The largest 18 e-commerce marketplaces account for more than $1 trillion in global sales annually. With the emergence of boutique retailers rivaling established giants like Amazon, and the inevitable rise of social commerce, the blossoming trajectory of e-commerce is poised to accelerate.
However, the next version of the e-commerce market will look quite different than what we have seen prevail from the late 2000s up until today.
Business-to-business (B2B) commerce sales are expected to reach $6.6 trillion by 2020, a divergence from the business-to-consumer model; consumers are more discerning and exacting than ever; and although dominant brands continue to prevail amongst the rising competition, undercurrents of exclusivity and social preferences may diminish their outsized market shares.
Often overlooked when e-commerce is evaluated, the B2B e-commerce market is huge. At a high level, it consists primarily of digital transactions between companies ranging from complex relationships in agricultural wholesale to mechanical manufacturing and distribution.
Payment methods vary significantly, and the relationships (e.g., price quoting) between businesses are often specifically customized to meet market demands. Over the years, both the fragmented payment methods and high transaction costs have precluded a vast portion of the B2B commerce space from operating within standardized payment rails—as opposed to simple checkouts in the B2C market.
That is all changing rapidly, however.
According to BigCommerce, the realization by many sellers that they are essentially already performing some form of B2B commerce escapes them; sellers don’t have to be suppliers in order to sell B2B. Many online companies fall into both categories, B2B and B2C, and don’t need to have separate e-commerce websites in order to run both aspects of the business.
As a result, such firms are diving further into B2B, trying to smooth many of the complexities that have historically plagued the space. In particular, younger generations, like millennials, are becoming the search experts for B2B commerce and branding – driving a more internet-oriented business approach.
For example, the BigCommerce report goes on to cite how simple changes, like pricing transparency and customer experiences, are evolving. Businesses traditionally were hesitant to list explicit price ranges online for several reasons, primarily due to competition undercutting their prices and the ubiquity of customized price quotes between firms. However, with advances in online gateways and ordering, pricing can be customized on a per-customer basis after they log into the store – even supplemented by more in-depth information available to specific customers to fit their requirements.
Additionally, mediums for communication of mom-and-pop shops have been confined to phones, and even entirely outdated methods like faxing. However, the evolution of online chatbots and AI-based routing of customer outreach is changing that narrative.
Slow response times are cited as one of the biggest customer complaints in both B2B and B2C commerce, but advances in CRM systems are quickly mitigating those issues.
Bespoke Customer Experiences
Bespoke customer experiences are at a premium in today’s world of e-commerce. Consumers are more socially cognizant than ever before, demanding proper sourcing of specific products—like organic or recyclable—and want immersive product experiences, not just standardized presentations.
For example, the rise of “digital kiosks” where interacting with various aspects of a product, for instance, Nike shoes, can involve 3D imaging, such as 360-degree viewing of a product.
“One size does not fit all, and individuals deserve to feel that brands embrace their uniqueness and differences,” says Andrea Seemayer, Founder and CEO of A.Lynn, a sustainable fashion brand that offers personalized-fit for consumers that goes beyond the typical small, medium and large sizes. Compared to mens sizing that includes waist and inseam measurements for pants, or neck and sleeve length variations for shirts, women typically haven’t been offered such personalized sizing to fit different body types.
By offering a new size scale in the fashion industry, A.Lynn has reduced their return rate to be less than 1% and increased the average sale quantity to be two or more pieces. In the retail industry even a slight increase in average units sold per transaction can make a significant impact on the bottom line.
“A.Lynn also takes the time to include hand-written cards and specially wrapped garments in the packaging process, which in-turn has resulted in a high rate of responses to our direct-emails and positive reviews on our site,” adds Seemayer.
Influencer marketing is also having a progressively profound impact on shopping experiences, especially with younger generations.
It is now commonplace to find clips on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram of high-profile influencers reviewing or promoting a specific product, often with a personalized recommendation that resonates with their followers.
The outcomes of influencer marketing are proving to be highly effective on ROI’s, and are simultaneously fueling the narrative of social commerce, which spawns an even brighter future for bespoke customer experiences.
Power Of Exclusivity
There’s something about when a consumer hears that a product is “limited edition” or an event is “exclusively invite only”, that piques their interest. Not only does this marketing tactic create a sense of urgency for consumers to act, but it also brings more attention to the product, service or event.
Supreme has become the flagship standard for the power and influence of exclusive branding. Annoyed parents are endlessly lining up at obscure locales around the country to purchase limited-edition Supreme apparel for their children, often at exorbitantly high prices.
The success of Supreme has sparked an entire ecosystem of content marketing, explicitly focusing on branding.
“Brand power is already highly impactful on consumer purchasing decisions,” says Amazon FBA expert, Beau Crabill. “But the exclusivity element not only stimulates that influence but drives the entire secondary market structure for those products.”
Crabill’s perspective is compounded by the fact that secondary markets for Supreme are crazy. The initial limited-edition sales directly from Supreme’s distributors may be costly, but the absurd pricing comes in the secondary markets, where people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for sweatshirts.
Even some teenagers, like Boris Kunin of the reselling company Lyne Up, have made profitable business models off of reselling Supreme brand wear.
The takeaway is that while premium brands continue to dominate most of the e-commerce market today, smaller brands striving to create exclusivity can adopt new and innovative strategies to rapidly rise up the ranks in social popularity.
Add in some social awareness campaigns and influencer marketing, and smaller brands have an unprecedented opportunity to compete with the legacy competition.
In a hurry, here's a list of eCommerce trends for 2020: