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No Going Back: A Post-Pandemic Path for Ecommerce

I like to categorize life before the pandemic as “the before time.” It’s a cheeky, nostalgic nod to the way things were before all of the precautions. Like everyone else, my appreciation for what was often leaves me missing dinner at a packed restaurant, opening night at the theater, and even boarding an overbooked flight filled with passengers awaiting a new destination. But not everything looks better in the rearview mirror.

While the last year brought hardships and unexpected changes, it’s worth appreciating the many things that changed for the better. Ecommerce, for example, experienced tremendous growth, particularly for B2B companies that had traditionally been slow to adapt. Many organizations were able to pivot quickly and expand access to their digital channels, or in some cases, establish them for the first time. But how lasting will this transformation be? Was it the start of a long-term path to success or merely a short-term fix?

In a newly published report by Oracle and Mirakl, we surveyed more than 60 B2B ecommerce executives and interviewed several B2B professionals to better understand this moment and the future of B2B commerce. Some of our findings were eye-opening. For example, while 60% of B2B companies experienced a moderate to severe impact on their business due to the pandemic, 53% expect to continue to feel the impact through 2023.

A quick fix won’t solve such a long-tail challenge, and customers won’t settle for anything less than what they’re getting today. So, what lies ahead?

Some things from “the before time” should stay in the past

Digital transformation has long been the elephant in the room. Before the pandemic, businesses often viewed self-service B2B ecommerce capabilities as nice to have, but not mission critical. The pandemic changed all of that.

According to some estimates, digital commerce “jumped forward 10 years” in just the first three months of 2020. This ability to adapt transformed B2B commerce at a critical moment, creating resilience in the face of uncertainty. As customers gained greater convenience and the ability to work smarter, B2B companies have laid the foundation for a digitally-enabled future.

Looking ahead, many B2B businesses are now better positioned to take advantage of strategies and tactics that have until recently only been available to more mature organizations. These game-changing approaches include going direct to the consumer, launching subscription models, leveraging marketplaces, and incorporating advanced technologies. Such strategies will not only help businesses meet buyers’ expectations well into the future, but they also provide the tools to evolve beyond reactive transformation.

The important thing now is not to lose momentum.

It’s time to finally close the customer expectation gap

Recent progress aside, the complexities of digital commerce for B2B left many companies years behind their customer expectations. For example, only 26% of companies we surveyed possess the tools and technologies necessary to personalize experiences today, despite nearly two-thirds of B2B buyers expressing the importance of personalized recommendations in 2018.

While COVID-19 accelerated buyer expectations, many of the fundamental challenges for businesses remained the same. Nearly half of the companies surveyed acknowledged that insufficient technology resources and less sophisticated business operations and planning systems continue to impede progress when it comes to delivering on customer expectations.

These challenges won’t be solved with temporary measures. Instead, success depends on a thorough examination of core systems to identify where critical data exists within the organization, what other systems rely on that data, and how that data is used. This goes beyond customer profile data and extends into the ERP, supply chain, order management process, product and pricing data, and more. Unifying this data creates the opportunity for guided buying experiences on digital channels that better meet customer expectations.

Now’s the time to invest in B2B commerce initiatives

We’re not going back to the way things were. Customers are building muscle memory with the companies that respond to their needs. And those companies are gaining valuable experience iterating on their intelligent selling capabilities that bridge sales and commerce with core business solutions.

The ability to grow beyond this moment will generate lasting customer loyalty that extends beyond mere convenience, building trust and creating a path to more mature, connected experiences.

Learn more about the strategies that are defining this moment and the future of B2B commerce in our new report, "No Going Back: B2B Commerce Beyond the Pandemic Response and Quick Fixes.”

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