Keys to scale: Three tips to build a successful B2B retail business

- April 15, 2024 3 MIN READ

Shaun Broughton, Managing Director, APAC at Shopify, explains that the retail landscape is rapidly evolving, with business-to-business (B2B) sales representing a key growth opportunity for merchants in 2024.

Worth an estimated  US$7.7 trillion globally, the market opportunity is more than double the size of DTC, and Australia alone is estimated to reach AU$45.7 billion by 2025.

Yet despite the sector’s growth trajectory, B2B retail is traditionally perceived as an industry laggard. It’s easy to see why: purchases are inherently more complicated, with various payment terms, purchase orders, wire transfers, volume pricing and seasonal catalogues, which can lead to merchants falling back to manual processes like spreadsheets, phone orders and PDFs.

But with increasing competition and a wealth of opportunity on the table, it’s simply not enough for businesses to force-fit their B2B needs through outdated models and substandard technology. Merchants looking to stand out from the crowd need to ensure they have the right infrastructure and strategy to support scale.

Here are three technology considerations to help you build a successful B2B retail business.

Customisation is key for a B2B to scale

Customisation is crucial to creating a seamless and effective buying experience. With Millennials and Gen Zs making up 64 per cent of business buyers according to Forrester, today’s customers are increasingly digital natives with heightened purchasing expectations. They expect purchasing experiences to reflect their shopping behaviour and want buying goods and services online to feel intuitive, seamless and easy. Additionally, with B2B retail often featuring longer and more complex sales cycles, and deals containing bulk orders or other sizeable needs, ensuring a company’s touchpoints are customised for their audience and sales process can go a long way in streamlining the shopping journey.

With this in mind, investing in a tech stack that prioritises customisability is vital for B2B sellers. Headless commerce support, where a merchant’s back-end infrastructure is separated from its front-end, can allow teams to easily deploy customer-facing experiences without disrupting back-end processes or website performance.

Shopify’s expansion store capability is another useful tool for creating customised experiences and has helped brands like Who Gives A Crap launch dedicated B2B stores for wholesale customers. From bespoke price lists for individual customers to self-service ordering and an automated fulfilment process, Who Gives A Crap has been able to cultivate a targeted shopping experience for its wholesale buyers, securing thousands of customers and driving up its wholesale revenue rate.

Nurturing customer relationships 

Customer relationships are the bedrock of B2B retail. But unlike direct to consumer (DTC) brands, where pre-purchase communication typically comes via forms of marketing, B2B selling often also involves hands-on engagement from sales representatives. These individuals play an important role in the buying process, building relationships with corporate decision-makers, advising them on the right product or solution and guiding them through the shopping journey.

As B2B ordering moves online, self-service buying models are emerging as a cost-effective alternative to the traditional wholesale approach. However, depending on the goods or services sold, many merchants still need a way to sell through their sales representatives. Depending on how your commerce strategy is set up, making sure your infrastructure supports this process may be important. The functionality to control staff permissions makes it possible for merchants to assign sales reps to B2B customers, allowing them to place orders and view customer information for the accounts they are assigned to. In providing sales reps access to parts of the commerce infrastructure, merchants can also better empower their sales teams with the data to strengthen their customer relationships and have more strategic business conversations, rather than spending their time processing orders manually.

Future-proof your tech stack

B2B retail businesses need a platform powerful enough to grow with them. Some businesses make the mistake of only exploring system upgrades when they desperately need a new feature but that can make it more challenging for merchants to stay ahead of the curve and could lead to teams being blindsided by competitor movements, market changes and digital disruption.

By investing in digital transformation early and ensuring your tech stack is robust and flexible enough to scale with your organisation as it grows, retailers can shift their focus from transactions to reaching new audiences and delivering meaningful interactions with customers. For example, at Shopify, we’ve made it easy for B2B customers to expand globally by providing the functionality to create localised storefronts, offer different currencies, manage compliance and coordinate cross-border logistics.

Artificial intelligence can also drive significant efficiencies and enhance the customer experience.  Shopify Magic is a suite of AI tools that use generative AI to make product image editing and enhancement easier than ever before, all directly within the Shopify admin. Businesses can also consider utilising AI-powered storefront search, which allows buyers to formulate search queries more intuitively and receive more relevant search results.

In a shifting retail landscape,  ensuring your organisation has the right commerce technology and strategy is vital to staying ahead of the curve. By integrating customisation, ensuring your infrastructure can support your sales strategy and future-proofing your tech, B2B retailers can enhance customer experiences and unlock new potential for their businesses.

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