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B2B vs. B2C Sales: The Key Features of B2B eCommerce

What‘s the difference between B2C eCommerce and B2B eCommerce? We explore the key features of B2B eCommerce software and why they matter.

B2C_B2B_Blog_Image.pngOver the last year, B2B eCommerce sales grew by 10%, and B2B sales on all digital channels, including eProcurement, hit $2.2 trillion. B2B eCommerce growth outpaced other segments of the economy, showing staggering increases from an unimpressive baseline just a decade ago.

Changing demographics and evolving technology are driving B2B eCommerce adoption. Most people working in procurement today are millennials who grew up alongside consumer eCommerce. They expect a self-serve experience, and B2B sellers are stepping up to meet those expectations. 

But consumer eCommerce systems don’t work for the B2B world, where sales relationships are more complex and long-lived, not to mention the much larger sums of money involved—orders worth millions of dollars are not unusual.  

B2B-focused eCommerce platforms like Adobe Commerce for B2B, Salesforce B2B Commerce Cloud and BigCommerce  entered the market in recent years to serve B2B sellers’ eCommerce needs. But what exactly does a B2B business need from an eCommerce platform, and how is B2B eCommerce different from B2C eCommerce? 

What is B2B eCommerce?

B2B means business to business, and it refers to companies that sell products and services to other companies.  B2B eCommerce encompasses the digital sales platforms and strategies used by B2B businesses.  

B2B stands in contrast to B2C, which means business to consumer, the familiar online retailer.  The B2B space is more complex because it includes organizations from different points in the supply chain ecosystem, from raw materials suppliers to manufacturers to distributors, all of which have sales models and business relationships that differ from each other and from B2C retail sales. Consequently, eCommerce platforms designed for B2C sales rarely satisfy the needs of B2B sellers. 

B2B vs B2C eCommerce: 5 Key Differences

We’ve seen that B2B businesses want something different from their eCommerce software, but how are those desires manifested in modern B2B eCommerce software ecosystems? Let’s explore some of the differences between B2B and B2C eCommerce. 

Flexible Payments

For the most part, B2C payments are straightforward. The consumer places an order and pays immediately by credit card in a unified on-site workflow. B2B payments are much more complex. Many sales relationships involve a line of credit with the ability to make partial payments. Payment workflows are based on invoices, which may be paid on a variable schedule, often with early payment discounts. Payment may be via credit card, but it might also be via a wire transfer or some other method. 

Modern B2B eCommerce platforms integrate functionality to give sellers the flexibility they need to build personalized payment plans for buyers. 

Information Transparency

When we buy from a consumer eCommerce store, we’re satisfied by basic product details and a delivery time. B2B buyers expect more detailed information. They may need to see detailed diagrams and manuals. Procurement professionals often want to know available quantities and precise delivery lead times, and they base purchasing decisions on extensive research and competitor comparisons. 

B2B buyers need all this information because supplier relationships and procurement are sources of risk. Consider the consequences if a manufacturing business has to shut down its factory and disappoint its customers because raw materials don’t arrive when expected. 

Complex Pricing and Quoting

B2C pricing rules don’t get much more complex than “buy one get one free.”  Everyone pays the same, and there is no room for negotiation. In contrast, universal pricing is rare among B2B sellers. Prices change depending on pre-negotiated contracts and quotes, order quantities, the length of the sales relationship, the buyer’s payment history,  whether they have committed to future purchases and in what volume, and more. 

B2B eCommerce applications must be able to support complex pricing situations. If they don’t, buyers will either fall back to more expensive traditional sales channels, or find a supplier that can meet their purchasing requirements. 

Long-Lasting Sales Relationships

B2B buyers typically prefer to build long-lasting relationships with suppliers and distributors. When they find a reliable seller, they stick with them, often for many years, because their business depends on predictability and consistency. Many stakeholders put a lot of time and energy into establishing B2B sales relationships, and they’re seen as long-term partnerships. 

B2B eCommerce platforms must enhance long-term relationships with features such as personalized price lists, easy bulk reordering, and flexible shipping arrangements.

Integration and Automation

Integration is where B2B eCommerce diverges most from B2C. Consumers have little need for integrated systems; they visit stores individually. At most, they take advantage of feed-driven aggregation platforms like Google Shopping to compare products from many sellers. 

In contrast, B2B buyers may make hundreds of orders from dozens of suppliers, all of which have to follow a rigorous approval system. To manage the complexity, they leverage eProcurement and enterprise resource planning software and rely on PunchOut catalogs and purchase order automation to streamline procurement. 

Automation requires integration to facilitate the exchange of data between buyer and seller platforms. Many B2B eCommerce platforms have some integration capability, but the lack of standardization across buyer platforms makes it challenging and expensive to offer integration to buyers using many different ERP and eProcurement systems. 

The PunchOut2Go Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) bridges the gap between buyer and seller systems. The iPaaS is a managed cloud service that provides platform-agnostic integration, connecting any eProcurement system to any eCommerce application. With the PunchOut2Go iPaaS, B2B eCommerce sellers can offer fast, inexpensive integration and automation to any buyer, including PunchOut catalogs, purchase order automation, electronic invoicing, eQuoting and more. 

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