B2B vs B2C E-Commerce: Why Using a B2C E-Commerce Platform for B2B is a Bad Idea

Monica Orrigo
August 20, 2018

B2B vs B2C E-Commerce. We've talked a little bit about the differences between the two, and you’ve seen the headlines and read the articles. You know that B2B E-Commerce is kind of a big deal—a development that can transform an industry, fundamentally shift customer expectations, and decide who wins and who loses after the dust clears.

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone who’s bought something on Amazon lately. Online shopping has changed the way people buy, and those B2C habits are finally moving into the B2B market. At this point, you’re realizing that it’s time for your wholesale business to get on the B2B E-Commerce bandwagon, and you’re thinking about how you’re going to accomplish just that.

You may already have a B2C online store where you can take direct-to-consumer orders, but how are you going to set up a store that your retailers can go to? More importantly, what kinds of features will you need in order to accommodate those orders?

When faced with this dilemma, many wholesalers first turn to E-Commerce platforms like Shopify or Magento, which seem to offer a great set of customization options. But the fact is, these platforms aren’t prepared to handle the B2B load.

Let’s take a look at why that is, and what an e-commerce solution that was purpose-built for B2B looks like.

B2B vs B2C E-Commerce: Why B2C E-Commerce Solutions Can’t Accommodate Complex B2B Transactions

For platforms like Shopify or Magento that were built for B2C online shopping, the prospect of handling B2B transactions is a major stretch. Functionalities critical to the B2B sales process, like customer-specific pricing, complex payment terms, product exclusions, and rep-review-workflows simply don’t exist on these kinds of platforms. The only way to get access to these features would be a lot of expensive, custom programming.

Consider this analogy. You need a competitive racecar that will hold its own with the best racecars out on the track. Sure, you could Frankenstein a car by going out and buying a Honda Civic, purchasing a bunch of expensive racing components, and taking the time to replace the engine, shocks, tires, and brakes with the parts you think you need. Or you could just buy a Ferrari and know that you have a car that was made for racing.

If having programmers on staff is required to get a B2C e-Commerce platform to function like a B2B online store, it’s also critical to remember that such projects rarely ever go as planned. Some businesses choose to hire offshore developers to save on the costs of implementation, but this approach can often lead to frustration and miscommunication.

There’s also the issue of upgrades. The more modifications you make to try and adapt a B2C e-commerce platform for B2B, the more incompatible your version of the software (be it Magento, Shopify, or any other B2C platform) becomes with new release or update.

This can lead to two different scenarios:

  1. You need to dump even more money and resources into making your B2B modifications work for each new software release.
  2. You stick with the old version, and your B2B portal never changes or evolves.

This way of doing this is very similar to purchasing on-premise software as opposed to a SaaS solution—you’re responsible for ongoing maintenance and updates, leading to higher costs and fewer improvements over time.

What a Purpose-Built B2B E-Commerce Platform Looks Like

A platform that was made for B2B transactions will be able to handle the complexities of wholesale sales right out of the box. Customers should be able to log in and see a custom catalog with products and pricing that apply to them. They should have the ability to see inventory levels and make quick bulk selections across a wide range of categories and product variants.

The platform should be able to accommodate wholesalers selling multiple manufacturers, be able to break quantities down by multiple ship dates, and allow customers to quickly access their order history and place reorders––some of which may be hundreds of line items long––by simply duplicating and adjusting past orders. It should also include a resources library where customers can get access to product training videos, merchandising guidelines, and wholesale marketing promotions.

On the backend, a purpose-built B2B e-commerce portal should be able to integrate with an ERP or other back office system.

To borrow from our recent post that deals in a bit more detail with the differences between B2B and B2C commerce, other B2B nuances include:

  • 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

In short, wholesale sales involves a very complex process with workflows that are often different from company to company. These businesses need a B2B eCommerce portal that can accommodate these complexities, be flexible enough to customize to the unique needs of your business, and continue to scale as your business grows.

Does it sound like we're speaking to you? Request a demo of our B2B E-Commerce software today and find out what you're missing.