What is B2B Ecommerce and How Does it Differ from B2C?

In a nutshell, B2B ecommerce (business-to-business electronic commerce) refers to any online transaction made between businesses. It’s best understood in contrast to B2C (business-to-consumer) ecommerce, which refers to online transactions between consumers and businesses. As a rule of thumb, if you buy a book from an online book marketplace, it’s a B2C transaction; if your bookshop buys 500 books from an online book marketplace, it’s a B2B transaction.

There are a lot of different ways to participate in B2B ecommerce. B2B companies can offer products and services in a variety of industries. Much like in the B2C space, we can make distinctions between B2B wholesale and retail arrangements – wholesale concerning bulk distribution and retail concerning distribution in smaller quantities.

We can also distinguish B2B companies by the business models within which they operate, such as setting up their own platforms and selling directly to buyers (following what’s known as the “direct model”) or leveraging existing platforms where multiple companies sell their products alongside their competitors (the “marketplace” model).

B2B vs. B2C Ecommerce: How are They Different?

When compared to B2C, B2B ecommerce is generally more complicated and operates on a larger scale. When it comes to inventory and catalogs, B2B tends to manage a much larger number of products and product variations than B2C. Due to the unique nature of these transactions, B2B ecommerce also demands more flexible pricing methods, such as PO, checks, ACH, terms, quotes, and negotiations. Meanwhile, for almost all B2C products, the price you see is what you get.

While B2B ecommerce tends to cater to a smaller lead pool, buyers make much larger purchases and are generally interested in long-term business relationships and contracts. For instance, while B2C ecommerce platforms often cater to their consumers’ immediate needs, B2B transactions resemble a partnership between one business and another. This forms an interdependency in which each business relies on and supports one another.

Traditionally, B2C was unique in its emphasis on streamlined shopping experiences. However, it has now become the norm for B2B ecommerce platforms to provide highly accessible shopping experiences for their buyers – experiences that take into account variable pricing and a high volume of products.


Benefits of B2B Ecommerce

In this section, we’re going to explore why B2B ecommerce is such a game-changer, and how it lets businesses close more deals, save their employees time, enter new markets, and scale faster overall.

More Sales and Visibility – Less Outreach

By leveraging B2B ecommerce, companies can achieve a self-service shopping experience that essentially automates the sales process. Unlike in outbound sales channels, inbound sales via B2B ecommerce require much less outreach and time. In most cases, the buyer can initiate and complete the sales process on their own – whenever and wherever they want.

This saves a lot of time and effort. Traditionally, salespeople would have to focus on lead generation and outreach – and even then, they may not be able to close a deal. With B2B ecommerce, buyers can find you and begin shopping while they’re still eager to close a deal. Not only does this streamline the sales process, but it requires very little oversight beyond virtual support teams.

Better yet, B2B companies can maximize their visibility by focusing on their SEO (search engine optimization) strategy. This lets leads find your content or products while searching for general inquiries. By optimizing your site for common search engine inquiries, you can begin directing highly motivated leads to your website.

Self-Service Shopping Experiences

B2B ecommerce lets your company centralize its service and product offerings, application information, and variable pricing all on one website. This can create a streamlined “self-service” environment in which B2B buyers can do their own research, find their own products, ask for help when they need it, and finalize their own orders.
B2B ecommerce also gives you the ability to provide great accessibility features for your website, such as 24/7 chat support. We mentioned earlier that most modern B2B buyers prefer to do their own research, but what if they have a complicated question that they can’t answer themselves? With a chat support function, you can make sure that you never lose a customer because they can’t find the information they’re looking for.

Personalized Experiences for Specific Buyer Needs

B2B ecommerce generates buyer data that can be used to appeal to specific buyer circumstances. By customizing your ecommerce process to specific customer groups, you can give your buyers personalized browsing experiences, so they get more relevant products, content, and pricing. This is a great way to cater to multiple industries without having to generalize the shopping process.

B2B ecommerce also lets you support unique payment methods so your buyers can find the right purchase flow for their circumstances. For instance, along with traditional one-time payments, you can offer recurring payments for subscription products or services, and bundles for products that are often purchased together. This flexibility gives B2B companies an edge over the competition, making it easier for their buyers to get exactly what they need – without any hassle.

B2B Ecommerce is Growing – Fast

The importance of the ecommerce sales channel can’t be overstated. While in decades past B2B companies relied on their salespeople to seek out leads and close deals, the modern internet-empowered B2B buyer is a lot more autonomous. According to a Forrester report, 68% of today’s buyers want to do their own research, 60% don’t want to interact with sales reps, and 62% are confident that they can select and finalize their order based entirely on digital content.

That same report predicts that B2B ecommerce would “reach $18 trillion and account for 17% of all B2B sales in the U.S. by 2023.” Likewise, in 2019, EcommerceDB published a report stating that the global B2B ecommerce market was valued at $12.2 trillion – over six times the size of the B2C market.

B2B ecommerce isn’t just another sales channel – It’s an entirely new way of doing business. And now that buyers expect to control most of the transaction process, it’s up to B2B companies to create intuitive, informative, and hassle-free shopping experiences. In other words, the primary concern of modern B2B ecommerce is to equip buyers with the information and functionality they need to close their own deals.

It isn’t enough for B2B companies to extend their existing ERP solutions to achieve limited ecommerce functionality. Most of these are legacy platforms that just weren’t built for the modern world of fast and flexible digital commerce. To take full advantage of B2B ecommerce, companies need to invest in cutting-edge platforms that can provide B2C-like shopping experiences for their buyers. Such an investment will pay off in spades.

September 4, 2020

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