B2B ecommerce grows after a rough ride in 2020

Brahm Buck

The memo summing up B2B ecommerce growth is in. The key takeaway: Going forward, more business buyers will do less buying by phone, fax, and manual transactions, and more online. “If you had any doubt about the validity and velocity of your customers adopting online solutions, 2020 removed all doubts,” […]

The memo summing up B2B ecommerce growth is in. The key takeaway: Going forward, more business buyers will do less buying by phone, fax, and manual transactions, and more online.

“If you had any doubt about the validity and velocity of your customers adopting online solutions, 2020 removed all doubts,” says Dave Gravely, vice president of ecommerce for State Electric Supply Co., a 67-year-old regional distributor of electrical, data communications and power transmission products.

Last year, total B2B electronic sales (including ecommerce and EDI) grew by 9.6% but not as fast as the double-digit increases of previous years, according to data and analysis contained in the newly published 2021 B2B Ecommerce Market Report from Digital Commerce 360.

Sales on B2B ecommerce sites grew by 10% to $1.39 trillion in 2021 from $1.26 trillion in 2019. Combined with e-procurement sales, B2B ecommerce sales in 2020 increased by 11.8% to $2.19 trillion.

B2B digital sales channels—including e-procurement, electronic data interchange (EDI) and other channels in addition to ecommerce sites—increased by 9.6% to $9.92 trillion in 2020 from $9.06 trillion in 2019. In 2020, B2B sellers saw a significant increase in demand for digital commerce sales channels from B2B buyers as the global pandemic last spring began to shut down traditional sales channels like distribution branches last spring.

“There was literally a feeding frenzy for companies, especially small to midsized companies to catch up to the demand from digital customers, or start from scratch,” says Brian Beck, a managing partner of Enceiba, an agency that helps manufacturers and brands sell through Amazon.com and Amazon Business.

But while B2B ecommerce sales grew overall, the growth was highly uneven across many industries, depending in large measure upon the impact COVID-19 had on specific markets. Overall, a January 2021 survey of 110 B2B sellers of various sizes reveals that many companies ended 2020 with good growth in B2B ecommerce sales.

The survey revealed that 62% of companies reported an increase in ecommerce sales of at least 25% last year, including 12% that increased sales by more than 75%.

But metrics from Bloomreach Inc., a developer of personalization applications, reveal a different picture. A data sample from Bloomreach B2B customers reveals that total digital sales dropped year over year by 2.3% and conversion rates (the number of website visitors that make a purchase) decreased by nearly 30%. Bloomreach did not break out specific figures.

“What really jumps out here is that traffic was up 32%, but sales was a minus 2.31%,” says Bloomreach chief marketing officer and ecommerce analyst Brian Walker. “We think the traffic and search traffic was due to a heavy amount of traffic for personal protective equipment (PPE), but the overall sales numbers were down due to the overall business cycle, with many B2B customers impacted by the pandemic and lock-downs for restaurants, schools, offices and other locations.”

Sign up for a complimentary subscription to Digital Commerce 360 B2B News, published 4x/week, covering technology and business trends in the growing B2B ecommerce industry. Contact Mark Brohan, vice president of B2B and Market Research Development, at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @markbrohan.

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