The most common marketplaces we interact with are B2C marketplaces, where sellers sell products and services directly to consumers. Good examples of such marketplaces are Amazon, Lazada, Etsy and Rakuten. However, unknown to many is the untapped potential of B2B online marketplaces and its ability to transform the traditional ways businesses transact with other businesses.
Digital eCommerce reveals that worldwide B2B marketplace sales could reach an estimated $3.6 trillion by 2024, up from an estimated $680 billion in 2018. In comparison, B2C marketplace sales across the globe will reach a projected $3.5 trillion annually in five years from an estimated $1.1 trillion in 2018. While we acknowledge the Pandemic has been an important catalyst for B2B marketplaces exponential development, it also important to explore the pros and cons of B2B marketplaces and how it is positioned within the marketplace economy.
Pro #1: Breaking into New Markets Overseas
Like B2C marketplaces, establishing a B2B marketplace platform does not take into account geographical boundaries, enabling businesses to reach out to a huge number of partners around the world and even new or upcoming marketplaces. The time difference challenge is eliminated. Companies are thus able to serve a wider international market through a trading platform with the instant promotion of products.
For smaller companies, it is costly to promote individually and B2B marketplaces serve as a tool for them to drive more traffic on a collective basis. Consequently, they are able to gain a wider outreach and initial traction to scale further. Besides securing an opportunity to elevate their business, they can expand their global network without additional cost by contacting other distinguished companies that compliment them. At times, such partnerships might land out to them with other parties reaching out to them to foster mutual trusts. B2B marketplaces are then a source of power, especially for nascent companies, to get ahead of the competition.
Pro #2: Lower Risk, Higher Return
It is worrying if one were to pivot or commit to an entirely new strategy suddenly. However, an online marketplace is known to be an extremely low-risk solution, providing flexible business opportunities with economical start-up costs. It allows one to sell goods on an online store requiring less budget in marketing and development costs.
In terms of marketing, online B2B marketplaces give companies the chance to analyze competitors products and services, studying their respective strategies, prices and features. Being able to engage in competitive analysis allows them to not only place their own product and marketplace better but place these learnings into use - tweaking their marketplace if needed to gain an advantage. B2B marketplaces also allow businesses to gather thousands of leads for a fraction of the cost of traditional lead generation strategies. This is accompanied with deeper insights into the target audience and their needs when they receive an endless database of buyers and suppliers as well as the products in trend.
Pro #3: Benefits for both Suppliers and Buyers
From a Supplier’s perspective, prices are negotiable and not fixed. Moreover, as quantities are transacted in large volumes, buyers have the expectation of discounts which suppliers are able to provide or adjust at hand. Hence, when it comes to adjusting prices to reflect this flexibility, having an online marketplace enables the seller to change the prices dynamically on the system or utilize chat functions that allows dynamic conversations with buyers to reflect what is negotiated. They can also easily select the threshold above which certain discounts apply or allow personalization where sellers can adopt tiered pricing by customer segments.
A B2B marketplace allows them to standardize how they curate and launch their products to market. As products are displayed and organized slightly differently on B2B marketplaces as products are often sold in indivisible packs in bulk orders. Sellers will consequently have the opportunity to quickly select the products and quantities to be integrated. With B2B marketplace technology, suppliers are granted the flexibility to design their platform and maximize user experience. This can range from integrating or easily plugging in their entire catalogue into the marketplace, updating and managing data, and having access to aggregate demand all in one platform. A single automated interface is subsequently able to tackle their handling of disparate buyers and maintain a single integration point for orders and payments simultaneously, easing the burden of potential bottlenecks and processing costs.
We also see suppliers from agnostic verticals stepping out of their industrial inertia to set up their own marketplace. From a buyer’s standpoint, these businesses are able to get a single integrated experience with access to an increasing variety of supplier products in a commonplace. Moreover, B2B marketplace platforms accept B2B specific ways of purchase like Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and quotations. Consumers are able to discover goods in a commonplace with online marketplaces conveniently and are able to pay conveniently within their means. Buyers are also able to track their transaction history and there is a reduced need to place orders across multiple systems or engage in phone calls.
Con #1: Customer Churn Rate
While there is high demand for eCommerce, the same goes to the rising supply of online B2B marketplaces. If a site has poor adoption due to difficulty in researching for products, the inability to schedule recurring orders or receive up-to-date product news, a business will lose an entire team of users. They will then see these customers moving on to another affordable platform that makes their jobs easier and more efficient.
Furthermore, customers have complex or unique wants and needs. Many companies are looking out for platforms that integrate content and commerce, also providing innovative functionalities like multiple buyer roles within accounts or enterprise scalability to support channel growth. Vendors need to be more heavily invested in creating success for their B2B customers and should not rely on a one-size-fits-all solution. Providing just the core commerce capabilities will not suffice.
B2B Marketplace platforms are balancing between providing functionalities for sellers to protect sensitive information about their products - their appearance, tech specs, pricing - and portraying the companies utilizing their platform in a credible way. From this perspective, marketplace platform providers file exhaustive profiles and have them duly checked for credibility. The key is to build trust between both sides of the marketplace.
In an age of digitalization, online selling has seemingly become a must. While businesses consider the pros and cons before taking their next step in launching their B2B marketplace, it is essential that they realise it is not just about the technology but a complete service experience to customers. Relationships serve as a double edge sword. With a human touch and high-touch customer services, B2B marketplaces will see their client base and outreach expand. Otherwise, a lack of customer understanding culminates into higher churn rates which will see them lagging behind in a marketplace economy.
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