Italy has always held a reputation for small, family-held brick-and-mortar businesses with cozy atmospheres. That’s part of the magic of Italy. But with the events of 2020, Italian businesses are increasingly going digital, and this is creating a massive B2B opportunity.
According to reports from the International Trade Association, B2B e-commerce transactions in Italy exceeded €460 billion in 2019, with estimated business revenue of €48.2 billion in 2020.1 Although SMEs in the country are traditionally focused on physical sales, online selling has trended upwards recently and, naturally, more businesses want to be part of the expansion.
If you’re also considering taking your Italian business online, we’ve created this guide to help. Here, we’ll explain why digital is the future of B2B online business in Italy, how going online can benefit your company, and the best tips (and products) to get started.
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Although Italy has faced recent struggles with high public debt and unemployment, the country’s e-commerce industry is entering a boom period. As of 2015, the country was considered the second largest e-commerce market in Southern Europe.2 Despite its financial problems, growing internet penetration and changing consumer attitudes have fuelled online purchases.
Even in B2B transactions, which tend to happen offline, Italy is experiencing a growth surge. In 2019, B2B e-commerce transactions swelled to €463 billion, a 14% increase over the previous year, and almost €100 billion more than three years earlier.3
E-commerce deals now account for over 15% of all B2B transactions in the country, compared to less than 14% in previous years.4 Significantly, as the “Made in Italy” movement picks up speed, more Italian industrial groups are sourcing components through e-procurement and B2B wholesale platforms. It is expected that roughly 80% of all company purchases will transition to e-channels within the next few years.3
Additionally, the government is sitting up and taking notice of these trends. Recently, the Italian Trade Agency signalled its support for Italian B2B e-commerce firms through its partnership with Alibaba.com. The Agency pledged to provide financial and institutional support to help 300 Italian SMEs digitize on Alibaba.com’s Italy B2B marketplace.5
As a result, there’s probably no better time for Italian B2B companies to move online. Recent surveys show that 85% of businesses in the country plan to accelerate their movement to digital in 2021.3 Likewise, Italian buyers are also moving online, which is where your small business needs to be if it’s going to find them.
Making a transition to e-commerce selling is the first step towards rapid and sustained growth for most businesses. According to research, B2B firms that take their business online experience five times faster revenue growth.6 There’s a simple reason why.
A B2B online business provides the equivalent of a high-performing sales and marketing team when adequately set up. It can help you find customers faster, convert them easier, and satisfy them thoroughly, thereby creating loyal fans for your business.
In addition, because of how the global and Italian B2B market is evolving, going online helps your business:
There’s a growing recognition that the future of B2B procurement is digital. Reports suggest that 90% of business leaders recognize the impact of e-commerce and are making plans to take advantage.6 But the good news is: while 85% acknowledge that they have a weak e-commerce strategy, just 15% are working to correct this.6
As a result, businesses that move quickly to take advantage can get ahead of the competition early. For your business, that could mean putting your brand in front of B2B buyers before your rivals and earning their loyalty first.
In 2020 alone, global B2B e-commerce purchases exceeded $12 trillion, or 12% of the $100 trillion total recorded.7 Going online allows your business to share in this value.
Even better, B2B e-commerce is expected to grow further. Statista predicts that B2B e-commerce will reach 17% of the global total by 2023, signalling the growth opportunities in the industry.6 Italian manufacturers, exporters, and wholesale suppliers have an excellent opportunity to plug into this trend.
Additionally, B2B transactions are increasingly digital, as Oro Inc reports. According to them, 94% of B2B buyers go online for research before buying anything, and 57% of the time, they complete the buying process before speaking to a salesperson.6
Online businesses enjoy an advantage since they can capture the interest of these buyers before they ever see a physical store. With your online store, you can attract and serve clients in Spain, France, Russia, Belgium, Austria, Germany, the United States, and worldwide. Likewise, you can capture the business of local B2B buyers who are part of the 38% that say being able to order online is critical.7
A B2B online store allows you to design a stellar buyer experience and gain greater sales. Research shows that buying experience is essential to B2B clients and they will move to a competitor if they don’t have the best experience.6
With the tools available to an e-commerce store, you can capture leads, nurture them, and lead them to convert using tactics adapted to specific target clients.
Lastly, online selling helps alleviate the operational costs of small businesses since it lessens the work on your sales and marketing departments. The best B2B platforms provide first-rate marketing and order fulfillment, letting you free up time and resources to focus on other parts of your business.
