An overview of commercetools trends and predictions for 2023

Revisiting our 2023 B2B trends and predictions ahead of next year: What happened and what’s coming up next?

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools
Published 12 December 2023
Estimated reading time minutes

Much has been said about the digital evolution of B2B buyers and the impact of composable commerce on manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors in 2023. However, the following questions arise: What trends materialized this year? What’s hype and what’s reality? Here, we review the B2B trends and predictions we forecasted for 2023 and reflect on what happened as we progress into 2024. 

An overview of commercetools trends and predictions for 2023

In early 2023, we introduced the inaugural edition of Pivotal Trends and Predictions in B2B Digital Commerce, a comprehensive report featuring insights, customer stories and forecasts for all things commerce tailored for manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors. The goal: Empower B2B organizations to switch from surviving to thriving during a challenging year marked by the persistent after-effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns, international conflicts and a looming recession. 

As we develop the 2024 edition of this report, we’re now confronted with the pressing question: What trends and predictions did we get right and what came out of the blue and surprised us? Let’s take a deeper look at what happened in 2023 and unveil the insights that will still demand close attention in the upcoming year.

To visualize how the predicted trends are evolving, check out the B2B Trend Cycle. In a nutshell, trends that are in the Hype phase are much-talked-about ideas that haven’t yet materialized into concrete benefits. Early stages signify that a trend has seen initial developments and has the potential to grow in the months to come. Growth is marked by rapid adoption and expansion, and Maturity is where the trend becomes mainstream.

The B2B Trend Cycle by commercetools

Prediction #1: The B2B buyer expects digital B2C-like experiences

Status: Reaching maturity 

It’s been predicted for a while now that the behavior of B2B buyers has become increasingly more digital — a trend that predates the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2023, we have witnessed the aftershocks of this megatrend, with the B2B sector experiencing heightened digital and omnichannel interactions to the extent that 83% of B2B buyers now prefer ordering or paying through digital commerce channels.  

B2B buyers have continued to evolve during 2023, demanding digital experiences that go beyond the basics. According to McKinsey, “The consumerization of B2B buying appears nearly complete,” as B2B eCommerce has taken the lead as the most effective sales channel. At the same time, omnichannel commerce has continued to evolve in the sector and is expected to help B2B organizations improve their market share by at least 10% annually. 

Finally, while B2B buyers increasingly expect consumer-grade experiences, it has not yet reached parity with actual B2C shopping journeys — but it’s undoubtedly heating up in that direction.     

Prediction #2: New-to-digital B2B firms debut composable commerce

Status: Early stages  

One of the most eyebrow-raising predictions in the 2023 report was that new-to-digital B2B companies would digitize using composable commerce from the get-go. There are several reasons for this bold prediction: 

First, choosing a legacy all-in-one platform usually requires substantial investment and, given this year’s economic climate, the likelihood of obtaining internal buy-in for major tech purchasing was slim. And second, it’s now clear for many B2B organizations that a composable infrastructure isn’t as complex or costly as many executives initially thought. In reality, a composable approach makes more sense for companies with tight budgets as they can roll out commerce features incrementally while accelerating time to value. 

At commercetools, we observed firsthand how B2B companies of all sizes started their journey with a composable approach, proving that businesses don’t need extensive developer resources or massive investments to capitalize on composable commerce. At the same time, there’s still reluctance in the B2B sector to adopt composable environments as many executives fear investing in newer technology than the “safe bets” most businesses are used to (think SAP, Salesforce and so on). 

However, we anticipate that composable will win over more hearts and minds in 2024. Not only will composable technology continue to mature but also complexity and cost myths will keep on being debunked.

Prediction #3: Product discovery is a priority

Status: Growth  

 As B2B digital commerce progresses, it’s only logical that essential components in the buyer experience, such as search and product discovery, become more important. According to Eli Finkelshteyn, CEO of Constructor, “People know exactly what they want to buy, they just need to find it with the availability that works for them and with the price that's available to them.” 

This year, we saw more emphasis on B2B-specific product discovery and search experiences as B2B companies require a higher level of speed and efficiency in their product discovery experience to increase sales and conversions. The advent of Generative AI is also accelerating the impetus to bring B2B-specific discovery solutions to market, which will continue to evolve in 2024. 

Prediction #4: Focus on data quality

Status: Growth   

At the beginning of this year, we predicted that B2B companies would reorganize their vast information pools to upsell and cross-sell effectively. Despite data management emerging as a pivotal theme in the B2B landscape, Master B2B unveiled that 63% of B2B decision-makers say that data cleanliness was the biggest impediment to robust eCommerce growth in 2023. 

This indicates that our optimism regarding the speed at which B2B companies would address data management as the foundation for their eCommerce strategy may have been slightly too ambitious. While many executives plan to invest in data hygiene in the years to come and even use Generative AI in their data quest, data management will likely remain a topic to watch in 2024 and beyond.

