The B2B eCommerce market is growing substantially, and may even reach $1.1 trillion in the next four years. Despite this, many companies may still be tempted to use a B2C platform to set up their store. After all, B2C eCommerce has been widespread for over a decade and is a much more visible presence than B2B. People everywhere are familiar with online retailers like Amazon, and thanks to eCommerce platforms like Shopify and Magento, companies and even individuals can easily and quickly build an online shop.
However, although they may have some similarities, B2B and B2C are actually quite different, especially when it comes to eCommerce. For this reason, B2B companies thinking about taking their business online should carefully consider which features they should borrow from B2C, as well as which they should not.
The Differences Between B2B and B2C eCommerce
The most basic distinction between B2B and B2C is to whom they are selling. While B2C consists of retailers selling directly to individual consumers, B2B may involve more complex relationships, like wholesalers and distributors, in addition to direct sales. Although the differences may seem unimportant, it carries significant consequences in terms of how each type of store is set up. Consider the following:
Whereas B2C stores usually have a large number of customers making small purchases, B2B stores often have fewer customers making larger purchases much more frequently. In fact, despite having fewer customers, online B2B sales are nearly double that of B2C. This means that it is extremely important for B2B stores to be familiar with their customers’ preferences, such as which products they most often order, where and how they want those products shipped, and how they like to pay.
It also means being aware of why they are making a purchase. In B2C, customers visit the store and make a purchase because they want to, while in B2B, they are often placing an order because it is part of their job. As such, B2B buyers prioritize the ability to find exactly what they want as quickly as possible, and do not want any of the frills and distractions common in online B2C stores.
In B2C, one customer is associated with one account. However, B2B customer accounts not only involve multiple individuals, but must also accommodate the more complex, multi-step approval process that many companies use. For example, they may have a buyer who organizes an order, then a manager who looks it over, edits it, then makes their final approval. They may even have another manager or executive who looks it over once more, as well as someone actually in charge of making the purchase.
Paying for a product in a B2C store is straightforward: a customer adds an item to their cart, then uses a credit card or service such as PayPal to immediately pay for it. In contrast, B2B stores must process payments much differently. Because their customers are regularly placing large orders, they often expect much more flexible payment terms. For instance, they may want to pay quarterly or even annually, or want individual product prices to be based off of the volume or frequency of their orders.
Dangers of Using a B2C eCommerce Platform for B2B
Despite these fundamental differences, many B2B companies may still consider using a B2C platform for their online store. This has become especially common due to the influence of B2C eCommerce. Even in B2B channels, buyers now expect a B2C-like experience. This includes offering an improved customer experience, which may mean providing buyers with more product photos, customer reviews, and access to support, as well as making it possible to make purchases across different channels, such as mobile.
However, there are numerous dangers in trying to use a B2C platform for your B2B store:
Although many B2B buyers may now want a B2C-like experience, they also still expect the basic B2B store features discussed above. In order to do this with a B2C eCommerce platform, extensive customizations will be required. This is not always easy or even possible. Businesses that go this path should expect to invest a lot of time and money trying to convert the platform to the requirements needed for B2B.
The high cost of adapting a B2C platform for a B2B store do not end once it is set up. Heavy customizations rarely turn out as planned, meaning they will require continual maintenance just to keep working. This can get especially complicated for businesses that want to make changes to their store, such as expanding their product offerings or localizing their content. In some cases, this may require a full-time employee just to make sure everything works.
Upgrades and Compatibility
Related to the point above, both eCommerce platforms and the software that they integrate with (such as CRM and ERP systems) often require regular updates. For companies that have altered their eCommerce platform, this can quickly become burdensome, as their software will be more out of date with every new release. The result of this will either be more costly and time-consuming modifications or just an incompatible platform.
What to Look for in a B2B eCommerce Platform
Due to the challenges of adapting a B2C eCommerce platform for their complex needs, B2B businesses should instead consider using a platform designed specifically for them. What would such a platform look like? Businesses should look out for the following features:
B2B Functionality From the Ground Up
Most importantly, a B2B eCommerce platform needs to be built with the requirements of B2B wholesalers in mind. This means that it will come with customizable catalogs, flexible payment systems, support for multi-step ordering processes, the ability to make quick bulk selections and view inventory levels, and all the other features necessary to B2B. Any eCommerce platform that has not been created from the ground up for B2B will likely not be able to offer a comprehensive, out-of-the-box solution.
In order to truly meet the complex needs of today’s B2B eCommerce, a quality platform should also be able to automatically integrate with a variety of other applications. These include CRM and ERP systems, Product Information Management tools, marketing applications, and more. This will allow businesses to keep track of customer behavior and gain insight into their store’s performance, as well as design marketing campaigns to increase sales.
B2B businesses come in a variety of types and sizes: A wholesaler that sells expensive medical equipment to health care organizations will have much different needs than one that sells sporting equipment to a handful of retailers. This is why it is essential for a B2B eCommerce platform to be flexible, scalable, and completely customizable. Regardless of the business’s function, the platform should be able to mold to their specific processes and requirements.
Delivers a B2C Experience
Finally, although they have their differences, a proper B2B eCommerce platform should still adopt many of B2C’s best practices. These include native CMS capabilities, catalogs rich with photos and other digital media, extensive product information pages, multi-channel support, and a user-friendly front-end design. However, none of this should come at the expense of B2B functionality.
Put simply, the requirements of B2B eCommerce make using a B2C platform too expensive and time-consuming to be a viable alternative. Instead, B2B businesses need to look for a solution that is built to accommodate their unique sales processes, operations, and various other needs. It should also be able to easily grow and adapt with their business, and work seamlessly with other applications. Although certain aspects of B2C eCommerce platforms can still be beneficial, they will never fully meet the complex needs of B2B.
About Oro Inc.
Oro, founded in 2012 by industry leaders in open-source business application development, is the company behind the suite of products including OroCRM, OroCommerce and OroPlatform. Prior to founding Oro, the founding and senior leadership team helped lead Magento’s success and have an extensive history in e-Commerce technology.
Oro’s founding team consists of Yoav Kutner, Co-Founder and former CTO of Magento, Jary Carter, former VP of Sales and Channel of Magento, and Dima Soroka, former Lead Architect for Magento. Roy Rubin, Co-Founder and former CEO of Magento, has also joined the Oro team as an advisor. Through many years of experience in commerce and CRM, Oro are committed to delivering innovative solutions that will further disrupt customer experience.
For further information, visit www.orocrm.com.