Is Desktop Dead in B2B commerce?
Spryker co-founder and co-ceo Alex Graf recently sat down with Brian Beck, digital commerce expert, to discuss the state of B2B desktop-based commerce versus mobile commerce. The following dialogue summarizes much of the spirited discussion between Brian and Alex and contains helpful insights for any modern e-commerce businesses looking to maintain a competitive edge. Spryker always welcomes your opinions and comments!
Brian, thanks for spending time with Spryker today! To start our discussion, I’d like to put you on the spot–“Is Desktop Dead in B2B commerce?”
As more and more people shift their digital behaviors toward mobile devices, I often hear about the ‘death of the desktop’. However, I’m here to report that desktop is actually very much alive and well in the world of B2B e-commerce. In the consumer marketplace, we’ve seen a dramatic and rapid shift over the past decade away from using desktop for online research and shopping, and towards the mobile device, particularly smartphones. Remember that people using e-commerce for B2B are buying for WORK. And this work activity frequently happens while sitting at a desk, using a laptop or desktop computer. As I write this, I’m looking at the web analytics of a large B2B distributor, similar in size and scope to the retailer I described earlier. Guess what the percentage of mobile usage of their e-commerce site is? 28%. The balance is from desktop and a bit of tablet traffic. This is consistent.
I agree with the analysis of the status quo, but your described status quo was true also for B2C only 5-8 years ago. As B2B companies are now investing in their future what would you recommend a B2B company to invest in today? Still desktop experiences?
Yes, it’s true that consumer mobile adoption has come on strong in the past decade. However, I don’t believe it will ever catch up to consumer adoption. The simple fact of the matter is that people are sitting at their desks doing their job for B2B e-commerce ordering, and this will remain the case—even though those desks may have moved from the commercial office space to the home because of Covid!
If your idea of fun is using your mobile phone for browsing and making purchases for your job, you are in a small minority. No, desktop is not dead in B2B!
Ok, Brian, then how long will large B2B commerce implementations be centered around desktop technology?
I believe desktop will continue to be a key part of B2B e-commerce implementations for the foreseeable future. This DOES NOT mean we should ignore or discount mobile use cases. Mobile is becoming increasingly important, particularly for in-field applications, such as digitally enabled sales and support teams. That said, the ‘mobile-first’ mantra of consumer e-commerce is less urgent in the world of B2B in its traditional form.
Let’s forget about the printer that orders paper/ink itself for a moment and maybe focus on a B2B distributor that serves construction sites. The customers typically don’t even use the desktop but directly call the distributors office to order material. Should this distributor still invest in a desktop-based infrastructure aka online shop?
Great point Alex! This is what I mean by B2B use cases where mobile adoption will likely be HIGHER than consumer adoption. When the buyers’ job has them in the field, like on a construction site, they are MORE likely to use mobile devices vs. desktop.
Distributors and manufacturers clearly need to start by knowing how their customer needs to interact with them digitally—and then focus on these use cases in developing their own e-commerce capabilities.
On another note Brian, what type of B2B use cases are better suited for mobile rather than desktop?
Now we’re talking! Mobile is ALIVE and WELL when we discuss specific use cases. Think about the field service technician. I have a case study in my book (Billion Dollar B2B e-commerce, Monrovia Media, 2020) on how elevator repair technicians are leveraging access to technical specifications in the field through mobile devices, to receive instant expert information and order parts and components as they perform repairs. This makes them more efficient. Then think about the sales rep in the field (when COVID is over and done with and people can get back in the field!) When that rep can access real time information on pricing, inventory availability, delivery information, and product specs, they can be more effective when sitting with a customer. Placing the order on the spot, not going back to their green screen ERP system and entering the order at night, and mis-typing the customer’s information, delaying the order, and other challenges, and later finding out the item is out of stock as they didn’t order it quickly enough. I share a case study in my book of Spicers Paper, whose sales team is leveraging their mobile site to drive 25% of the company’s entire revenue using these approaches. Digitally enabled sales teams are a primary use case for mobile in B2B.
So, the net is that desktop isn’t dead, but mobile isn’t irrelevant either. It is just different in B2B than in the consumer market.
Think about the top reasons that people use mobile websites and apps:
- Texting (88%)
- Email (70%)
- Facebook (62%)
- Camera (61%)
- Reading news (58%)
- Online shopping (56%)
- Checking the weather (54%)
- WhatsApp (51%)
- Banking (45%)
- Watching videos (42%)
So let’s talk about ‘customer needs’! How do you think millennial and genX buying patterns impact B2B commerce given that so much of current systems are based on ERP packages and legacy application architectures?
Millennials will be 75% of the global B2B buyer base by 2025. These people expect e-commerce to be easy to use. Don’t ask them to pick up the phone, send an email, or, heaven forbid, use a fax machine. They don’t know what a fax machine is. B2B companies must embrace the evolution of the buyer and accept that a blend of consumer-like Ecommerce shopping experiences, supported by B2B workflows accommodated through the web system, are what these buyers expect. If you don’t provide it, they will go elsewhere.
Excellent, Brian, totally agree. Thank you for this enlightening conversation about B2B e-commerce and the rolls of desktop and mobile environments. We’ll look forward to the next time we can have a spirited discussion.