Prediction #5: B2B sales face an overhaul

Status: Between early stages and growth    

The direct result of digitally savvy B2B buyers is a reduced necessity for frequent interaction — or any interaction at all — with sales representatives. Nevertheless, customers continue to seek a mix of traditional, remote and self-service channels, the preference depending on the complexity and value of the sale. While there’s a discernible shift in this direction, getting sales reps on board when it comes to digitizing commerce remains a work in progress.  

We agree with the authors of a March 2023 article in the Harvard Business Review titled B2B Sales Culture Must Change to Make the Most of Digital Tools, which summarized the changes that need to take place on sales teams to embrace the rise of digital:

The best salespeople combine the new mindset with the capability to leverage and coexist with digital channels. Further, these salespeople bring value to customers by sharing digitally derived insights, increasingly from AI systems. With digital natives comprising more than 75% of the workforce by 2025, and the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the adoption of technology in the workplace, the new mindset and capabilities are rapidly taking hold.

Moving to the next stage of maturity requires getting the sales team to change their mindset and focus on the evolving needs and expectations of their customer base. This includes focusing on the demographics of their clients, where most buyers are increasingly digitally native millennials and the expectations buyers now have for seamless omnichannel experiences.

We’re seeing evidence that companies are moving toward a more hybrid approach, where salespeople have responsibilities for both online and offline sales. McKinsey noted that 60% of B2B companies have moved to a hybrid selling model, defined as salespeople “orchestrating the customer journey across multiple touchpoints,” that better reflects the hybrid buying approach of their customers. Accomplishing this cultural change and new model buy-in will require that companies ensure that salespeople are paid commissions for online orders and that the sales team is publicly and repeatedly praised for embracing digital tools.

Prediction #6: The role of business practitioners grows

Status: Growth 

For too long, eCommerce technology has been driven by, well, tech people. As low- and no-code tools emerge, the responsibility of bringing innovation to and managing eCommerce operations becomes more distributed across different teams and roles. Business practitioners, such as marketers, as well as content and product managers, are empowered to have a more active role in digital commerce initiatives through easy-to-use business user tooling. 

The rise of a “composable organization” as an entire business philosophy also accelerates how teams are organized: Many businesses have started to create small and cross-functional teams around a specific function, such as a shopping cart, which increases collaboration and results.  

Indeed, as composable goes beyond commerce and encompasses various types of tech solutions, such as DXP (digital experience platforms), we’ll see this trend picking up in the next few years as composable tech matures. 

Prediction #7: D2C expands further — with a caveat

Status: Growth

B2B manufacturers of consumer goods have historically expanded to the D2C (direct-to-consumer) model, and developments in 2023 were no different. We see this trend appears to be progressing towards maturity, with an increasing number of B2B organizations diversifying their business models to explore new revenue streams and customer segments. 

However, what continues to be a blocker for many B2B companies is the use of multiple commerce platforms, each catering to a different business model and requiring a different data set-up. This fragmented infrastructure leads to a wide range of issues, including data management and difficulties in integrating the systems to exorbitant costs. As B2B digital commerce matures with modern tech such as composability, we expect that B2B organizations will strive for efficiency and cost-effectiveness by centralizing commerce in one platform. 

Prediction #8: The B2B customer experience will be redesigned

Status: Between early stages and growth    

Meeting the expectations of B2B buyers goes beyond streamlining the commerce engine, and 2023 witnessed a heightened emphasis on optimizing digital B2B storefronts. From enhancing website performance and speed to ensuring mobile responsiveness, numerous B2B companies have injected a breath of fresh air into the aesthetics and functionality of B2B digital purchasing — and many are only just beginning!

In 2024, we anticipate the emergence of more B2C-like frontend experiences that offer the convenience of eCommerce portals extending beyond the basics. These frontends will integrate customization functions that truly elevate the B2B buyer experience to the next level.

And finally: The rise of Generative AI

Status: Between hype and early stages    

We — and perhaps nobody else — could have foreseen the meteoric rise of Generative AI in 2023. Prompted by the launch of ChatGPT’s latest iteration (GPT-4) in November 2022, GenAI captured the zeitgeist trophy of the year, translating into a flurry of innovation and, to a certain extent, hype.

GenAI continues to grow as more applications arise every day, this phenomenon being no exception in B2B digital commerce use cases. From improving product detail pages (PDPs) to crafting email marketing copy and spearheading data hygiene initiatives, there’s no denying that GenAI can be transformative for B2B organizations in the upcoming years. 

What’s coming up in 2024?

More than the evolution of the trends predicted in the last edition, we expect that 2024 will be the year B2B digital commerce starts to balance strategic investments like GenAI with short-term initiatives such as integrating convenient payment models to expedite time to value. 

How will B2B organizations achieve this feat? In the 2024 edition of our annual report, you’ll get all the latest insights and predictions to make that happen.   

Download the Pivotal Trends and Predictions in B2B Digital Commerce in 2023 for all the insights and get notified automatically when the 2024 edition is available. 

Julia Rabkin
Julia Rabkin
Senior B2B Product Expert, commercetools

Julia is a Senior B2B Product Expert at commercetools. With over a decade of experience across product and marketing teams in the tech world, she is an expert at creating innovative, customer-first strategies, and excelling in cross-functional growth & GTM initiatives.

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