Many major online marketplaces in B2B don’t refer to themselves as marketplaces, preferring to use the term ‘platform’ or ‘one-stop shop’.
But regardless of the name they use, these outlets are part of a huge and significant trend in B2B.
“I think there’s been a mental shift [in B2B] – a mental barrier that has just vanished,” says Marc Teulières, General Manager of B2B at marketplace platform Mirakl. “Buyers are now more and more ready to make large transactions online.
“If you trust your operator, if you [can] see the product, if it’s easy, and if you can buy with the same terms, the same invoicing relationship that you do usually – then you can place that transaction online.”
I think there’s been a mental shift [in B2B]…
– Marc Teulières, Mirakl
So profound is this shift that Teulières says, if you’re a wholesaler “[and not] asking yourself the question, ‘Should I launch a marketplace, yes or no?’ – you are missing one of the big, big trends in your industry.”
But why are marketplaces now thriving so comprehensively in B2B, and how does the B2B version of the trend differ from B2C?
I spoke to Teulières about the dynamics he’s observed in the industry, and how B2B marketplaces are enabling digitisation within B2B.
The digital transformation role of marketplaces in B2B procurement
In recent years, B2C has seen an explosion of new marketplaces as retailer after retailer leapt onto the bandwagon to launch marketplace offerings of all types and sizes: from curated, invitation-only platforms to large-scale outlets.
B2B is seeing a spike in growth of its own: Digital Commerce 360 projects that the combined sales from B2B marketplaces will reach $112 billion in 2023, up 100% from $56 billion in 2022, making them the fastest-growing digital sales channel. But the B2B take on online marketplaces looks a little different to B2C.
B2C marketplace operators often use their platforms for growth and to expand into other, complimentary product categories without needing to take on dedicated stock, says Teulières. That’s also true for B2B; but more than that, marketplaces play a crucial role in digitally transforming the procurement process, which depends heavily on networks of trusted suppliers.
By launching a marketplace or ‘one-stop shop’ platform, a business can bring all of these suppliers under one roof, digitise the transaction process, and save time. For example, Accor Group launched the Astore Shop to streamline and digitise the procurement process for its hotels, offering a user-friendly platform to its suppliers and giving the group an insight into what those hotels needed in real-time.
“They have digitised their existing business – and the benefit for the hotels is that instead of calling each supplier one after the other, they place the transactions online, under one roof,” says Teulières. “[And] for Accor, their own teams actually gain productivity … they need less people to process purchase orders with the hotels and restaurants.”
[T]he question of how ecommerce and marketplaces interact with legacy technology is a very important one.
– Marc Teulières, Mirakl
There are benefits for all parties involved. Suppliers gain visibility and access to more customers through placement on the marketplace; buyers can transact online and get insight into stock in real-time, saving time and effort; and marketplace operators can ensure customer satisfaction, while also gaining access to customer data and of course a cut of the transaction.
B2B is often presented as lagging behind when it comes to digitalisation, but Teulières notes that it’s also important to acknowledge and understand B2B’s early digitisation accomplishments. “B2B didn’t wait for ecommerce to digitise itself,” he says.
“They’ve had ERPs, EDI for decades now – those systems may be a bit antique sometimes, but they work, and they’re very entrenched in organisations. So, the question of how ecommerce and marketplaces interact with legacy technology is a very important one.
“This is another big trend – the growth of the B2B marketplace ecosystem is very important.”
Trust and quality set B2B marketplaces apart
“The reality – when we carry out surveys and studies – is that the quality of [B2B] marketplaces is often higher than traditional ecomm,” Teulières says. “Trust and quality are of the utmost importance. [B2B businesses] are usually more diligent in the choice of suppliers that they bring onto their platform.”
When a business like Accor operates a marketplace – or to use another example, AB InBev, which launched a B2B ecommerce platform, ‘Bees’, last year – their name commands a level of trust that assures buyers they are able to select high-quality suppliers and operate a reputable marketplace.
This culture of tight assessment and vetting has encouraged B2B buyers to make the leap to purchasing online.
Teulières explains what this can look like in practice. “To control the quality of your marketplace, first of all, you select suppliers carefully; then you send SLAs to your suppliers – for example, ‘I want you to respond to customer requests within eight hours. I want you to ship products within three days.’ And … you monitor the quality of what’s happening on your platform.” Some platforms, such as Mirakl, even offer alerts to notify businesses when the quality of a supplier does not match their criteria.
This culture of tight assessment and vetting has encouraged B2B buyers to make the leap to purchasing online: whether from known businesses with whom they have an established relationship, or from new businesses, trusting that the quality will be high.
“If it is clear for them that the product is sold by a third party supplier and will be shipped by a third party supplier, and if they can pay with the same method and get invoiced the same way, and they get a proper shipping service – then the rest, they don’t care. Because they are already buying the product anyway,” says Teulières.
“When it comes to new purchases – you always find people who say, ‘I will never change’; and then you have the vast majority of people who say, ‘Okay, let me test it, and if it works, then we will gradually adopt it.’”
Marketplaces also offer a solution to the buyer problem of needing to deal with literal dozens of suppliers; having all of those suppliers laid out in one place represents a significant time and efficiency saving. “Marketplaces are not there to complexify the lives of buyers – they are there to simplify the lives of buyers,” Teulières summarises.
“Now, thanks to the marketplace, they can see all the products, and they can interact directly with the supplier, who will ship the products – so, they gain time.”
Teulières is “profoundly, profoundly convinced” that all wholesalers should be considering whether to launch a B2B marketplace – or a similar platform such as a dropship – if they aren’t already; but for brands, the calculus is a little different. “As a brand … to become that one-stop shop, you need to already represent a significant share of wallet within the total spend of your customer segments.
“If that’s the case, then you may be relevant [enough] to aggregate an ecosystem around your brand to satisfy your buyers.”
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