Likewise, it’s possible to automate order workflows, so your people spend more time building client relationships instead of fulfilling orders.
Italy has a thriving industrial economy that presents multiple B2B selling opportunities for SMEs. The country was eighth in the world by export volume (€421.8 billion in 2020) and the tenth-largest by import value (€324.8 billion in 2020).8 9 This relative balance between imports and exports signals scope for local and foreign B2B sales.
What products are promising to target for B2B online businesses in Italy? Recent import-export data presents a useful starting point.
Italy’s top imports for 2020 were fuels, raw materials and motor vehicles, food, chemicals, and electronics. The country’s biggest import partners were Germany, France, Holland, and Spain. Although, 2020 saw imports from the other countries decrease while imports from China rose by 3%.9
As for exports, metals and metal products and precision machinery were the main products in 2020. Alongside these, Italy continued its global reputation for the export of motor vehicles (including luxury models), wholesale clothing, footwear, motorcycles, and scooters. Italy’s biggest export partners are also in the EU, mainly constituting Spain, Germany, and France. Although, Switzerland and the United States are also major export partners.9
In addition to the import and export products mentioned above, Statista reports that certain products attracted the most B2B e-commerce sales in 2019. Automotive, Pharma, Household appliances and accessories, Grocery, and Electronics enjoyed the lion’s share of online B2B purchases.10
Finally, according to the Organization for Economic Complexity, there are certain products for which Italy has a competitive advantage. These include vinegar, combed and carded wool or animal hair fabric, vermouth, processed tomatoes, leather machinery, stone working machines, pasta (food), eyewear, and vending machines.8
Likewise, they mention some products as potential export opportunities because they relate to current Italian exports. These include agglomerated cork, spring, air and gas guns, insulating glass, electrical lighting and equipment, cars, and sunflower seeds.
Deciding to take your business online is a great start, but there’s still plenty to do in terms of setting up. These tips can help as you pivot to e-commerce B2B selling.
Market research isn’t just for starting a new business. It’s also a vital part of any business expansion, which is why it’s a good step to take before making your business digital.
Research can help you uncover basic statistics on local sales and international data about your niche. With accessible data, you can begin to strategize on what clients to target, the products they likely need, and how they want to be served.
Although you’re looking to get in on the e-world trade, some physical effort can go some way to helping you start well. Tradeshows, expos, and conferences present valuable potential to meet local and international prospects who might be interested in your business.
As an exhibitor at these events, you can make soft inquiries with prospective clients to uncover their background information. Short discussions can help you know their pain points and showcase how your business can help. But, most importantly, they are massive lead generators that help funnel curious attendees to your e-commerce store, where you can convert them at leisure.
Being online lets you structure a buyer experience molded to specific targets. This will be extra vital in the case of Italian buyers since data indicates that they can be indecisive.2
Prepare persuasive sales copy and product information to increase your chances of conversion. But don’t focus on sales alone. Also, look to nurture prospects that might visit but don’t feel ready to buy. Prospects like this can benefit from blogs that explain their options and remarketing using paid ads.
Italian buyers are known to enjoy having options. For instance, 49% of e-commerce buyers want the right to pick their delivery date and time and the possibility of multiple delivery addresses.11
Don’t think these preferences will change because you’re dealing with businesses. B2B buyers are also consumers on their own time, and they expect the same ease they experience during personal shopping.
Payment difficulties are one of the surest ways to alienate your buyers and increase cart abandonment. Therefore, ensure your payment process is smooth and provides multiple payment options.
Also, be transparent about your pricing information and provide additional information where necessary. For example, let clients know exactly how many euros each product costs, including incidental payments such as sales tax, shipping fees, available discounts, etc. The buyer will want to know these terms during negotiation, so prepare the necessary figures.
This includes adopting high product quality standards and providing the best experience possible for your clients. Ensure that customers can enjoy instant access to your store without the hassle of slow-loading pages or unattractive product pages.
Collect data about customer behavior, including user activity graphs, duration on your store, what products they interact with, etc. Use this information to provide additional features or products where possible, for sales forecasts, or to improve customer experience.
The next few years will be pivotal for the B2B sector in Italy as buyers and sellers find their way online. Help your small business stay ahead of the competition and access the global market through Alibaba.com.
In terms of B2B marketplaces, Alibaba.com is the largest and most sophisticated. It provides corporate solutions to help you find, attract, and completely satisfy customers worldwide. The platform already has a solid footing in Italy with a growing track record of helping Italian SMEs create a global brand.
Would you like to learn how Alibaba.com works? Get started today.