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What is B2B eCommerce and how does it work?
Your Guide to B2B eCommerce

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Digital commerce is growing rapidly, and is expanding into numerous channels, devices, industries, and markets. However, when we think of eCommerce, we often have B2C transactions in mind. That is, businesses selling to the general public or consumers. B2B eCommerce, on the other hand, involves business-to-business transactions, and must take into account interests and requirements of business customers.

If you’ve ever wondered what B2B eCommerce is and the meaning, trends, types, and tools behind the name, you’ve come to the right place.

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1. What is B2B eCommerce? A Definition

The simple definition of B2B eCommerce is an online transaction where both parties involved are businesses. In other words, a company selling products or services to another company – that is, its customer – would be partaking in a B2B transaction. Like every other business out there, B2B businesses come in many different shapes, sizes, and levels of complexity. They can span multiple business models and sectors, ranging from services such as accounting, legal, digital, to physical products like machinery, equipment, consumer goods, and so on.

While we shop online as consumers, many of us are not aware that the global business-to-business digital commerce market is valued at a whopping 6 times that of the B2C market. This number is projected to grow as more and more business buyers congregate online – looking for speed, convenience, and easy purchasing experiences. This will push traditionally offline business sellers to set up shop online, driving up the demand for B2B-focused eCommerce platforms.

  • Value of B2B commerce market vs B2C
  • B2B eCommerce market value in the US
  • B2B eCommerce annual growth rate
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Value of B2B commerce market vs B2C

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B2B eCommerce market value in the US

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B2B eCommerce annual growth rate

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2. What are some B2B eCommerce trends?

Year over year, eCommerce trends tend to circle around the customer experience, convenience and self-service. However, as technology gets smarter and more sophisticated, it will play an increasingly bigger role in business-to-business commerce. Here are some of the trends to expect in the next 5 to 10 years.

PERSONALIZATION

PERSONALIZATION

Customers - even business customers - have needs, wants, and desires, including the affinity to personalization. At the same time, B2B buyers have far more requirements. They employ multiple stakeholders, deal with longer sales cycles, and in general require more complicated personalization - and that’s not going away.

OMNICHANNEL

OMNICHANNEL

As consumers, most of us already switch between offline stores and online shopping. Whether we’re using mobile apps, mobile websites, or visit in-person, we expect brands to have the same experience every step of the way. B2B buyers are no different, expecting omnichannel experiences throughout their long buying journeys.

MOBILE-GROWTH

MOBILE GROWTH

Mobile web traffic is doubling every five years and B2B is no exception. As mobile-dependent millennials move into managerial positions, mobile usage of B2B buyers is projected to increase dramatically in the near future. With that, so will B2B sellers, looking to gather high-value leads and engage with opportunities.

DATA-ANALYTICS

DATA ANALYTICS

The reliance on data and analytics will drive the overall future shopping experience, loyalty programs and payments. As customer demands change, the reliance on demographics, location, and customers situational data to make the best marketing decisions will be utilized, too.

CONVERSATIONAL-COMMERCE

CONVERSATIONAL COMMERCE

With one in six US adults owning a voice-activated device, voice searching, ordering, and confirmation is already gaining momentum. This represents an opportunity for newcomers - previously offline sellers - and existing sellers to improve customer experience with repetitive ordering.

VR

VR AND AR

VR (virtual reality experiences) and AR (augmented reality) have the possibility to make inroads where immersive experiences matter. Some B2B sellers will need to allow buyers to virtually try out and confirm complex products such as replacement parts or custom designs.

AI-AND-IOT

AI AND IOT

The impact of AI and IoT on B2B eCommerce can not be overstated. Everyone involved in the process - from suppliers, managers, marketers, sales reps to customers - can benefit from a more accurate prediction of their desired outcomes, and receive recommendations with the right course of action.

Progressive-Web-Apps

PWA

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), in comparison with mobile apps developed for Android or Apple, operate directly out of the web browser. This trend is gaining momentum not only with web services, but eCommerce in particular. Storefronts with PWA enabled technology are more accessible, convenient, thus able to drive sales.

3. What are the differences Between B2B and B2C?

In order to understand what sets B2B apart from B2C, we need to consider who exactly it is we’re selling to. B2C sellers (think Nordstrom, Walmart, and so on) target the general public, so their online experience usually mimics the in-store experience.

