Insights & Advice

The Differences Between B2B & B2C eCommerce

The Differences Between B2B & B2C eCommerce

At its most basic level, B2B eCommerce is an online business model that facilitates online sales transactions between two businesses, whereas B2C stands for business-to-consumer. So any company that is selling their products or services directly to their retail end consumer is essentially using a B2C model.

Creating a high-quality online experience with a B2B eCommerce platform enables companies to vastly improve the purchasing experience for their business customers. Just like modern B2C eCommerce platforms have done for online retail shopping. And for businesses, improving that purchasing experience isn’t just about building revenue or reducing costs. It’s about building loyalty by making their B2B buyers job easier. 

Ok, you get it. B2B is for selling to other businesses and B2C is for selling to consumers. But is there really that much difference between the two eCommerce models? Aren’t they both just about customers filling an online shopping cart? Well… not exactly. While there are many needs and characteristics of B2B customers that overlap with B2C, there are also some distinct differences:

B2C

B2B

Many simultaneous customers with same process

Fewer larger customers with customized process

Streamlined payment options (credit card, PayPal)

Many payment options – pay on account, credit card, wire transfer

Few attributes per product

Many attributes per product (up to 500+)

Expect basic information (color, size, dimensions)

Expect detailed information (specifications, diagrams, manuals)

Any customer can buy any product

Workflow, order approval, and custom catalogs

Same price for all customers

Different prices for different customers

Same price for all customers

Different prices for different customers

Add to cart with fixed prices

Add to quote with price negotiation

Buying different items each time (typically)

Frequently reordering the same items

SKU or product identifier is not important to buyer

SKU must be visible / searchable throughout process

Order by items

Order by items or quantity (per kilogram, ounces, etc.)

Browse and discover products of interest

Quick order entry from SKU

Ship to one address

Ship to multiple addresses, with delivery info (loading dock, front door)

Need to see if item is in stock

Need to see where item is in stock

Need to see if item fits

Need to see if item is compatible with other products and/or regulations

Focus on new customer acquisition and conversion

Focus on reducing workflow and cost to serve existing customers

The B2B Customer Journey Differs From B2C

The B2B customer journey also differs from B2C. Commonly we find that:

  • Buyer-seller relationships often go deeper in b2b – they are long term, recurring sales, co-development is more frequent
  • The buyer journey is often longer and more complex, involving more stakeholders
  • Customisation is more common – and this is a growing preference for buyers
  • And the stakes are usually higher – each customer, each transaction is worth more
Quick-Ordering-Magento-B2B

B2B Buyer Preferences Are Changing

There has been a huge change in B2B buyer behavior. Buyers are rapidly moving to a digital-first approach to engaging with their suppliers. You can see this in Forrester survey data:​

90%

B2B buyers conduct research online before making a purchase

84%

Prefer to make repeat purchases through online channels

74%

Believe buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales rep

B2B Buyers Expect Consumer-like Experiences

When B2B buyers go online, their expectations for the online purchasing experience have been set by the B2C sites they use in their personal lives. Therefore, they expect sites to: 

  • Clean design and workflows for ease-of-use
  • Personalised experiences
  • Mobile-enabled
  • Long-tail inventory options
  • Product selection assistance via search, filtering, rich content, recommendation engines, reviews

This is particularly the case with millennials, who are digital natives and have high expectations for their online purchasing experiences. This means the online experience can’t be an afterthought. It needs to be a priority on any high quality site.

Serve Business Customers With Native B2B eCommerce Functionality

Now, let’s focus in on how we can better serve B2B commerce needs. Most modern enterprise grade eCommerce platforms come with a full set of B2B capabilities available out-of-the-box. Using Magento Commerce as an example, this platform enables you to deliver:

Personalised experiences

  • Company-specific catalogs
  • Customised price lists

B2B self-service tools

  • Company accounts
  • Buyer roles and permissions
  • Payments on account
  • Order and quote tracking
  • Account history

Streamlined purchasing

  • Order by SKU
  • Requisition lists
  • Fast reordering
  • Assisted selling
  • Request for quote workflow

Wrap Up

Effective adoption of B2B eCommerce starts from understanding the fundamental needs of a B2B buyer and how to personalise their experience. Once that has been achieved, you can move on to new challenges such as marketing automation or creating more powerful omni-channel experiences. But make sure you are always led by your B2B customers’ needs. Remember – it’s your job to make your B2B buyer’s job easier.

About the author

Brett Sinclair

Brett is an eCommerce specialist at Adobe and founder of the B2B eCommerce Association. Brett has been in the eCommerce field for over a decade and has managed first-hand all of the functions of eCommerce, including: web merchandising, digital marketing, user experience, technology selection and implementation, customer support, fulfilment, and other operating areas.

B2B eCommerce Association of Australia