Research Highlights How COVID-19 Has Changed B2B Buyer Behaviors

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Wunderman Thompson Commerce (part of Wunderman Thompson, a WPP agency) recently published a research report dealing with the attitudes and behaviors of B2B buyers who make at least some of their business purchases via online channels.

The B2B Future Shopper Report 2020 was based on a survey of 200 B2B professionals in the United States. Survey respondents represented a range of job functions and seniority levels, including purchase managers, procurement managers, and C-level executives. The survey included respondents from fourteen industry verticals.
The Wunderman survey was in the field between April 17th and April 27th, at the height of the COVID-19 economic lockdowns. Therefore, this research provides important insights about how B2B buying behaviors had changed/were changing as a result of the pandemic.
Not surprisingly, Wunderman found that online B2B buying had increased substantially. On average, it was up 22% over 2019. The survey respondents reported that they are now making 48% of their B2B purchases online, up from 38% of purchases before the COVID-19 outbreak began. The survey found that companies of all sizes had increased their online buying during the pandemic.
The most popular online channel for B2B purchases both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic is suppliers’ online portals. Sixty-seven percent of the survey respondents said they are now using this channel, up from 58% before the pandemic. 
One of the most significant impacts of COVID-19 has been the drop in purchasing directly from sales reps. Only 20% of the survey respondents said they were still buying directly from sales reps. Fifty-six percent of the respondents reported buying from sales reps before the pandemic.
Interestingly, this research found that the use of online marketplaces such as Amazon/Amazon Business had dropped from 44% to 42% during the pandemic. However, almost three in four of the survey respondents (73%) said that online marketplaces are more convenient than buying through individual supplier e-commerce sites.
The Wunderman survey also addressed whether and to what extent COVID-19 had caused B2B buyers to switch suppliers. Forty-three percent of the survey respondents said they had switched to a new supplier for some business purchases, and 20% said they had switched suppliers for all purchases.
When B2B buyers have switched suppliers, most of the decisions appear to have been driven by pragmatic considerations. The following table shows the top five reasons for switching suppliers selected by survey respondents:
Wunderman also asked survey participants what factors were most important to them when buying products online. The factors most frequently identified by respondents were also very pragmatic.
  • Faster delivery (chosen by 45% of respondents)
  • Price (44%)
  • Product availability (41%)
The next most frequently identified factor – ability to find and select products easily – was selected by only 29% of respondents.
The theme of product availability also shows up in the pain points identified by the buyers surveyed by Wunderman. The following table shows the top five sources of dissatisfaction identified by survey respondents:
The Wunderman research provides a window into how COVID-19 has changed online B2B buying. It’s important to note, however, that the big issue now facing B2B marketers is whether or to what extent the behavioral changes resulting from the pandemic will persist after the pandemic ends.
I’m more cautious that some marketing pundits who are already proclaiming that the pandemic has created a “new normal” in B2B marketing. I do believe that many of the B2B buying behaviors described in the Wunderman report will persist until an effective vaccine for the coronavirus is widely available. If I’m right, this means that current patterns of behavior will likely continue for the next 6 to 12 months. 
Will these pandemic-induced behaviors persist in a true post-COVID-19 world? Time will tell.
Top Image Source:  Wunderman Thompson Commerce

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