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By the end of 2015, B2C e-commerce will reach $1.7 trillion in sales. While this number may seem impressive, B2B e-commerce sales were already $5.5 trillion three years ago. What’s more, B2B sales are growing at an annual rate of 19 percent online, compared to 17 percent for retailers. By 2020, according to the research firm Frost & Sullivan, B2B e-commerce will account for a staggering $12 trillion worldwide.

The B2B growth figures are astounding and yet B2B CMOs are predicting that e-commerce sales will comprise only 10 percent of their business next year. While online sales are increasingly seen as an essential component of B2C business, the B2B e-commerce marketplace remains nascent and underdeveloped. This is largely due to the fact that, unlike B2C, where prices are fixed and quantities are low, B2B must account for highly variable volumes and costs, as well as their customers’ more complex marketing needs.

All this makes it much more difficult to develop streamlined B2B e-commerce processes. However, led by prominent marketplaces such as Alibaba and AmazonSupply, more B2B retailers than ever are moving away from the costly EDI (electronic data interchange) systems they have used in the past, and are adopting affordable and decentralized solutions online. As these systems become more popular, it’s important to note what different the emerging B2B e-commerce trends of 2015 and expectations are beginning to take shape.

Undoubtedly, the spread of B2C e-commerce has influenced what customers want from an online B2B store. This means that they expect websites that are well designed, easy to use, and that help them quickly find what they want. In particular, enhanced search has become a priority — 76 percent of B2B customers have listed it as one of their top features. But even before customers visit their website, it should be easy to find. By implementing detailed product descriptions and reviews, social media, and other SEO best practices, businesses can take advantage of the fact that over three-quarters of B2B customers use Google and other search engines for their initial research.

Personalization is also emerging as a key feature that customers desire. For B2B businesses, this goes beyond offering services like product recommendations and store locators. In addition to these key features, B2B sellers should leverage the data they already have about an organization’s particular industry and contract in order to personalize the content that they display. For instance, a car parts wholesaler could automatically display different products depending on if a customer sells engines or tires.

This level of convenience should be seen in pricing and payment, too. RFQs, or Request for Quote, are becoming standard for B2B e-commerce. They allow customers to combine multiple items in a catalog and define their attributes and specifications, then set their terms and conditions for the sale. Sellers can then respond to the RFQ, adjust prices and conditions, and make other offers as applicable. Finally, the customer can either place the order or adjust it further.

When it comes to handling payments, 40 percent of B2B customers consider the ability to integrate their finance, accounting, and order management services through an e-commerce portal essential. After refining their order, they want to be able to automate payment and invoicing, regardless of how it is being done.

Overall, businesses should focus on making their B2B e-commerce experience as easy as possible for the customer to use. This means creating an online presence that is easy to find, detailed, highly searchable, personalized, and it goes without saying, B2B customers also require a seamless experience across all devices and channels, a practice called the omnichannel.

According to Vlad Zachary, Director of Omni-Channel Commerce at Upshot Commerce, the omnichannel includes “brand messaging, promotions, pricing, customer service, etc.” He goes on to say that “85 percent of online shoppers start a purchase on one device and finish on another.” Companies that have been able to successfully implement the omnichannel in their B2B practices have seen customer loyalty increase by an impressive 66 percent.

E-commerce is poised to become a huge part of the B2B world. Understanding the emerging B2B e-commerce trends of 2015 is essential to helping a company shape its strategy and, ultimately, position itself for success.

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The Oro Team