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B2B e-commerce payments remain stuck in the past

Millennial influence in business world starting to drive change

In the world of B2B e-commerce, old payments processes such as invoices still dominate, and that puts many businesses, especially smaller manufacturers and those that prefer payment methods such as credit cards, at a disadvantage. (Photo: Ivan Samkov/Pexels)

Millennials now make up more than one-third of the workforce. Defined as those born between 1981 and 1996, they are the first generation that has been raised entirely on computers. And they are quickly moving into middle management and even senior management positions with companies.

The generation that powered the business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce boom is rapidly changing the business-to-business landscape. A white paper from DHL Express earlier this year said that by 2025, 80% of all B2B interactions between suppliers and buyers will take place in digital channels. The company cited the introduction of tech-savvy millennials into the workforce and the rapid acceleration of digital trends because of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced large segments of the global workforce to shift to remote work.

B2C e-commerce volumes rose 40% year-over-year in 2020 throughout DHL’s network. The company said it delivered 484 million shipments in 2020, approximately 9% more per day than in 2019. The volume increases drove record results for parent company Deutsche Post DHL Group. DHL Express saw an 11.9% increase in revenue in 2020.

While B2B e-commerce is changing business, the way businesses transmit payment for such purchases is lagging. Bar Geron, co-founder and CEO of Balance, told Modern Shipper the millennial influence in the business world is starting to drive change.

“Tradition is tradition,” he said. “B2B [was] built in a certain way with a certain type of people. Today, 82% of business buyers are millennials, so things have to change because they have [a new] way of working and living.”

Read: Millennials powering B2B e-commerce landscape

Read: First retail, now B2B: In-person deals are plummeting

Geron said more than 90% of global trade continues to be conducted offline — meaning through invoices and paper processes. Geron said while B2C e-commerce is still a very small portion of overall e-commerce, B2B represents the bulk of opportunity, so businesses like Balance are needed to make these transactions more fluid and seamless. According to Forrester, U.S. B2B e-commerce will reach $9 trillion by the end of 2021, compared to less than $3 trillion for retail.

“If they don’t use it offline, they won’t use it online,” he noted about business credit card use.

Most businesses still prefer to handle invoices, which are not a feasible solution in a digital marketplace. They add time and complexity to a process that should be similar to the consumers’ experience with Amazon in which payments are made instantaneously, Geron said.

Balance is enabling businesses to pay each other “easily and instantly, like it was a card payment the whole time,” he noted.

The company, which is based in New York and Tel Aviv, Israel, charges businesses a small fee, which Geron said is typically about 35% less than traditional credit card fees, to handle transactions. The company ensures the transaction between parties goes quickly and smoothly, which is important in today’s business environment where supply chain disruptions have forced some businesses to seek alternative suppliers. That onboarding process can take months, though, through traditional channels.

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“You can do transactions with third parties you don’t know without facilitating [previous] trust,” Geron said.

The traditional payment in B2B commerce is “milestone based,” Geron said. A shipper gets paid when the item arrives at an agreed upon point in the supply chain — the same with lower-tiered suppliers throughout the supply chain.

“It’s a whole different game,” Geron observed. “Now there are invoices … and an internal payment and approval process that you have to support it. And there are payment terms. On the merchants’ side, you have an entire accounts payable process.”

In the B2C world, businesses engage companies like Stripe to facilitate payments from consumers, who will pay Stripe, which pays the business, often before even receiving the funds from the consumer. Balance is acting in the same way, making the payment to the business before the merchant makes payment.

“Every type of service you are providing needs to be consumer grade,” Geron said. “It sounds like a cliche but it’s important.”

Geron said that transitioning the B2B payment space is “not a nice to have, it needs to happen.”

“I think when you look forward and try to say what will happen next, what’s the next shift and thinking about the potential of what it means to take the economy and moving it into the online space and making it seamless like the Amazon experience, that’s not only fun, but it’s probably the next industrial revolution,” he said.

 Click for more articles by Brian Straight.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]