B2B sellers, by comparison, don’t follow the same linear path. That’s because B2B customers can span different industries and verticals, all having different needs and buying processes. A single medical supplies distributor can sell to labs, private clinics, or publicly funded hospitals. Similarly, a forklift parts manufacturer can sell to a B2C retailer and a distributor, who then sells to an equipment rental company.

There are many similarities between B2C and B2B buyers, such as the desire for personalization, convenience, and mobility across channels. Both customer types are being disrupted by experience-shaping trends in fulfillment, shipping, payments, and other technological advances.

Here’s how B2B eCommerce stands apart from its B2C counterpart:

More formal relationships

Business deals between organizations are more than just one-time transactions: they are long-term partnerships. While consumers typically look for products to fulfill their immediate need, businesses help other businesses succeed. And, since businesses are interconnected and interdependent on one another, they help each other generate more revenue.

Let’s consider a fulfillment center that is looking to purchase uniforms for their warehouse staff. They know the usable life of an article of clothing is about two years. They want to negotiate a good price with their supplier today, as they plan on purchasing from the same supplier for the next five years.

more-formal-relationships
longer-buying-cycles

Longer buying cycles

Business-to-business transactions are more complex and time-consuming, which is in contrast with B2C eCommerce, where shoppers purchase spontaneously. B2B sellers deal with smaller lead pools, and more contracts, quotes, and purchase order. Businesses look to find trustworthy suppliers to maintain continuity and to simplify purchases to their own customers.

Let’s consider a factory that needs to maintain their machinery on the assembly line. The parts manufacturer recommends the part be replaced every 500 hours of service, so a purchase agreement is created with a supplier to buy a number of parts every year. Such agreements provide an added sense of security for the buyer.

Personalized products and prices

While personalization is a nice-to-have in B2C, it’s a must-have for B2Bs for smooth operations. Business buyers depend on personalized product catalogs and price lists, custom quote and contract negotiation processes, and the right payment and shipping options. They also expect specific product discounts for their company.

Unlike B2C sellers, some B2B sellers need to set prices based on external factors. For example, a distributor starts off with a price dictated by the manufacturer, and then dynamically adjusts prices they set for distributors, wholesalers, and retailers based on their location, volumes and other pre-negotiated criteria.

Personalized-products-and-prices
Multiple-decision-makers

Multiple decision-makers

While B2C customers are individual buyers that make independent, one-time purchase decisions, that’s not the case with B2B. Business clients deal with larger order values, which lends to the participation of numerous stakeholders, approvals processes, and specific workflows. As a result, B2B sellers require specific workflows as required by all stakeholders.

Let’s consider who is involved in a typical B2B purchase decision. It can start with a CFO who approves the budget, a researcher collecting information, a manager who is a point of contact, and finally, a B2B customer. All of them require a specific workflow that accommodates their information needs and its delivery.

Corporate accounts and roles

Unlike B2C, B2B customers purchasing from a single seller may be completely different. For example, many large businesses consist of different departments, all operating within their own siloed processes. B2B sellers require the same flexibility: their own businesses are split up into different brands and websites – all of which demand a powerful, B2B-specific online store.

Let’s consider a business with orders that vary in quantity and value. They have a junior buyer, who can approve purchases, but up to a certain amount. If an order increases a certain specified limit, they would like an approval request to be sent to a higher-up within their company.

Corporate-accounts-and-roles
Complex-payment-options

Complex payment options

As consumers, we usually pay with a credit card, and wait for the item to arrive. For businesses, payment can be made on a line of credit, transfers, or via invoices. That’s not all. Invoicing and payment terms can be different based on customer, order size, order value, and number of orders over time.

Business buyers may have specific terms that anyone who wishes to work with them must accept. Let’s consider a supplier that has a longstanding tradition of net 30 payment terms. If a business customer requires net 90 terms, they may have to go somewhere else for their purchase.

4. What are the benefits of B2B eCommerce?

B2B eCommerce does more than allow businesses to move online and offer their products to a larger pool of customers. It helps pave the way to new markets, improve staff productivity, and get existing customers to purchase more. B2B businesses with eCommerce capabilities also outperform their peers in efficiency, demand more from their suppliers, and leverage real data to drive business decisions that help them stay competitive.

