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B2C E-Commerce Has Some Lessons for B2B Platforms Being Built, Report Finds

12/20/2018 By

As B2B e-commerce platforms try to match the level of maturity found in B2C systems, a recent report takes a snapshot of how CEOs, chief digital officers and innovation executives are investing in technology, which innovation they’re pursuing and how they’re making those decisions.

In addition to that benchmarking aspect, a trend emerges in how B2B customers want their online shopping experience to be — and they want many of the same bells and whistles that consumers get when using B2C marketplaces online.

The survey found that technology that can seem cold or off-putting — like artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) — is actually playing a role in connecting people and the products or brands they want. It says that 41% of respondents use machine learning to create one-to-one relationships with their customers. And 55% are looking into the technology.

“ML can help create a personal connection between a brand and an individual by generating product recommendations from algorithms, (the classic ‘other customers also bought’),” said study contributor Devashish Saxena, a VP for e-commerce at Rexel, which sells products related to electrical supplies for automation. “But there are many more ways that ML algorithms can allow a brand to create a more personal connection with an individual. ML can guide costumers toward targeted content, personalizing interactions across multiple channels.”

AI and ML can help develop the coveted customer-centric platform, says another expert who contributed to the survey.

“It’s all about leveraging the data at hand with consent, and building a relevant value proposition with your company’s offerings around the individual’s unmet needs,” says Robert van Geffen, the senior director of B2B digital & activation for Philips, the healthcare company. (That may not seem like the type of business to cater to customers, but Philips’ website says the company looks “beyond technology to the experiences of consumers, patients, providers and caregivers.”)

The survey said 74% of respondents reported their senior leadership has a customer-centric focus, but 26% said it was tough for them to convince their leaders to put customers first.

But Saxena, the e-commerce expert, was skeptical of such a high adoption rate.

“I am a bit surprised to see the results here,” he said. “Almost 80% believe they are already there, which I find hard to believe. …

“Instilling a customer-centric culture — especially if one doesn’t already exist — is not an easy thing. Changing the culture never is. It requires serious sponsorship form the C-suite and a lot of hard ground work over a long period of time.”

Saxena said the two biggest obstacles are short-term thinking and siloed execution — with other factors being outdated IT systems and talent.

“The Perfect Platform” report, done by researcher WBR Insights for the e-commerce platform provider Magento, shares the views of 100 C-suite executives from B2B manufacturers and distributors from around the globe. Practitioners in the B2B world also shared their insight on many of the key findings.

And as B2B marketplaces mature, B2B companies also are looking to sell directly to consumers with a B2C approach, so the idea of a single platform for both markets is taking hold, the report shows using charts.