Originally published April 16, 2019, updated February 10, 2021
To truly understand the differences between B2C vs B2B eCommerce, you need to first understand who you are selling to. Unlike consumers, B2B customers use a more complex B2B buying process. They make purchases for different reasons, their buying behavior is driven by different motivators, and their customer expectations are quite unique. In this article, we explain how to decipher the differences between B2B vs B2C eCommerce and cater to the needs of your actual customer.
Human Emotions and the Customer Experience
A consumers’ purchasing behavior is often dictated by the emotional appeal of a product incited by vivid commercials, attractive discounts, or previous emotional connections with the brand. This is in stark contrast with business customers’ purchases, which are typically well-planned, calculated, and driven by the actual product’s value. Because B2B customers are such pragmatic buyers who spend a lot of time on product research and cost-benefit analyses, it is crucial to provide them with in-depth product information.
This includes an advanced search engine, AI powered eCommerce, suggestions, filtering as well as comprehensive product descriptions, marketing sheets, and videos on product pages. Product information management and mobile experience are two prominent technologies that can help you further improve your B2B eCommerce content development and representation. Having said that, let’s jump into the 6 key differences between B2B and B2C customers in eCommerce:
Differences Between B2B vs B2C Customers in eCommerce
Just as there are some major differences between the two business systems, there are also differences in purchase processes and behaviors undertaken by B2B vs B2C customers. Here are some of them:
Buying Impulse vs Rationality
The B2C purchase cycle is short and transactions tend to be stand-alone, not to occur again. That’s because B2C customers are usually fickle and react favorably to expensive marketing campaigns that drive them back to purchase again. They are less patient, are apt to comparison shop, and look for incentives such as free shipping to justify purchasing something. In contrast, B2B buyers run complex operations with interconnected systems that require a permanent lifeline to their B2B supplier.
For example, if you are looking to place a bulk order on company uniforms for your staff, you know you will need to replace them outright in two to three years’ time. For other products, you may want to create an ongoing purchase agreement to buy a certain volume of items each year. Aside from a sense of security for the seller, such agreements can empower the buyer in asking for a larger discount or negotiating a custom price for the order.
Single vs Multiple Decision-Makers
Unlike B2C consumers, who are individual buyers typically making purchase decisions independently, B2B clients are often involved in a more complex buying process with multiple stakeholders. For example, a group engaged in a B2B decision-making process can consist of a budget approver, a researcher collecting the information about the product, a point of contact, and an end user. Because there are so many parties involved in the buying decision in B2B, it is important to facilitate all specific workflows and provide the necessary information required by different stakeholders.
For example, if you’re selling some machinery to a car manufacturer, make sure to include specifications and certificates that best showcase your products in front of the customer’s technical team. The person in charge of finance will appreciate your flexible payment terms, and the main point of contact will be happy to have 24/7 support. The only way to secure a deal is to make sure that the whole decision-making group is comfortable with the solution you offer.
Short-Term vs Long-Term Relationships
B2B customers are keen on building long-term relations and partnerships, which is quite different from B2C shoppers who tend to buy products spontaneously. Finding a trustworthy supplier allows B2B customers to speed up and simplify repeat purchases, which are very common in B2B. To foster such win-win long-term partnerships, B2B sellers must strive to create a personalized environment for their clients, including personalized price lists, product catalogs, exclusive payment and shipping conditions.
This should be followed by a customizable checkout process, which increases the chances of repeat purchases. Promoting long-term relations with your permanent business customers becomes much easier once you have an eCommerce-compatible CRM system in place. In close integration with your B2B eCommerce platform, it will enable you to manage all customer interaction channels, run campaigns, and tap into actionable customer behavior data.
Fixed vs Personalized Prices
B2C consumers usually make orders at a set price that’s the same for all buyers. However, this is not the case for B2B eCommerce. In the B2B segment, there’s no universal pricing as the prices may fluctuate depending on a customer, their location, negotiated contracts, relationship history between the companies, and other factors. B2B clients expect customer-specific product discounts for their specific company. This information must be instantly available to your business clients once they’re logged in to the eCommerce store.
Furthermore, businesses may have different divisions, branches or departments that can require staff members within these structures have separate access permissions in your eCommerce store, too.
