Gloomy clouds had overshadowed Ravi Gupta’s business in Ghaziabad because his retail shop of home appliances, which ran on a traditional business format, had shut its operations because of lack of material supply from the manufacturers during the lockdown period. The same predicament was faced by the manufactures as their supply-chain, day-to-day operations, manufacturing and marketing activities were all negatively impacted because their businesses were not digitized. The economic effect was immense where B2B organizations jostled to meet the immediate needs of the marketplaces when crisis hit.
Cut to 2022, all those who viewed digital commerce as a lesser channel have now re-oriented different facets of their business towards a digital commerce perspective. There prevails a chance to double-down on digital commerce, strengthening existing offerings and creating new lines of service. This implies an opportunity to grow revenue, woo new customers and drive channel shifts. The dependency on digital channels and their capabilities for scaling up business and creating stability for future jolts and uncertainties has been an adoption that we have been seeing in traditional B2B businesses in India.
Preceding Covid Times
In B2B business, there has been unpredictability in the product supply chain as well as the distribution channels, and manufacturers have always looked for newer and cost effective ways to expand their paradigms and approaches to move closer to their target audience/end-consumers.
Traditional sales interactions always had higher weightage than digital interactions in B2B businesses, where web sales models, video conferencing for client business meets were secondary options. But a large part of this eco-system changed when Covid-19 became an inflection point for all businesses worldwide.
Growth of Digital Interactions
The growing importance of digital interactions have been seen across different consumer behaviour segments as consumers have started to prefer digital enabled sales via mobile apps and shopping sites. One of the sharpest increases in social media usage and time spent online was recorded in 2019 when Covid-19 hit.
Since sellers/suppliers started focusing more on creating an outstanding digital experience for their buyers, the repeat business rate from the buyer has also increased. Evolution of retail from ‘bricks-to-clicks’ to offer a seamless shopping experience to the buyer has witnessed faster adoption. However, in order to create a seamless transaction process for the buyer, sellers have started prioritizing transparency, speed and expertise within their businesses because buyers expect these as inherent traits for any good B2B business. Because consumers are getting used to quick and simple interactions on B2C sites, the same expectations overshadow B2B businesses too where buyers do not want to spend lengthy time on making purchases as they look for simplified ordering process, idiot proof websites/apps, transparent payment systems and customer care support 24X7.
The Indian retail industry has advanced at an amazing pace- from smaller shops peppering across the nation, to local kirana stores, to modern trade and finally a full-blown e-commerce world. Covid-19 has only hastened the velocity of transition, as lockdowns and shutting of stores induced retailers and consumers to rapidly turn to digital options for essential goods and services.
This prominent switch to online marketplaces has been possible due to simple digital payment ecosystems, made feasible by Unified Payment Interface (UPI) paradigm and Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) mobile wallet apps. These have made virtual shopping easier and quicker. Digital India, has been the powerhouse for this, facilitating the digitization of marketplace and payments, by promoting extremely time-saving and convenient methods like contactless cards, QR code scanning, and tap-and-go modes for making payments by customers.
India ranks ‘fifth’ globally in the retail space and have the 'third' largest online shopper base of 140 million, after China and the US. According to Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon India's retail market will grow up to $1 trillion by 2025. Be it home appliances, electronics, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, furniture, healthcare or education; technological upgrades, urbanization, greater and easier availability of internet services and wider smart-phone penetration to even the remotest corners of the country have contributed to e-commerce platforms flourishing in these sectors in India. Therefore, new consumers as well as the old ones who engage digitally with brands, evoke different sets of expectations and new alternatives to build trust and relevance. With new technology continuing to disrupt the market and changing consumer behaviour playing a vital role on driving the future of B2B business, this sector is destined to grow every way.