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The B2B ecommerce market is growing, but it’s only in its infancy. According to a June 2015 survey of US B2B companies from Accenture and Blackstone Group 86%, offered an online website as a purchasing channel to B2B buyers , as explored in a new eMarketer report, “B2B Ecommerce 2016: Working Toward a Seamless Customer Experience” (eMarketer PRO customers only).
A February 2015 forecast from Frost & Sullivan expects total B2B ecommerce sales worldwide will reach $6.7 trillion by 2020, accounting for 27% of all B2B sales.
A Forrester Research forecast from June 2015 anticipates US B2B ecommerce sales will reach $855 billion in 2016, totaling 9.9% of all B2B transactions. By 2020, total B2B ecommerce sales in the US are predicted to surpass $1.1 trillion, making up more than 12% of total B2B sales.
While the numbers show growth, it is important to keep ecommerce’s ratio to the entire B2B market in mind for perspective. According to the Accenture/Blackstone Group survey, ecommerce sales accounted for less than 10% of total sales for half of US B2B companies. Only 18.8% of respondents said they received more than half of their revenues from ecommerce.
Brian Littlefield, director of marketing for the industrial and automotive segment at UPS, noted that some sort of B2B ecommerce has been around for over two decades. However, he also pointed out that these transactions tended not to be mainstream or very sophisticated, at least by today’s standards. Giuseppe Ianni, director of business development at B2B ecommerce provider Sana Commerce, said: “A lot of B2Bs have portals out there. The majority of them are just very old, very antiquated.”
“We are still fairly early in the maturity. It’s started to accelerate, but adoption has been a little slow. In the next five years, we’ll probably see a significant amount of growth in B2B ecommerce,” said SAP Hybris’ Walker.
Thus far, investments in ecommerce buying portals and the like are being made by market leaders. A March 2015 Accenture survey of B2B executives worldwide found that 55% of respondents at companies considered leaders in customer experience said ecommerce was a digital investment area that was critically important for sales. Comparatively, unsophisticated companies were less likely to consider ecommerce important: Only 36% of “strivers" and 17% of “laggards” said it was an important investment area.
“We’re still in the front end, in the early adopter phase. We’re not really in the mass market,” said Accenture’s Barr. The pressure of new revenue sources and buyer demands for ecommerce are making B2Bs realize that “if they want to remain relevant, they have to change,” he said.
But many B2Bs are still figuring out the right questions to ask, according to Chip House, CMO of Four51, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) B2B ecommerce provider. “ [Companies are] trying to define things like B2B ecommerce and better understand what’s out there, he said.” Many B2Bs he encounters think their problem can’t be solved and they get overwhelmed by the complexities of delivering a quality customer experience that manages the intricacies of B2B buying.
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