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Observations on B2B Ecommerce from the B2B Online Chicago Conference

Updated: Jun 14

Image by vwalakte on Freepik

Last month, the B2B Online conference in Chicago proved to be an exciting event. There were about 1,000 attendees, including many of our clients at Enceiba, such as Schneider Electric, Hanes Supply, Lakeland Industries, Caplugs, Sloan, MSA Safety, and many others.

Enceiba’s Amazon experts had many one-on-one conversations and several executive dinners throughout the conference, and our managing partner Brian Beck led a panel discussion titled “Demystifying Marketplaces: 1P vs. 3P” that explored marketplaces and B2B Ecommerce in general.

Several key themes emerged from the conference. Let’s take a closer look at the top topics that seem to be keeping B2B Ecommerce execs up at night. 

1) The Data Challenge in Ecommerce

The underlying data required for ecommerce success is still a mess. This includes product data and unstructured content, such as product descriptions, imagery, product details, specs, etc. It’s inconsistent and incomplete across many different industry categories, and B2B firms are often still struggling with how to solve their data challenges. This is not only important for a company’s own Ecommerce site but also for resale channels such as Amazon.

We heard a lot about solutions to this challenge from vendors that provide PIM and data management products. However, we confirmed what we already knew: Having a robust system is the first step to cleaning up data and preparing them for use in Ecommerce channels, but it’s not the complete answer. Companies need to commit resources and put processes in place to improve data quality.

One digital executive on the panel noted that choosing a PIM can help, but you have to change the organization around it. It’s a new tool, and companies have to change how they work in order to take advantage of its power.

2) The Real Use Cases of AI

The initial buzz of AI may be wearing off, but real use cases are emerging and companies are now seeing real value in its application. AI is being used as the “spark” to start product content development. For example, using a generative AI to create a first version of a product description, which is then edited by a human. 

As one executive on a panel advised, “Don’t think of AI as the tool, think of it as a supplement to what you’re already doing.” In other words: AI isn’t going to solve your challenges, but it will enable you to do what you’re already doing, but more quickly. 

Use GPTs (i.e. ChatGPT, Claude, CoPilot, etc.) to generate ideas and outputs like blog posts, emails, etc., but break it out by stage in the customer journey (awareness, interest, purchase, retention, advocacy).

3) Confusion around Marketplaces Remains

Brian facilitated a panel discussion on marketplaces, which included Enceiba clients Schneider Electric and Hanes Supply, along with executives from Covetrus and Shopfiy. There’s still confusion around marketplaces in B2B Ecommerce and the right approaches to tackling them, particularly Amazon Business. Many industry practitioners haven’t recognized that there are different types of marketplaces, some that cater to specific industry verticals, product categories, and even those that cater to specific products or services. Brian shared a graphic which displayed the various flavors of marketplaces to help the audience gain clarity on these different approaches. 

One key theme that emerged from the conversation was that channel conflict is still a concern and a barrier to entry for many B2B manufacturers, who are afraid of price erosion and upsetting traditional sales channels. At the same time, B2B buyers are flocking to marketplaces in record numbers, and B2B manufacturers need to explore these options sooner rather than later or potentially face irrelevance and declining sales by failing to stay in front of customers where they are seeking to buy products.

The B2B Online conference in Chicago was a great opportunity to learn, network, and share insights. We’re looking forward to the next B2B Online conference in Orlando in November, where we’ll be speaking on these topics as well. We hope to see you there!

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