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B2B shopping: seamless and digital

Hugh Fletcher of WPP’s Wunderman Thompson and Naji El-Arifi of WPP’s Wunderman Thompson Commerce explain what the future B2B shopper is looking for – and it includes a much better digital experience

B2B buyers want the same digital experience as B2C buyers, and they are increasingly expecting it. Covering 11 countries and 2,261 B2B buyers, Wunderman Thompson’s B2B Future Shopper Report 2023 tells us it is time for a digital revolution in B2B buying. The study covers countries in APAC, Europe and the Americas; and the businesses surveyed run the gamut across industries, across businesses of different sizes, and they have all sorts of purchasing decisions to make.

“B2B buying is changing. It's increasingly digital and omni channel, but the experience needs to improve too,” says Fletcher. “It’s no surprise that the biggest challenges facing businesses this year relate to the increasing costs of raw material and fuel.” 

When asked about the challenges businesses are facing, 24% of those surveyed said it was the increased cost of raw material; 23% said it was the increased cost of fuel/energy; 22% said it was product availability; the same number said it was supply-chain constraints; and 21% said it was goods and services becoming too expensive to source or purchase. 

“The overriding message is that there is a huge amount of change and turmoil in the markets as a consequence of increased costs,” says Fletcher. “Price plays a very important role in B2B purchasing.” 

In fact, 40% of global B2B buyers told Wunderman Thompson that they have changed ALL their suppliers in the last 12 months. And 43% of global B2B buyers say they have changed SOME of their suppliers in the last 12 months. A lot of this has to do with price.

At the same time, B2B shopping is increasingly digital – mirroring the B2C experience. A total of 49% of all B2B spending is currently online; but in five years’ time, this figure is likely to be 57%, with South Africa and Brazil being the countries seeing the biggest increase.

“There's a tendency to think of B2B as being a little bit old school and not embracing technology but our stats don't support that,” says Fletcher. “And let’s not forget that a huge amount of purchasing is for digital products or services anyway.” 

And working from home has changed B2B buying too – there has been more of it online. In fact, 62% of B2B buyers say they conduct more of their buying online because they work from home; and 47% feel less loyal to B2B sellers with whom they previously had a physical relationship. That is not surprising if physical relationships have become fractured because of Covid. 

The journey is increasingly digital and omni-channel 

Not only is 49% of all B2B purchasing now online, but 67% of B2B buyers START their purchase journeys online, especially in India, China and South Africa. Owned digital channels are vital to B2B online success. 

El-Arifi says: “This demonstrates just how important it is to have good online real estate for each brand and each company, even within the B2B space. It's not just about catalogues anymore.  

He continues: “It's really important that a supplier’s website and mobile site are incredibly good because they come out top in our survey for all three types of channel – inspiration, search and purchase – for both general products and raw materials.” 

By the same token, B2B shoppers are decreasingly turning to physical sales – usually a sales rep in favour of the seller’s website, mobile site, social channels, app and digital marketplaces. The shift to digital is huge; but it’s also omnichannel. In fact, 71% of respondents said that they like to shop with sellers who are digital but also have a physical presence. But seamlessness is key. 

“Just because you're digitally native doesn't mean you’re digitally exclusive,” says El-Arifi. This goes for B2B and B2C customers. “We need to remember that B2B people are still B2C customers. “People want speed and convenience at work and in their everyday life.” 

And in five years’ time, while suppliers’ websites and mobile site will still lead, social channels will be the second most important channel, predicts the survey. So, suppliers who want to see purchasers complete the purchase journey must make sure that their social channels deliver that opportunity and do not simply seek to inspire and influence, but to actually provide the mechanism to sell. 

But the digital experience must improve

“There’s a high degree of frustration with buying B2B products online,” points out Fletcher. “More needs to be done to optimise the experience.” 

In pretty much all circumstances across all countries surveyed, B2B buyers are saying that buying online is more complicated than offline with one massive exception, which is China, where only 6% say that buying online is more complicated than offline.” 

B2B buyers are definitely cross referencing what's happening in their B2C lives with their B2B experiences and they want it to be similar. But there are differences. The B2B shopper values price, service and experience over everything else. For the B2C shopper it is more to do with delivery and returns. 

And marketplaces will – along with social commerce – drive significant change in B2B buying. Just as Amazon has revolutionised B2C buying, so too will marketplaces increasingly be where B2B customers will convene. Not only that, but the metaverse could offer a hybrid of digital and physical interaction for B2B shoppers in the future. This is definitely a space to watch. 

Hugh Fletcher and Naji El-Arifi

Wunderman Thompson

published on

22 August 2023



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