Opportunity amid crisis: How composable commerce empowered 3 B2Bs during COVID-19

Opportunity amid crisis: How composable commerce empowered 3 B2Bs during COVID-19

Andrea Stubbe
Andrea Stubbe
VP Product, commercetools
Published 29 March 2023
Estimated reading time minutes

The COVID-19 lockdowns triggered a never-before-seen transformation across all industries, compelling B2Bs of all kinds to rapidly adapt to a deepening digital shift. As a consequence, B2B companies were forced to quickly adopt digital commerce during lockdowns as they were left without traditional face-to-face sales channels to reach and continue selling to their customers. In this article, we showcase three B2Bs that leveraged composable commerce during the pandemic, which gave them the flexibility to experiment and pivot quickly, as well as leverage new channels speedily and seamlessly for business continuity. This enabled them to not only survive but thrive during an unprecedented global event — and beyond. 

Opportunity amid crisis: How composable commerce empowered 3 B2Bs during COVID-19

After dominating everyone's lives for almost three years, COVID-19 is probably the last thing you want to think about. However, it's a great learning exercise to look back and consider what effects the pandemic had on commerce — particularly for B2Bs — and how enduring they are to this day. After all, nothing in the 21st century has ever created such a huge and lasting impact on the world as COVID-19, from the way we interact with people to how we buy products and services. This was no different for B2Bs. Even though they haven't always been at the forefront of adapting new technologies, the pandemic provided a very loud wake-up call. According to McKinsey, in early 2021 just over 53% of B2B companies offered eCommerce capabilities. That has now grown to 65%. And statistics show that this was a smart move, as B2B buyers love digital interactions: 87% of buyers would pay more for a supplier with an excellent eCommerce portal.   

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, many B2Bs found opportunities amid the crisis through strategic investments into their eCommerce technology. In several cases, the situation had forced B2B companies to accelerate their digital transformation plans, adopting new technologies and processes to improve their online presence and customer experience. By embracing digital commerce, many B2Bs were able to expand their customer base and improve their bottom lines — such companies not only survived the pandemic, but thrived during it.

How B2Bs improved their digital commerce

Here are some of the general ways that B2Bs businesses successfully adapted to the pandemic by upgrading their eCommerce technology:

Investing in infrastructure: To succeed in the eCommerce space, B2Bs need a reliable online platform that could handle large volumes of traffic and transactions. This often involved migrating from monolithic platforms and investing in robust infrastructure and scalable technology.

Offering B2C-like customer experience: With more digital-savvy customers, B2Bs had to provide a seamless and personalized customer experience. To do so, they offered the ability to order, self-serve and fully transact online with frictionless commerce.

Adopting new payment methods: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital payment methods, such as online payments over invoices. B2B businesses that have embraced these new payment methods have been able to offer their customers a more convenient way to pay, while also reducing transaction costs.

Leveraging social media and digital marketing: With in-person events and traditional marketing channels disrupted by the pandemic, B2B businesses shifted their focus to digital marketing and social media. This required adopting new strategies for engaging with customers and building business awareness online.

Now, let's look more closely at how commercetools customers flourished during the pandemic with composable commerce and what specific successes they achieved. 

Mission Linen Supply expanded its business model

When the 2020 pandemic hit, Mission Linen Supply, a leading B2B provider of rental services and supplies to hospitality, medical and industrial businesses, had its direct sales numbers negatively impacted. The shutdowns forced their main customers — restaurants and hotels — to close their doors. Drivers could no longer visit customers and take their orders as they had done before. To remain successful, Mission Linen Supply had to react quickly. That’s when it turned to commercetools to reach its customers digitally.

Mission Linen Supply was already working on a buy-direct site where customers could place orders for themselves, not only through the drivers as before. But with COVID-19, it became a race against time to get a new commerce site — and a new strategy — online as quickly as possible. In addition to commercetools Composable Commerce’s core strengths of speed, flexibility and scalability, the solution can also include multiple business models without fragmenting the tech stack. Thus, Mission Linen Supply was able to launch its new B2B site in only six weeks, adding new revenue streams that were a huge boost for its business that lasted far after the lockdowns.

