B2B e-Commerce: How it's Different From B2C

Michael Elmgreen
May 4, 2015

When considering how to structure the customer experience you’ll deliver to your business and consumer customers, it’s important to appreciate and consider the key differences that exist between these two buyer personas and the nuances in how they make purchase decisions. Let's take a look at B2B e-Commerce, and how it's different from its B2C counterpart.

The B2B e-Commerce Buying Process

Unlike consumer purchasers, B2B buyers typically have purchasing products as part of their job responsibilities. Rather than a leisurely stroll down 5th Avenue on a Sunday afternoon, procurement is an important function that will either accelerate or impair your partner’s ability to generate revenue. In a first time order, products are purchased in bulk, commonly with a larger overall volume of each individual product and usually with a wider mix of categories in order to fill the display for a new addition. Often, B2B businesses will offer samples for first time buyers and choose to add these at the time of fulfillment. In a repeat or reorder scenario - there is an important emphasis placed on speed of execution, accuracy and expedited fulfilment as the buyer looks to replace an empty shelf as quickly as possible. For these reasons, B2B buying experiences need to allow users to easily add high volumes of quantities across multiple categories, break quantities down by multiple ship dates, and to quickly access order history and duplicate past orders in a reorder scenario. In both cases, the buyer is making an investment in your line and often taking significant inventory risk onto their balance sheet by choosing to do business with you. To aid the decision-making process, it’s important that brands provide specific, relevant content for B2B buyers.

B2B Specific Content

B2B buyers purchasing from you online typically need to educate their retail staff or sales representatives on the merits of your product and the retail unit economics (price, margin) of each SKU, so that they might effectively on-sell the product to others. Even if your buyers are purchasing your products as an input to their existing business, they need to be knowledgeable and conversant in the particular value your product delivers. As a supplier, it’s important that your retail training program is complemented by a self-serve library of product education resources like sell-sheets, training videos and merchandising guidelines. Not only does this help to minimize unnecessary customer service calls; better educated buyers have better sell-through rates and higher rates of customer retention.

Customer Access

A pretty major difference between publicly available B2C e-Commerce stores and a fully-functioning B2B e-Commerce portal is the level of access provided by default to a user on the manufacturer or distributor’s website. Typically, any anonymous buyer on the internet can access a B2C website and browse the selection and pricing, while B2B environments require validated identity and access requirements. In other words, they are “invite only.” The approval workflows required for a given B2B buyer to gain access to your store will always be somewhat unique to your business, but may include important requirements like credit checks, territory evaluation to avoid retailer/dealer territory conflict, minimum order volume agreements or other terms or conditions. While these common stipulations do cause somewhat of a new B2B customer registration bottleneck, the “always logged in” nature of B2B e-Commerce affords some great opportunities for very personalized and targeted marketing based on purchase history, behavioral triggers and more, since every interaction on the platform is tied very specifically to a unique, known account.

Customer-specific Pricing and Promotional Structure

Besides the initial customer “registration approval,” B2B e-Commerce sites require a login because of the importance of customer-specific pricing––often on a per-product basis––that needs to be correctly presented to a given buyer. Pricing terms are also commonly set on a per-account basis. Without this, buyer confidence is lost and the buyer will be forced resort to offline channels without the option of convenient online ordering. In B2B, “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” pricing tiers applied by customer group are so common as to be almost expected by buyers. Here’s an example of Typical “Tiered” Customer Group Pricing: Customer GroupList Price

DiscountWholesale Price

Gold $1 30% $0.70 Silver $1 20% $0.80 Bronze $1 10% $0.90   Some B2B businesses also choose to apply more complex pricing and eligibility for each individual product they sell, often based on an account’s past purchase history for that SKU. Here’s an example: Individual CustomerProduct SKU 001 Price

Product SKU 002 Price Customer A $1.05 $4.50 Customer B $0.98 $5.00 Customer C $1.03 $4.75   These pricing structures are not nearly so commonly afforded to consumers, and they’re usually unsupported or at least very difficult to manage on B2C e-Commerce platforms. There’s a host of other critical nuances that are mostly unique to the B2B purchasing use case:

  • Minimums and case packs
  • Complex product variant structures that are company or industry specific
  • MSRP and MAP information
  • Customer-specific payment ship method eligibility
  • Sales tax exemptions

At Handshake, we passionately believe that despite the nuances, there is an important overriding concern critical to both providing a great customer experiences for both B2B and B2C channels: a simple, beautiful and intuitive user interface. Make your site a joy to use, and good things will happen. We strive to power a superior customer experience using the best of modern web and mobile technologies, while tailoring the environment to the unique characteristics of B2B buying. What makes your B2B buyers unique from your consumer customers? What’s different about how you do business with them? In what ways are their expectations similar? Let us know in the comments.