How B2B Vendors Are Working to Meet Buyers’ Omni-Channel Desires

ForresterAccenturehybris-B2B-Online-Commerce-Features-Nov2014B2B buyers are resembling consumers in their online commerce preferences and expect vendors to have cross-channel visibility and omni-channel fulfillment options, according to a survey of 930 B2B buyers at organizations in Canada, the US, UK, France, and Germany. The study [pdf], conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Accenture and hybris, finds that customers’ expectations are the leading driver of vendors’ investments in omni-channel initiatives. Indeed, in a separate survey of 526 B2B companies in those 5 afore-mentioned countries, 66% of respondents noted customer expectations as a primary driver of their investment in omni-channel initiatives. Other important drivers include an expectation of an uplift in customer satisfaction metrics (59%) and gaining a competitive edge over online pure plays (57%).

The study takes a close look at how vendors are aligning their technology investments with buyers’ expectations. Notably, vendors were most likely to cite enhanced search functionality on their websites as a top technology initiative over the next 18 months; separately, buyers identified this as the feature they would most like their suppliers to offer.

Beyond enhance search, buyers also cite the following features and functions as among their top 3 (of 5 listed) desired:

  • Showing ratings and reviews of products and services (58%); and
  • Improved personalized product or service recommendations on suppliers’ websites (50%).

For their part, suppliers are prioritizing personalized recommendations, with 42% counting this as a top initiative over the next 18 months, second only to enhanced search functionality.

There is broad agreement among vendors that they need to improve their omni-channel capabilities in order to serve today’s customers, with 87% agreeing that this is the case. A similar proportion agree that being an effective omni-channel company will be critical to their long-term success (86%), and that becoming an omni-channel company will drive more sales and profit (83%).

The 5 technology platforms that are either currently under implementation/upgrading or that vendors plan to invest in in the next 6 months to support an omni-channel rollout, are:

  • E-commerce platform (83%);
  • Order management system (78%);
  • Data and analytics (78%);
  • CRM (77%); and
  • Point of service (71%).

The study delves further into what vendors feel their e-commerce platforms must be able to accomplish. Some key responses include:

  • 75% agreeing that it must offer support for a variety of key channels;
  • 68% agreeing that it must provide product personalization features; and
  • 61% agreeing that it must support a single view of inventory across all inventory locations.

Not surprisingly, roughly three-quarters agreed that it must integrate with their back-end systems, call center system and warehouse, shipping and fulfillment systems. Fewer (62%) feel that it must integrate with their popular social media platforms.

Technology integrations will be a key challenge to overcome when implementing an omni-channel strategy, though. In fact, difficulties integrating back-office technology across channels emerged as the top-cited barrier for respondents, slightly ahead of difficulty sharing customer data and analytics between channels, countries or locations.

Finally, asked about the technology innovations their firms plan to invest in the future, vendors pointed first to automated pricing optimization (62%), followed by personalized recommendations (56%) and use of wearable computing in distribution centers (49%). Shopping cart abandonment analysis (32%) appears to have less appeal.

Key recommendations espoused in the study are for vendors to:

  • “Become intimate with the business buyer”;
  • “Weave digital into all aspects of your operations to fulfill the promise of omni-channel”;
  • “Improve lead-to-revenue management capabilities”; and
  • “Evaluate the partner ecosystem to support omni-channel commerce operations”.

For more on B2B commerce, see the following articles:

About the Data:In this study, Forrester surveyed 526 B2B companies and 930 B2B buyers across Canada, France, Germany, the US, and the UK. B2B buyers were from organizations with more than 1,000 employees and were business and procurement professionals who were manager level and above and had recently bought product or services online. All B2B companies are “currently selling direct to business partners online (B2B)” and have at least 1,000 employees. All B2B company respondents were personally responsible for, or deeply involved with, selling the company’s products or services online. The study was completed in August 2014.