B2B eCommerce lowers costs, improves operations and internal processes

OMNICHANNEL
Sell over multiple channels
and sites

The move towards digital means that having easily discoverable, SEO friendly, and complete, mobile-ready experiences is the bare minimum. Many B2B businesses plan to expand to new markets, launch new branded websites in different languages, currencies and location-specific ordering options.

cyber-security
Personalize website
experiences

Business customers expect seamless ordering with personalized self-service portals with their own catalogs, pricing, and shipping options. For multiple stakeholders within organizations, access-based restrictions help speed up ordering cycles, processing, improve satisfaction, and revenue.

automation
Increase efficiency through
automation

Most eCommerce sales reps spend time on locating and entering data rather than selling. Thus, they neglect top accounts and hot leads. Plus, by digitizing internal processes such as pricing, ordering and checkout, there are less opportunities for mistakes.

research
Grow sales with ordering
workflows

B2B eCommerce reduces errors by automating document handling, agreements and checkout processes according to every customer. This simplifies the needs of B2B customers while reducing human errors that could potentially result in lost deals.

B2B eCommerce helps scale and future-proof your business

Keep opportunities open and pivot faster
Keep opportunities open and
pivot faster

By laying the groundwork for all possible business models and markets such as B2B2C, D2C, and marketplaces, you can quickly switch resources and capabilities to underserved areas without compromising your core business.

Build a business that stands the test of time
Build a business that stands
the test of time

The right B2B eCommerce tools will allow you to scale without worrying about performance issues or needing to replatform in the future. This saves time, money, and focuses much-needed resources towards growing your business.

Centralize data withintegrations
Centralize data with integrations

Your B2B eCommerce API has the potential to take down silos, improve internal communication, and help you act on data quickly. Look for accurate B2B eCommerce sync between your ERP, WHMS, CRM and PIM systems.

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5. What businesses does B2B eCommerce help?

Globally, the B2B eCommerce market is by far the largest and fastest-growing eCommerce market. It covers distributors, manufacturers, and wholesalers across all types of verticals. These include agriculture, automotive, construction, consumer packaged goods, energy, fashion, food and beverage, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. Whatever business you’re in, and if you’re providing goods and services to resellers, B2B eCommerce can help.

Manufacturers
Manufacturers

Manufacturers must deal with various suppliers and stakeholders at the same time, which is time consuming and requires a lots of manual data input. With B2B eCommerce, they can connect their ERP to monitor inventory and forecasting, create client portals, or sell D2C, reducing the cost and maximizing the value of every transaction.

distributor
Distributors

Today’s wholesalers work with distributors, resellers, retailers, and operate across multiple marketplaces. As a result, they need B2B eCommerce to accommodate up channel and down channel participants. B2B eCommerce APIs allow wholesalers to synchronize data from multiple ERP systems across multiple selling channels while offering personalized experiences to customers.

Wholesalers
Wholesalers

Today’s wholesalers work with distributors, resellers, retailers, and operate across multiple marketplaces. As a result, they need B2B eCommerce to accommodate up channel and down channel participants. B2B eCommerce APIs allow wholesalers to synchronize data from multiple ERP systems across multiple selling channels while offering personalized experiences to customers.

B2M Brands
B2M Brands

Brands relying on many selling models in parallel, such as B2C, B2B, B2B2B and B2B2C (business to many) require separate, branded websites. Additional requirements include support for multiple sites, organizations, languages and currencies under one roof. B2B eCommerce allows B2Ms to sell to multiple customers types through advanced customer groups and pricing workflows.

D2C Brands
D2C Brands

In order to consolidate their branding, build a community and better sell to their target market, many brands choose to sell D2C or directly to customers. Since D2C websites act as a marketing, resource, and shopping destination, D2Cs require flexible B2B eCommerce options such as rich product content, streamlined checkouts, and a personalized product, discount, and pricing options.

Multi-channel Brands
Multi-channel Brands

Today’s brands don’t just rely on their eCommerce website to generate sales. Customers increasingly are relying on Google which pulls up various destination sites, marketplaces, and comparison sites. Brands need B2B eCommerce to unify their presence, offer links and pull up reviews, and target marketing initiatives to their multichannels - all the while driving traffic towards their websites.

6. Who needs B2B eCommerce in the organization?

An online selling strategy can offer numerous benefits and offer unique value to various roles within medium to large B2B businesses. Here are some workflow and productivity improvements members within a typical organization can expect to see:

Who needs B2B eCommerce in the organization?
  • Executive leadership

    The executive team must have an accurate bird’s eye view of their B2B eCommerce operations. With newfound data, they’ll be in a better position to capitalize on opportunities to grow and increase their bottom line. In the short term, managers can expect to see better reporting, data management, and visibility into KPIs.

