The back to school period of late Summer is always big for all retail and e-commerce shopping activity, but obviously this year is going to be different. We’re witnessing new market forces in an explosion of e-commerce activity as consumers and businesses engage in more online ordering than ever before. The purpose of this blog post is to provide some ideas on how B2B and B2C merchants can best take advantage of what’s happening, including changing behaviors during the back to school shopping period. We are also considering “back to school” “back to work” (or post-vacation period) for B2B industries as well. As the Summer ends, business typically heats back up, but things could be different this year.

Here are four key behaviors to observe and to keep in mind.

Furniture, Software, Home Furnishings will drive a lot of sales for B2C

Households with school age children will do their best to optimize their in-home and remote learning experiences. This will mean that families are going to be investing more on furniture, computers, software and associated devices in order to take advantage of remote learning better than they did in the Spring.

How will customer behavior change?

Household expenditures on furnishings, hardware, software to support remote learning. For budget constrained households this will be at the expense of apparel.

How can your e-commerce business capitalize?

We recommend that merchants in these sectors should modify their e-commerce experience algorithms to capitalize on the increased demand for these items.

Online Learning & Education Will Boom, Obviously

Okay, you don’t need to be an elite business strategist or the Nostradamus to predict that online learning is going to experience a big boom in the fall of 2020. The boom is going to come from two sources: Private institutions expanding their virtual classroom capabilities with tutoring and more one-on-one virtual experiences and then the continuing need from existing remote education.

Individuals that are looking for private instruction in a vast array of fields will find it with MasterClass and other online courses. People are getting used to Bluejeans, Zoom and online learning software and demand for these courses is going to go up both in formal education and ancillary education for children and adults alike.
Earlier in the year, Google and YouTube launched their Teach from Home platform to help with the coronavirus response to education.

How will customer behavior change?

People are taking up hobbies and teaching themselves versus depending upon in classrooms or in person. Platforms like LinkedIn Learning have seen pretty major usage surges as a result of the Pandemic – likely due to record unemployment levels and those impacted trying to upskill quickly.

How can your e-commerce business capitalize?

If you are a B2C or B2B merchant there is an opportunity to engage more users by using education modules or classes to teach the skills associated with your products. Set up a Youtube education channel that serves as a demo hub. Integrate online learning software to teach product usage and to market product features. For B2C products related to hobbies teach your customers how to be the best at those activities associated with your products. Think MasterClass for your own product offering.
In terms of marketing opportunities, if you don’t already, consider allocating some ad spend towards the platforms seeing the increased usage, such as YouTube and LinkedIn.

B2B is All About Self-Service

Since customers can’t get together with their reps, B2B-oriented businesses are ramping up their self-service e-commerce. Understanding that business is going to remain remote and “out of the office” for another six months to a year (or maybe even longer), many B2B companies understand the need to ramp up and improve self-service e-commerce experiences and they are doing so quickly.

What does “Self-Service” e-commerce mean for B2B?

It means giving business buyers AND their organizations the tools they need to get purchasing accomplished quickly and efficiently. Many self-service tools automate B2B processes that used to work with paper – for example the Purchase Order Approval module that has just rolled out in Magento 2.4. It’s “self-service” because the B2B merchant can give its customer the same purchase order tools that it has historically used “offline” and as it’s tied into a “company structure” it quickly enables the organization to greatly expand the people allowed to purchase – all within approved rules.

How will customer behavior change?

Businesses are procuring their supplies online at a much faster rate now because of Covid. Purchasing departments are abandoning the “old” ways of doing business and are adopting automated purchasing with controls at a fast pace.

How can your e-commerce business capitalize?

There is an opportunity to improve your website / e-commerce channel to allow for business customers to conduct self-service e-commerce. Adopt an e-commerce platform that allows company customers to interact and purchase according to purchasing rules that worked “offline” – purchase order, purchasing limits, shipping rules and restrictions – do this to empower all your business customers and their teams of buyers to purchase from you a.) the way you want them to (automated) and b.) according to their business rules. Magento has this capability. Ask us how: [email protected]

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile Now More than Ever!

For all e-commerce merchants, mobile purchasing is exploding. The importance of having strong user experience on mobile is even greater now during the pandemic. Everyone is doing more with their smartphones and they’re doing so out of the office away from their desktops and laptops. When we look at our clients’ Google Analytics we see ever-increasing mobile share and mobile conversion during this pandemic.

It’s critical for all e-commerce merchants, whether they are B2C or B2B to have a great mobile experience whether they use progressive web apps (PWAs) or mobile-optimized websites. Most B2C merchants understand this and are in the process of constantly improving, but there are still a number of B2B businesses that have a long way to go and those that get their sites optimized for mobile will reap rewards for the next year compared to their competitors that don’t.

How will customer behavior change?

Use of phones for ordering is only increasing at a more rapid rate now versus prior to COVID.

How can your e-commerce business capitalize?

Consider a PWA or App version of your e-commerce website. Magento’s new PWA Studio in Magento 2 can make this process a lot faster than it used to be. Review your Google Analytics and conversion statistics and see how the rate of mobile shopping and purchasing is changing – then consider what other changes will improve convenience for your customers.

The Bottom Line

Let’s face it, we might have another year or more to go before things are truly back to “normal“. But this pandemic is forcing e-commerce merchants to sharpen their game and improve their experiences in order to survive. The most savvy e-commerce merchants are using these difficult times to grow their businesses through improved experiences and through improved product offerings. These last few months of the year for a great opportunity to improve your e-commerce experience so that you can capitalize on the explosion in online purchasing. This applies to merchants in B2C and B2B markets as well. Contact us if you’d like a free evaluation and consultation on how you can improve your e-commerce business this year. It’s a difficult time with a lot of questions for many businesses. But it’s also a great time of opportunity and we can help you capitalize on the explosion in e-commerce.

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