We were able to launch two sites within a year with commercetools — a full B2B site and a full B2C site. If we didn’t already have commercetools in place [before COVID-19] and were trying to scramble, it would have been really, really tough.
Dave Pattison

CIO and Vice President Information Technology, Mission Linen Supply

Pret a Manger's digital transformation in a pandemic

In 2019, Pret A Manger, an international sandwich and coffee shop with a B2B channel, underwent a full digital transformation, from having almost no digital footprint to fully embracing modern commerce to generate new revenue — which turned out to be incredibly fortunate as the pandemic forced its stores to close just a few months after. During this chaotic time, the organization realized it needed to establish more digital experiences and multi-channel opportunities in order to keep up with competitors. 

The company selected commercetools as its eCommerce partner due to its ability to align with Pret A Manger's strategic objectives of rapidly implementing digital touchpoints through its composable commerce architecture. With commercetools on board, it acted swiftly and developed its core digital solution in just four months.

Today, Pret A Manger offers an extensive range of global digital services, including a highly successful Coffee Subscription program, the "Pret Perks" loyalty scheme, a click-and-collect service, and operates on various marketplace delivery platforms, serving consumers and businesses alike. These initiatives have enabled the company to diversify its revenue streams and offset the impact of COVID-19, which resulted in reduced foot traffic to their physical stores.

Historically and before the pandemic, digital wasn't a big part of Pret A Manger's business. But now digital is absolutely fundamental to us, and it's a key enabler for our most important and disruptive propositions.
Sarah Venning

Global Chief Digital Officer, Pret A Manger

Danone overcomes pandemic shortages

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Danone customers shopping for baby formula were confronted with empty store shelves, leading to a significant disruption in lives. Fortunately, the leading B2B2C global producer of food and beverages already had an existing partnership with commercetools. This proved invaluable as Danone swiftly launched direct-to-consumer solutions by simply incorporating a cart function into its existing brand websites. 

Danone's quick response to the pandemic shortages were made possible thanks to the composable commerce solution that enabled the company to develop and deploy storefronts across multiple markets within weeks. Thanks to Danone solving their baby formula shortage, Danone was able to ensure that parents had access to a crucial product for their children's health and well-being. This helped Danone maintain their well-deserved reputation of being reliable and socially responsible, benefiting its brand image and securing customer loyalty. 

As a next step, the company has expanded its D2C strategy into local markets. In the United Kingdom, Danone’s healthcare division has deployed commerce functions, enabling B2B customers to order medical samples directly from its website, instead of paper-based forms. Due to the composable approach of commercetools, Danone's B2C, B2B and D2C models are based on a single eCommerce solution instead of disparate platforms. 

We were stuck in the past, with very monolithic decisions having to be made. So we decided to switch to a MACH architecture, which allows us to be modular, to pull components in and out. Fundamentally, we are building a modular system, we are making impactful choices for commerce and we absolutely put commercetools at the heart of this.
Luke O’Connell

Global Enterprise Solutions Manager, Danone

COVID-19 was only the start

Although the COVID-19 lockdowns are now behind us (we hope!), the digital transformation that B2B companies like Mission Linen Supply, Pret A Manger, Danone and many others underwent has changed their businesses permanently. These businesses have realized the benefits of going digital, such as increased efficiency, agility and adding more revenue streams. However, the pandemic is not the end of the volatility of our world, and going forward, B2Bs must also contend with emerging issues like a possible global recession, supply chain disruptions and constantly changing consumer behavior. In other words, disruptions to commerce can happen any time, and the lessons learned by B2Bs embracing composable commerce during the pandemic are ready to be leveraged for the next global challenge.

To stay competitive, B2Bs must continue to invest in their technology and digital solutions to mitigate these challenges and ensure long-term success. Halting or reducing tech spending could lead to falling behind competitors, losing market share and being unable to keep up with rapidly changing trends. In essence, the pandemic may have been the catalyst for digital transformation for B2Bs, but it is only the beginning of the journey towards a truly tech-enabled future. 

To learn more about what composable commerce can do for your B2B business, visit our product page commercetools Composable Commerce for B2B.

Andrea Stubbe
Andrea Stubbe
VP Product, commercetools

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