B2B eCommerce in the Age of B2C eCommerce

Alright, we get it – B2C eCommerce is a must these days to remain competitive in the marketplace.  But what about B2B eCommerce?

More and more wholesale distribution businesses are implementing B2B eCommerce sites – also known as online order portals – to give their customers and sales reps access to inventory and pricing information and to allow them to place orders 24/7.

Unlike B2C eCommerce though, the majority of B2B businesses are not online ordering product at 2 am.  Instead, the benefits of access to online shopping are that it provides businesses another sales channel for customers to order through – giving customers more ownership of the ordering process without the need to hire additional staff to manage the channel in-house.  It also makes sense for companies where employees and sales reps travel frequently, work from home or remote offices and need the ability to place orders on the road or at tradeshows.

For B2B websites, the site can be set-up to act as a business’s primary and only website. Information about the company is displayed across a variety of pages, however, the main difference with B2B eCommerce is that visitors must first create an account to access certain information online and actually place an order. A business can choose to allow visitors to browse product with or without a login.

Alternatively, B2B eCommerce can be set-up where the company already has an existing website in place. In this situation, the online order portal hides behind a login link that is a part of the main website’s infrastructure. In some cases, this option is best as it allows a business to sell both B2C and B2B – where the former does not require a visitor to already have an account set up with the company.

Whichever way a company sets up their B2B and B2C eCommerce sites, it's important that both fully integrate with back-end inventory and accounting systems for inventory management and order processing. This ensures inventory information such as quantities, pricing, descriptions, and images, as well as account and shipping information is accurate and up-to-date across all sales channels.

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Other important differentiators between B2B and B2C eCommerce stem from the unique processes of each business model. A typical B2B site focuses the experience on managing relationships with existing customers.  Visitors can login online to view a personalized eCommerce site where customer specific pricing, inventory, past sales orders and statements are available.  Customers will have an existing relationship with the vendor and therefore will have negotiated specific pricing and terms.  With B2C sites, pricing and inventory information tend to be the same for all customers, and new visitors can easily place orders.  With B2C eCommerce it is imperative that customers know what product is available online and visitors expect their order to ship soon after it has been placed. With B2B on the other hand, this process is not as important.  From a business standpoint, there are differing opinions on whether or not to show available inventory at all and the compromise is to show available or not – as opposed to an actual count of items.  This allows a business to fulfill orders for customers based on priority, as opposed to when the order was actually placed. In addition, creating a backorder for items not on hand is much more acceptable and even expected with B2B orders – where you have a relationship with the supplier and have negotiated a good price.  With B2C if a consumer cannot find what they are looking for from your website, there is a good chance they can order from another company just as easily.

As more and more B2B businesses start to sell product online, features previously only associated with B2C eCommerce are becoming available.  Examples include:

The ability to find a retailer near you.  This feature gives visitors the option to pick up product from a nearby store location or alternatively visit the store to see the product in person before deciding to purchase. It also helps businesses make decisions about what inventory to stock based on who else is selling it in their area.

Customer specific accounts.  For B2C eCommerce, new visitors can easily create an account to purchase product and some sites allow visitors to purchase as a guest. If a visitor creates an account, this experience can then be personalized to the visitor to show them product they may be interested in based on past orders, or new items available.  This also provides sites the opportunity to offer discounts and promotions.  With B2B eCommerce, since each customer will already have their own account set-up, the information they see can also be customized to meet their needs. Aside from customer specific pricing, statements and inventory, B2B sites can also suggest new products, show discounts, and promotions and make recommendations based on past orders.

Other features include:

  • Shopping lists
  • Promotional lists
  • Search by brand/vendor/category
  • Ability to highlight “new” products under each category/brand/vendor
  • Image gallery – can show multiple images per item