  • CMOs and marketing executives

    The marketing team has a powerful channel for attracting customers and gathering leads. In fact, many internet-only sellers rely on their B2B eCommerce website for all marketing activities. That’s because it’s a marketing hub for managing content, catalog, promotions, and pricing - all of which offer considerable freedom to the marketing team.

  • VP sales and sales executives

    The sales team makes use of customer-specific data a B2B eCommerce platform can feed into the CRM. Sales gain a new level of visibility into customer activity via the dashboard and reporting engine, while minimizing manual data entry and routine sales tasks. Keeping contacts and leads in one place also helps them forecast the pipeline more accurately.

  • CTOs and IT

    CTOs appreciate flexibility in deploying and customizing their B2B eCommerce systems. For example, enterprise-level open source architecture and front- or back- end APIs offer endless customization. It’s also possible to implement PWAs and integrate business systems, especially as requirements change.

7. What types of B2B eCommerce are there?

Just as there are many types of businesses and entities, there are many different eCommerce models used. The model right for you might depend on your business type, what you sell, your growth plans, and lastly, your geographic location. For example, if you offer maintenance services to local businesses, you might be limited to one geographic location. If you sell hospitality supplies, you might be serving a national customer base. Conversely, if you sell marketing automation software, customers can span across the globe.

It’s important to note that even relatively simple business-to-business commerce models can include other, lesser-known models:

b2b2b

B2B2B eCommerce

The B2B2B (business to business to business) eCommerce model adds additional links in the B2B chain. For example, while a typical B2B product journey could involve a manufacturer and a retailer, a B2B2B model can involve a manufacturer, distributor, sub-distributor, wholesaler, and so on.

b2b2c

B2B2C eCommerce

The B2B2C (business to business to customer) eCommerce model merges together B2B and B2C, allowing a B2B business to establish a secure link to the end-customer. This allows the B2B seller to make use of downstream customer data to better direct promotions that target end-customers.

D2C

D2C eCommerce

The D2C (direct to customer) eCommerce model bypasses the B2B model, allowing traditional B2B business to sell directly to the consumer. This helps the B2B seller to gain larger market share, brand awareness and loyalty among end-customers, while still keeping their B2B selling channels running in parallel.

B2M

B2M eCommerce

The B2M (business to many) eCommerce model allows businesses to sell via various channels in parallel. This is advantageous to businesses as it allows them to sell to different target markets thus amplifying their brand and customer reach.

B2E

B2E eCommerce

The B2E (business to employee) eCommerce model is best suited for large organizations that look to centralize eCommerce for their employees. B2E eCommerce can involve businesses selling stationery to their office workers, or specialized tools to field employees.

B2G

B2G eCommerce

The B2G (business to government) eCommerce model is best suited for businesses targeting regional or federal governments as clients. An example could be a PPE manufacturer selling to  law enforcement or a tools distributor selling to the building inspections department.

8. How do you know you need B2B eCommerce software?

There are many reasons why businesses choose B2B eCommerce software. If you can identify with one or more of the following points, chances are, your company can very quickly achieve a positive ROI with your digital commerce solution.

  • You do not have an online presence, nor do you have any experience managing an eCommerce store for your customers.
  • You cannot meet the requirements your B2B buyers require with regards to workflows, user experience, and purchasing experience.
  • You are operating over several different brands, markets, languages, or across numerous industry verticals with one storefront.
  • Your data exists in silos which is preventing you from getting a clear understanding of processes and inefficiencies.
  • You have complex and interconnected product data, pricing,ordering, checkout processes, as well as customer segments.
  • You must perform manual work such as entry, filing, updating, and maintaining the correct customer, product, and ordering data.
  • You are not able to expand or grow at scale without running into performance issues and worsened user experiences.
  • You are not able to follow the customer journey and optimize it for a mobile, localized, personalized customer experience.
  • You cannot integrate your other business systems, solutions, and processes to work with your eCommerce system.
  • Your current eCommerce platform has become expensive, difficult to operate, and does not fit your product or user experience needs.

9. How do you start a successful B2B eCommerce project?

The B2B eCommerce software market has no shortage of great solutions, which makes it difficult to decide on the right tool for your business. Contrary to popular belief, B2B “plugins” on a B2C solution does not work for B2B businesses in the long term. Businesses should keep the following things in mind when crafting their commerce strategy:

Define your B2B needs

Define your B2B needs

As mentioned before, B2B eCommerce is more complex than its B2C counterpart. A successful B2B eCommerce project starts off with defining your must-have features: permissions, accounts, customer groups, shopping list, checkout options, and so on.

