August 31, 2021

The future of B2B Commerce: four themes & how B2B Commerce Cloud is addressing them

Jeff Natkze
Associate Vice President, Product - Commerce

The world of ecommerce is always changing and evolving, and customer demand and expectations continue to grow. For B2B organizations, this evolution can be even more complex than their B2C counterparts – balancing the conflicting needs of different channels, keeping a close eye on margins, adapting to their customers’ changing workforce, need for automation, etc.

As we look to the future of B2B Commerce, we are seeing four major themes rise to the top:

  • B2B & B2C Interwoven
  • Smarter, Not Harder
  • Be Where the Buyer Is
  • Connect to Everything

Regardless of the industry – specialty manufacturers, branded manufacturers, distributors, etc. – organizations expect that their ecommerce platform helps them address these themes. As we develop solutions for our B2B customers, the B2B Commerce Cloud and suite of add-ons (e.g. Mobile App, PIM, Commerce Analytics, Product Recommendations) have and will continue to target these areas. Here are a few examples of capabilities we have recently released, or will be releasing, for each of these areas.

B2B & B2C Interwoven

While many of our B2B customers primarily sell to other businesses and not Direct to Consumer (D2C), the B2B buyers still use B2C sites in their every day lives. Because of this, they have come to expect a certain level of experience that B2B organizations need to meet. One critical example is search. Customers expect search to help them quickly find what they are looking for. We’ve recently made enhancements to the built-in search provider within B2B Commerce Cloud:

  • Improve the handling of metric data: mm = millimeters, in = inch, etc.
  • Enable administrators to audit or troubleshoot search results
  • Manage the importance of each product attribute to the search results

For those B2B Customers that are looking to sell D2C, we continue to find ways to attract and sell to those individuals. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one way to help capture customers via organic search (i.e. via Google, Bing, etc.). B2B Commerce Cloud has several ways to improve SEO: site map, canonical URLs, image alt text, etc. We are also continuing to enhance page experience and performance to ensure our customers continue to rank high in search results, especially as Google rolls out their Core Web Vital changes in the coming months.

Smarter, Not Harder

All of our customers want to do more but are limited by their financial and human capacity. So, it is critical that we create tools that are both efficient and powerful, and leverage data and AI/ML to help automate or improve decision-making processes.

With our Product Information Management (PIM) tool, business users can easily manage their product data. They can quickly identify products that are missing data or digital assets, and easily execute bulk edits to update any number of products at once. This is done directly through the user interface (UI) or by uploading spreadsheets. With the goal to make it easier for business users to manage their data, we made a recent enhancement to PIM where products will automatically be assigned to categories based on data.

Leveraging our greater Optimizely product suite, specifically AI/ML-driven Product Recommendations, customers will soon be able to configure the integration between the products to see an improvement in their ability to upsell to their existing customer base. Customers can continue to maintain targeted up-sell & cross-sell lists but leverage their customers’ order and site viewing data to automatically serve up more intelligent recommendations.

Be Where the Buyer Is

B2B Customers or employees at our customers are not always in front of their laptop or desktop. A sales rep may be meeting with their customers on a factory floor, the field service rep may be out in the field installing a spare part, procurement specialists need to enter purchase orders in their own systems, etc. B2B Commerce Cloud and Mobile App helps reach these users wherever they are and on whatever device they are using.

B2B Commerce Cloud has native capabilities to support PunchOut, a standardized method of eprocurement that enables end customers to navigate to our customers site to find products to buy, but they finalize the procurement process within their own systems (e.g. approval workflow).

We are also building out Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) capabilities into B2B Commerce Cloud & the Mobile App. VMI will enable our customers to be a strategic partner with their customers, helping them to manage inventory at their customers’ factory floor, tool crib, construction trailers, etc. Users managing the location’s inventory will use the Mobile App to scan a barcode and update inventory and place replenishment orders, wherever that location may be.

Connect to Everything

Virtually all of our customers have business systems that drive critical functions of their business – ERPs, payment & tax services, CRMs, PIMs, etc. B2B Commerce Cloud is built to expect these types of integrations. Our native integration platform and plugin architecture makes it easy for customers to leverage these systems for their intended purpose and maintain a rich and performant experience for the end user.

We recently built connectors to several new payment gateways, saving our customers time and effort on their implementations. We also have added capabilities to facilitate ACH & SEPA payments and support for VAT calculation and display to support our global expansion of B2B Commerce Cloud.

Later this year, we will be rolling out support for 3rd-party search providers, so customers can integrate to search engine that already use. In addition, we will be releasing a series of webhooks that will make it easier to integrate to 3rd-party platforms that want to be notified of certain events from the website – order submit, customer submit, quote submit, etc.

Forging Ahead

As we continue to look down the path for B2B Commerce, these themes will help guide our long-term direction as well. The increasing crossover of B2B & B2C will be seen not only in D2C, but also in B2B2C opportunities, and we are already positioning Optimizely to lead in that arena using the combination of our easy multi-site management, adaptive React-frontend, customized catalogs, and real-time segmentation. "Smarter, Not Harder" thinking is core to our ODP and Intelligence Cloud businesses and their models will be adapted to understand the differences inherent to the B2B market. Our push to Be Where the Buyer Is will continue exploring other software that B2B buyers and reps in-field use, while also discovering new ways to unify the branch and digital experiences. And a focus on Optimizely as the hub that easily connects everything will see the evolutions around APIs and rapid-integration tooling along with B2B-specific tech partnerships and marketplace apps.

B2B business is coming into the spotlight with more media, analysts, and competitors giving B2B businesses the attention and respect they've always deserved. We are at the beginning of a wave of B2B-targeted innovation whose crest is still years away. With our position already established as a leader in the space, Optimizely will continue to be the preeminent authority in crafting the Future of B2B Commerce.