Direct vs Post-Delivery Payments
To complete an order, B2C consumers typically pay with a standard form of payment, such as cash, credit or debit cards. In B2B, order payments are routinely made on a line of credit, or invoices, because business customers often make multiple purchases within a short period of time. So, instead of paying for every single order that has been placed, B2B buyers get an invoice or a monthly bill for all their purchases. Also, unlike B2C, B2B customers may expect different payment terms that vary from client to client (e.g. net 30, 60, or 90).
If you are in B2B, make sure your eCommerce webstore supports all of the required payment options and be sure your accounting system can properly keep track of varying conditions for each client.
Quick vs On-Time Deliveries
B2C consumers are concerned about the speed of delivery of their orders more than anything else. B2B buyers see it differently. Their purchases (and delivery schedules) are usually set to meet their ongoing operational and production needs, which is why they care about predictability more than speed. This is perhaps the main reason why B2B customers seek long-term, reliable partnerships. Delivery delays may lock production, disrupt supply chain operations, and inflict reputational losses on your client’s company.
That’s why B2B sellers need to invest in efficient delivery and warehouse management capabilities as well as keep their eCommerce system and ERP in sync to avoid data inconsistencies or inventory issues.
An online buying process in B2B is different from B2C due to its complexity, scope, and personalization. B2B customers can’t be treated as retail shoppers. Focusing on their unique needs will help you position yourself as a future-proof partner, online CX leader, and a B2B eCommerce success company.
Differences Between B2B vs B2C eCommerce
While there are many things B2B eCommerce vendors are looking to copy from the B2C world – and understandably so – it is important to keep in mind how different the customer is and approach these two segments accordingly.
What sets B2B and B2C eCommerce apart
Despite the feats of customization and adaptation in some cases, B2C-oriented eCommerce software simply doesn’t have the capabilities to accommodate all of the processes and complex transactions integral in B2B. An eCommerce platform specifically designed for B2B provides the majority of necessary features out of the box and radically simplifies a B2B customer’s buying journey, for example:
- Allows managing complex business structures, corporate accounts, and relationships between them
- Enables B2B merchants and authorized buyers to manage user access to sales-related data, such as price lists or product catalogs
- Allows managing multiple businesses, websites, and stores from a single administrator’s console
- Provides a built-in content management system that helps maintain, customize, and display different content to different audiences
- Accommodates parallel or overlapping product catalogs, personalization of price lists, discounts and shopping lists
- Enables B2B buyers to easily create and submit order forms, purchase orders, or requests for quotes (RFQs) as well as receive corresponding information and documents from the seller
How B2B and B2C buyers differ
As mentioned before, the biggest difference between a B2C and B2B is the customer. Both of these customer types have separate needs, wants and the way they go about purchasing a product.
|B2C Buyers||B2B Buyers|
|Make buying decisions individually or for another person.||Make buying decisions with many, that affect many. Have multiple contact points within the company.|
|One-off transactions and short-term relationships||Lengthy relationships mean providing ongoing support|
|Large customer bases with broad marketing messages||Smaller lead pools mean more defined marketing and accounts to sell to|
|Small, one-time purchases||Purchases can be in the millions of dollars drawn out over time|
Some Similarities in B2C and B2B eCommerce
While there are some glaring differences between the two, B2B and B2C eCommerce are not polar opposites of each other. Some of the similarities include:
- They both involve selling to living, breathing people who have wants, needs, desires, and emotional connections to positive experiences
- They are both being disrupted by technology and demand convenient self-service, mobile and omnichannel shopping experiences
- They both depend on great customer service and through-out marketing strategy as a prerequisite for continued, long-term success
Digital B2B companies that incorporate a B2B eCommerce solution among their existing business systems can target their customers more effectively and take full advantage of a rapidly growing B2B eCommerce market.
Seeing Through a B2B Customer’s Eyes
The phrase “the customer is always right” originated in B2C retail to highlight the importance of the end-user. The same rings true in B2B because a business customer’s demands tend to reflect a business problem or pain point critical to business success. In addition, none of the two B2B buyers are the same. That’s why the effective adoption of B2B vs B2C eCommerce starts from understanding the fundamental needs of a B2B buyer and how to personalize their experience. From here you may go on to face new challenges, such as marketing for B2B eCommerce or how to deliver omnichannel customer experiences. But make sure you always look through a B2B customer’s eyes.