B2B vs. B2C E-Commerce: Understanding Differences and User Expectations
B2B e-commerce represents a major strategic opportunity. As the global B2B market continues to boom, more business buying decisions are taking place online. Several factors are fuelling this growth - notably, there is a rapidly changing demographic makeup in an ever-expanding digital economy.
B2C user experiences are setting the standard for B2B, therefore influencing buyer expectations. As a result, merchants face the challenge of transforming how they sell and deliver products and services online. However, in order to understand and illustrate the complexity of B2B, it is useful to compare the features and requirements of B2B and B2C e-commerce.
In a recent Kite Flying article, our UK Commercial Director Paul Kelson outlined the potential value to be captured by digital business professionals, given that the B2B e-commerce market is expected to boom. In fact, Forrester estimates US B2B e-commerce alone to surpass the $1 trillion mark by 2020. In the interest of gaining competitive advantage in such a lucrative space, it's important to compare and contrast B2B requirements with B2C, so that digital procurement can meet consumer expectations.
COMPARING B2C & B2B MERCHANT REQUIREMENTS
Multiple Simultaneous Customers vs. Fewer Larger Customers
B2C e-commerce success is typically predicated on the growth of a broad customer base who, for the most part, follow the same process. Conversely, B2B e-commerce involves fewer, larger clients with highly customised processes. Average order value is generally lower in B2C, whereas business clients tend to buy in bulk.
Streamlined vs. Flexible Payment Options
B2C payment processing is simplified and typically captured during the online checkout process via credit card. B2B clients require more flexible payment options, such as wire transfer, and commonly incorporate a mix of online and offline methods. Many wholesalers provide credit, allowing for partial payment of invoices. In B2B sales, payment is subject to approval from financial management, whereas B2C transactions are more autonomous.
Simple Products vs. Customised Solutions
Consumer products typically possess fewer attributes. Users expect basic product information about composition, instructions, etc. On the other hand, businesses will often require highly customised solutions with multiple attributes and potentially a long lead time. Due to substantial order values and stricter approval processes, buyers will usually need more information, such as diagrams, brochures and manuals, before a buying decision can be finalised.
Consumer Choice vs. Order Approval
With B2C, any customer can buy any product within their means. There is a shorter buying cycle, where the decision to purchase is based on personal preferences, emotional wants and desires. However, procurement is subject to workflow and order approval, therefore resulting in a much longer buying cycle. B2B purchases are planned and logical, based on business needs and functional requirements.
Set Pricing vs. Negotiations
Typically, B2C e-commerce displays the same price for all customers, with the exception of segmentation-based promotional activity. Products feature fixed prices with simplified 'Add to Cart' functionality. However, the B2B sales process is differentiated by personalised pricing negotiations, subject to quotations and contracts. Larger business customers will typically have a lot more bargaining power than an individual consumer.
One-Time Purchase vs. Reorder and Replenish
For the end user, a one-time purchase may be all that is required from an e-commerce website. Consumer choice is vast and B2C e-commerce has very low barriers to entry. Customers are typically buying different items each time from various sources. In comparison, B2B clients will often choose a reliable supplier from whom they can reorder and replenish stock as required by the business. Successful B2B merchants will establish a long-term relationship with clients to encourage repeat ordering.
Acquisition and Conversion vs. Longterm Business
There is a familiar discourse around B2C digital marketing and e-commerce optimisation. But while performance marketing metrics such as PPC, remarketing and social media are also important elements of a B2B digital marketing strategy, the actual process is different and commonly follows an inbound approach. Establishing brand value, trust and long-term relationships are much more applicable to B2B e-commerce.
Order by Product Name vs. Order by SKU
Normally, SKUs and product identifiers are not important in B2C, where customers order by items, brands and product names. In B2B, visibility of SKUs and product codes is much more relevant to buyers within Purchasing departments, who will often refer to these details on documentation throughout the process.
Item in Stock vs. Accurate Inventory Visibility
A simple 'in/out of stock' status will typically suffice for B2C end users. However, for businesses who buy in bulk and need to deliver specific goods to their respective customers, precise quantity availability and lead time estimates are often necessary.
Ship to one vs. Multiple Addresses
B2C users will generally enter the same personal shipping address for repeat purchases, which allows for simplified one-click purchasing for returning registered visitors. In contrast, businesses may require several delivery addresses to be stored under an account due to multiple store branches, or drop shipping order fulfilment processes.
For further insights on building a successful B2B E-Commerce Solution, read our post on The Business of B2B E-Commerce Requirements.
'Optimise the B2B Experience to Match B2C Expectations'
While there are clear differences between B2B and B2C e-commerce requirements, as illustrated in our comparison, there are also common best practices that B2B professionals must implement in order to compete.
Remember: B2B customers are also B2C consumers. Progressively, business buyers expect B2B websites to replicate user-friendly design standards set by consumer sites used for personal buying.
B2B buyers expect omnichannel experiences and consistency when shifting among channels and devices. As websites increasingly adopt a 'mobile-first' approach to design, it's vital that the user interface of a B2B e-commerce platform is compatible with mobile devices.
E-Commerce Optimisation Best Practices
As with any e-commerce website, it's important to follow best practices to optimise performance. This involves features such as overall site navigation, search engine optimisation, structured data, content creation and advanced site search capability. We know that 92% of business purchases start with search. Therefore both organic rankings and paid ad positioning are influential in B2B sales success.
B2B E-Commerce Critical Success Factors
In a dynamic market, you must have the flexibility to adapt. While the outlook for this industry is certainly positive, it is of course, impossible to predict the future. You can, however, position your business to be capable of adopting features and requirements quicker than your competitors. B2B e-commerce requires a highly flexible platform to facilitate continued business agility and productivity improvements.
Ultimately in order to succeed in B2B e-commerce, it's important that you choose both a platform and a partner that will support your commercial vision, performance, and scalability.
Magento is the leading e-commerce platform globally, for both B2C and B2B. One of the major advantages of Magento is its flexibility. This open source technology can be customised, extended and optimised to maximise performance. Widely regarded as the next-generation digital commerce platform, Magento 2 boasts enhanced features for slicker, faster e-commerce.
Monsoon Consulting is one of the UK and Ireland's leading Magento implementation houses. If you'd like to discover how our Magento Development Services can help transform your business, read about our Magento Expertise and client projects, or get in touch with our teams in Dublin or London.
If you represent a B2B business which is planning on re-platforming to a next-generation e-commerce solution, you might be interested in attending our upcoming event in London: 'The Anatomy of Success in B2B E-Commerce'.