Q&A: Why B2B eCommerce Differs from B2C

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By Published On: May 1, 20240 Comments

Chief Customer Officer at Commerce Vision, Andrew Rogencamp, delves into the differences between B2B and B2C ecommerce, and what can be learnt from their similarities.

What are the fundamental differences between B2B and B2C eCommerce?  

B2B eCommerce is where you are dealing with known customers. They’re still buying products from the seller but their behaviours and requirements are quite different within a B2C site.   

On a B2C site, everyone gets the same price with maybe a promo code to change the price, in B2B – every customer could get a different price. Also, the range of products available to customers might depend on who that customer is.  

Most B2B sites are fully integrated to back-end Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems to ensure all business logic is kept in one place. 

Other key features of a good B2B platform are: 

  • Being able to place orders on a customer account for ease of purchase 
  • Approval of orders within a customer’s business 
  • Customer dashboards with performance analytics showing things such as ‘spend’ etc 
  • Being able to set up their own users 
  • Access to multiple accounts 
  • Punchout (that’s integrating to your customer’s procurement system) 
  • Making additional elements accessible such as downloadable price lists etc 
  • Account payment options 

Can these differences be consolidated through a combination approach or do B2B and B2C eCommerce purchasing processes require completely different management? 

B2B buyers expect a B2C experience – but it’s just that all the extra business rules are automatically baked in.  

 They want to be able to search, filter, research the product, add to cart, checkout etc – many B2B sites are also B2C sites as well these days where companies have a retail presence but are also dealing with B2B customers – so having a platform that can provide the B2C experience with B2B capability well is very advantageous. 

Lets talk a little about B2B2C selling (to throw a spanner in the works here), and D2C – these are becoming more prevalent as the digital market evolves – do these also require different approaches? What can sellers learn from other business models? 

Yes, many traditional wholesale companies are taking this approach and getting closer to the end user. Some approaches we have seen are to create a separate site with a different branding and then only have a curated range of products on that site.  

The other approach is to use the same site and just have a D2C channel that works the same way as any other B2C site. One of the biggest challenges in setting up D2C and B2B2C is ensuring that the retail customers that you currently wholesale to are not competing with you on this site.  

 Normally wholesalers tend to limit the range to either older ranges that the retailers no longer want to stock or specialty products that retailers don’t want to range. Some wholesalers have gone direct to the consumer and do compete on price with their own retail customers. However, that does come with risks of losing that retail channel for your products.  

 I would say a lot of our readers are B2C sellers, – and B2B customers as they set up their eCommerce platforms and scale through composable commerce and partner integrations. What should these B2B customers be looking for in a B2B partner? And vice versa… 

Good question. Often a retailer will not actually place orders on the B2B eCommerce site, as their Point of Sale (POS) or ERP system would automatically do the ordering. So, the B2B eCommerce platform needs to service their needs other than ordering.   

So, ensuring the retailer has everything they need to know about that product on the eCommerce platform is the best advice. 

You also want to be able to access the platform without necessarily seeing prices (or to be able to toggle them off) – so that you can show your customer (i.e. the consumer) the product without showing them your buy price. Other features such as good integration with your own retail systems is helpful. For example, the B2B buyer (the retailer) should be able to order how they like. If this means sending a PDF, then the B2B seller should have a way of digitally consuming this. 

Importantly, what are the red flags to avoid?  

Avoid forcing customers into doing business the way you want it to be done.  

Ensure that you understand how your customers (and ultimately their customers) want to purchase and interact with you and ensure that your systems cater to them. 

What can they learn from each other? What opportunities are out there? 

B2B sellers and B2B buyers should work together to ensure their technology is suitable for their needs. 

B2B sellers are trying to get their customers to order online but that might not be the way they want to order, they might just want to send the seller a PDF, and this needs to be allowed by the seller. Like all good relationships, understanding how to make both parties’ businesses work better together is the key to success. 

How would you define a top-tier eCommerce experience that caters to both the differences and similarities discussed? Particularly from a customer experience perspective.  

A top-tier eCommerce experience should really feel like a great B2C experience.  

 B2C has been concentrating on user experience (UX) for many years now and many B2B experiences are lacking in good UX. So, take a leaf out of B2C and ensure the B2B site feels like B2C but isn’t too much “in your face” like some retail sites. 

Remember that generally the B2B customers are on your site doing their day-to-day job – they are not shopping, they are buying. Big difference.  

Generally, the end user’s main role is not to get on the website of their suppliers and buy products – it’s just a part of their role.  

Learn more from Commerce Vision here.

About the Author: Rosalea Catterson

Rosalea is the Editor of Power Retail. With a keen interest in consumer behaviour and tech, she covers everything ecommerce and hosts the Power Retail Power Talks Podcast.

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