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What B2B ecommerce has to learn from B2C

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The key difference between B2B and B2C ecommerce arise from activity in the sales funnel that precedes the decision to purchase.

Most B2B purchases are repeat ones, more likely to be made through pre-existing customer accounts and are often made on credit. On the other hand, B2C buyers are less loyal and have less of a relationship with their retailers. This means that they are more likely to be visiting a website for the first time. This, in turn, makes online marketing a huge opportunity.

Most B2B orders have as a starting point: “I want to order product X from supplier Y”. In contrast, most B2C orders start with “I want something like Z, I wonder where I can find it and exactly what I need?” It’s online B2C marketing which turns that intention into an order.

B2B may involve the discovery of potential suppliers online, but there is a much higher chance that there will be a long and sophisticated buying cycle involved, including a significant part conducted offline by phone.

So, B2C ecommerce web sites have an opportunity to generate new sales quickly, which is much less significant for B2B sites.

Retailers will typically repeat buy their stock from their wholesalers, not looking around before every order. Providing an extreme example, a buyer of oil tankers won’t search online, discover a new tanker and place an online order in quick succession.

The benefits of ecommerce for B2B

The major benefit of B2B ecommerce for buyers is the 24/7 convenience of ordering, the visible stock availability (without having to make a phone call) and up-to-date order status. This all reduces costs for the supplier as there are less phone calls and online orders are cheaper to process.

As a result, both sides gain. But it’s important to realise that these benefits are at their most powerful for low value orders where the cost of processing and tracking orders is high relative to the price of the order. Answering queries about £10k orders has a much lower relative cost than answering queries about £50 orders.

Low value orders are less common with B2B, so B2C sites typically see more benefit from web ordering.

No stopping the tide

There is, however, another factor. Most trade buyers are also consumers. That means that they are also online B2C consumers. It’s only human nature that they expect at least the same level of service in their professional lives as their personal ones.

Sure, B2B sites have lagged the market. It’s also true that there are benefits from online ordering for B2B websites, although these are sometimes limited. But expectations are powerful things. Already, B2B ecommerce is moving online. It’s highly likely that online ordering, along with online order tracking, will become a vital part of selling B2B in the future, if only to meet these expectations, and whatever the cost to the supplier.

Chris Barling is co-founder and chairman of ecommerce software and EPOS systems specialist of SellerDeck.

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