It that time of year again. Savvy holiday shoppers are limbering up their digits, honing their scrolling, taking precautions against seasonal carpal tunnel syndrome, and otherwise preparing for another madcap month of point-and-click Santa Claus.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) sites that have made shopping simplification a top priority stand ready to reap the rewards. But in the business-to-business world, finding a simple, elegant, and easy-to-use online shopping experience can be as hard as grandma’s fruitcake.
Small business B2B commerce, in particular, seems to be stuck in the dark ages. According to Forrester Research, a wide technology gap remains in B2B online commerce. Paper catalogs, phone orders, snail mail invoicing, and purchase orders, manual accounting processes—in some B2B companies, making money the old-fashioned way has become a real liability. When you consider that B2B sales were more than double B2C — $559 billion in 2013 alone — such a discrepancy between the sophistication of B2C and BRB online commerce is flummoxing.
Changes are afoot, according to a group known as The Future of Commerce. Quoting from the same Forrester study and survey, the group pointed to some encouraging statistics:
- 89 percent of B2B providers said adding e-commerce to their business increased annual revenue by 55 percent.
- 81 percent said selling online drove up their average order value by 31 percent.
- 57 percent of business buyers had purchased goods for their companies online, with 37 percent expecting to spend more of their annual procurement budgets online in 2014. [Acquity Group, 2013 State of B2B Procurement Study]
One of the inhibiting factors to the development of B2B commerce sites has been the complexity surrounding orders and the frequency of product changes. While some companies have developed what Forrester refers to as “B2B lite” functionality for their clients — such as supporting unique pricing for employees — most companies need solutions that include support for distributors, resellers, partner networks, employees, retail stores, and direct B2C, all from a single platform. These sites have additional requirements that can be difficult to implement and manage, such as :
- Complex pricing lists
- Product configuration and customization
- Guided selling
- Bulk order entry
- Dealer management
- Account, contract, and budget management
IBM has been the clear leader in B2B commerce solutions with WebSphere Commerce Suite and other offerings for several years. On November 20th, IBM announced the availability of IBM B2B Commerce, which, according to the IBM press release, “Transforms the complex B2B buying process by providing customers with a more engaging and simplified experience that ensures they can easily find and purchase the products they need across any channel or device. B2B organizations can quickly build these advanced B2B digital storefronts in just minutes with no technical experience required.”
With the heightened seasonal interest in online commerce of any sort, the IBM announcement seems timely. To learn more about the IBM B2B Commerce, get in touch with an IBM Business Partner that is Ready for Smarter Commerce near you.