Small business owners have typically been resource-constrained.
They’ve borne the brunt of starting up and running their businesses with their personal finances.
They’ve co-mingled the expenses of the business with their own everyday spending, wielding personal credit and debit cards to do so, as they juggle everything from marketing to bookkeeping.
Inflation’s keeping them up at night, and that’s a truism no matter where the companies operate — in Asia, in Europe or the United States.
Todd Heimes, Director and General Manager of Amazon Business, told Karen Webster about the multi-year effort to extend consumers’ familiarity with the eCommerce giant to business accounts.
A significant percentage of the six million Amazon Business customers are smaller firms, he said, and transforming the process of simply “ordering” business items to a procurement mindset can help those SMBs run more efficiently, improving margins.
Reducing the amount of time spent on purchasing supplies, broadening payments choice and offering credit and installment options can help lead to what Heimes termed “smarter business buying” by buying the right form sizes and “packs” of those items.
And, according to Heimes, since so much data about their business crosses the platform, Amazon navigates and underwrites working capital solutions that make the smaller business clients’ odds of success greater than ever.
“For our small business customers,” said Heimes, “we feel Amazon Business can be more than a ‘one-off’ purchasing solution — it can be integrated into the business and help to digitize the procurement function, which lets them focus on their core missions.”
First things first.
“One of the things that we offer to our small business customers,” he said, “is the ability to split the business purchases from their personal purchases, creating a standalone business account, and add users to those accounts.”
Amazon Business launched in 2015. The goal then — and still — has been to bring the same breadth of selection and speed of delivery that have been hallmarks for consumer-facing commerce.
Through the roughly eight years since launch, Amazon Business has been made available across Europe, Japan, India and Canada.
“We see Amazon as a place for small business customers where they can buy a significant amount of what they need to run their businesses,” said Heimes, “whether or not that’s office supplies, break room supplies, or janitorial supplies — the spectrum of products.”
Beyond the product availability, Heimes stressed Amazon Businesses’ value-added services come through business-specific pricing, quantity discounts and the “Subscribe and Save” option for recurring and automatic fulfillment.
He noted that Business Prime, which is similar to the company’s consumer-facing Prime program, allows for multiple users on a single account to harness the benefits of free and fast shipping. The purchase flows are centralized, he said, which allows owners to see, and analyze, the spending tied to those users in order to make sure that purchases remain within the confines of the corporate policies and guidelines.
Heimes said that a range of payment options — including a small business credit card with American Express — helps that business owners choose the most effective mechanism for a transaction. As has been widely reported, Amazon said earlier this month that it had extended its partnership with Affirm to pay-over-time with installments, which is now available to sole proprietors.
Amazon Business also offers a payment-on-term solution that allows small business customers to gain access to a line of credit. Installments and BNPL, he said, help smaller client firms manage cashflow more adroitly.
Amazon Business, he added, has integrated with more than 100 eProcurement systems across the globe in a bid to create an “ecosystem of solutions used to run businesses.” The fact remains that for smaller firms, having their own procurement systems in place can be prohibitively expensive. And, as has been widely documented, Amazon also offers fulfillment capabilities and shipping methods for smaller firms to reach their own end customers.
“What’s also important to our small businesses in each of our countries is having a compliant solution that meets all the regulatory requirements,” said Heimes. He pointed out that VAT reporting differs in Europe than the GST in Asia — and Amazon Business, he said, is compliant in all countries and jurisdictions in which it is offered. “We’ve localized our solution in each country,” he told Webster.
Looking ahead, he said, there are still significant numbers of smaller businesses that have yet to sign up for the free service. Big Data and AI, along with machine learning, will help bring new innovations into the app and onto mobile devices.
Guided buying is one such initiative driven by advanced technologies, where machine learning and large language models help firms choose from a diverse roster of suppliers (local suppliers or sustainable suppliers) across product categories.
“It’s still ‘Day One’ for Amazon Business,” he told Webster, “And we’re just getting started. The opportunity to continue serving these customers is great.”