisticated integration capabilities, deep analytics, not to mention self-service for your customers and 24/7 operation, especially important for A/NZ businesses working across global timezones.

If only it were more simple to take operations online. New research indicates that businesses across Australia and New Zealand lack the B2B e-commerce chops of their overseas equivalents.

Conducted by Hanover Research, the research looks at how the current unstable market has affected the buying experience of B2B purchasing professionals in Australia, New Zealand along with North America and Europe.

Are we still too reliant on the rep, the car and the catalog? In a word, yes.

While the survey has a relatively small sample size – just 201 procurement professionals globally – it appears to show that buyers are quick to change suppliers if they feel a more competitive offering, or even just a better digital experience, is available from another supplier.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed suppliers’ digital limitations: Just one-third of buyers stated that their vendors were ‘well-prepared’ for the Covid-19 pandemic or had ‘already enabled digital channels’.

“Procurement and purchasing leaders across the globe had already been steadily shifting purchasing from traditional reliance on sales reps to self-serve ordering through digital channels, but this survey shows that Covid-19 dramatically accelerated this shift,” says the report.

“Since Covid-19, B2B buyers primarily purchasing through digital self-serve channels has increased by 28 percent (a move from 29 to 37 percent saying that more than half their spending is happening without the aid of a sales rep).”

So what about the A/NZ region? Are we still too reliant on the rep, the car and the catalogue?

In a word, yes. In fact, when it comes to the B2B capabilities of sellers in New Zealand and Australia specifically, the research suggests that buyers are struggling with less than perfect purchasing experiences.

Almost a third of A/NZ buyers cite incomplete or insufficient product information from vendors among the key ongoing challenges they face. Twenty-two percent of those queried said local pricing is not competitive or market-relevant and a further 19 percent said that inconsistent and highly variable pricing is the top challenge they face.

And they’re willing to walk away if the experience isn’t up to scratch: Fifty-eight percent of Oceanic companies indicate a change for vendor preferences due to the current landscape, with ‘competitive pricing’ the top reason for preferring certain vendors.

Furthermore, more than a quarter of Oceanic buyers are likely to switch to a vendor offering ‘personalised, real-time, dynamically updated pricing’ that more accurately reflects market conditions, says the report.

“New Zealand businesses tend to be small in many cases and e-Comm has been expensive in the past,” explains Andrew Taylor, head of digital at Kiwi tech consultancy Theta.

“Some businesses have been comfortable with a very manual approach – where picking up the phone is the preferred channel. Others simply have had to make do with that because the costs have been high.

“This is changing though as more advanced solutions come to market for lower costs. There are still plenty of businesses that struggle with getting the best out of technology and knowing what to use.”

Taylor says that, just as trade has moved online for consumer products, the trend is clear for B2B traders too.

“Good e-Commerce is all about reducing friction and making a good customer experience,” says Taylor. “In B2B, and B2C, an easy, fast interaction makes you more compelling to deal with. It also reduces your cost to serve in many cases, which means you can achieve lower prices or better margins.”

So what’s holding the country back from better B2B e-Com? Other than the will, not much, says Taylor.

“All the technology exists to do this,” says Taylor, “so there is no barrier on that side.

“It’s really more about how high a priority businesses place on it. And then whether they can navigate the market and find good solutions that fit their scale and needs.”

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