Define customer needs

Define customer needs

Your business customers will likely all have different needs, so your B2B eCommerce project must take into account their pain points and desired experiences. For example, are they looking for self-service, live chat systems, or the ability to easily call up order history, or something else specific to your line of work?

Select a team to head the project

Select a team to head the project

Build a team for your B2B eCommerce project, and appoint someone responsible for it. That individual needs to spearhead a successful implementation and adoption, keep track of KPIs and collect input from leadership, sales, marketing, support, and production teams.

Implement changes to affected processes

Implement changes to affected processes

If this is your first time implementing a B2B eCommerce project, you’ll likely have to enact structural changes to sales processes. Consider the cash flow implications, roles of sales reps, support, payments, inventory tracking - all this could be impacted.

Establish a timeline for your project

Establish a timeline for your project

Not every project is the same, so implementation and rollout times can range anywhere from a few months to almost a year. However, choosing a B2B eCommerce platform with the right features accelerates time to market and gets you closer to ROI.

Complete content and product descriptions

Complete content and product descriptions

Your B2B eCommerce product descriptions need to do the work of marketers, field sales reps and physical catalogs. And, if you choose to integrate your eCommerce solution with an ERP or PIM system, there will be additional work to be done.

Establish a timeline for your project

Establish a timeline for your project

Not every project is the same, so implementation and rollout times can range anywhere from a few months to almost a year. However, choosing a B2B eCommerce platform with the right features accelerates time to market and gets you closer to ROI.

With a purpose-built solution such as OroCommerce, you don’t need to worry about time-consuming workarounds and hard-coded patches. OroCommerce comes out of the box with the right features necessary for any B2B scenario: B2B2C, D2C, B2E and more. Lastly, its open-source flexibility, powerful API and developer ecosystem means long-term dependability and freedom from being locked down to any particular vendor.

10. What are some examples of B2B eCommerce projects?

Explore businesses, brands, wholesalers, distributors, and manufacturers across different industries that utilize OroCommerce: a purpose-built eCommerce platform for B2B duty of any magnitude.

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animal-supply-logo
Animal Supply Company
Animal Supply was founded 1987 and remains a leader in pet food supplies and distribution, boasting over 15,000 retail outlets as customers. They required a sophisticated solution that could address complex logic and restrictions according to retailers.
Result
Animal Supply implemented OroCommerce as a headless eCommerce platform to connect to their multiple WHMs and ERPs to give business customers more freedom in designing their front-end experience. Their system now handles over 400,000+ monthly orders.
Learn more about this customer story >
fair-price
fairprice-logo
FairPrice
FairPrice is the largest and most successful supermarket chain in Singapore. Tired of repurposing B2C solutions, they required a B2B eCommerce system that would not drain resources and could appeal to their business customers.
Result
FairPrice chose OroCommerce for its customizable product catalogs, customer segmentation capabilities, as well as powerful purchasing workflows. Now, their store handles 15,000+ B2B users placing 3,500+ monthly orders.
Learn more about this customer story >
2-1-1
salt-logo
SaltWorks
Saltworks is the nation’s largest salt manufacturer, supplying distributors, restaurants, gourmet retailers, and end consumers. They required a B2B eCommerce platform without complex workarounds and customizations while maintaining B2C selling in parallel.
Result
Saltworks found OroCommerce serves their needs perfectly. The platform accommodates business customer needs like RFP, LTL, quoting, and other B2B requirements without sacrificing their B2C operations.
Learn more about this customer story >

11. Why choose the OroCommerce B2B eCommerce software?

OroCommerce is an excellent B2B eCommerce solution for mid-market and large enterprises that are looking to build a new eCommerce presence or revamp their existing one. It offers the features demanded by B2Bs of all sizes, helping them achieve faster time-to-market, saving time, money, and lowering the total cost of ownership.

A purpose-built solution solution
A purpose-built solution
solution

Beware of the “one size fits all” B2C solutions for your niche B2B business. Your B2B eCommerce platform should have the right features out of the box, so you can reduce time to ROI, and focus on selling. It accommodates not just sellers and customers, but also resellers, brokers, partners and stakeholders. It helps you maintain long-term relationships and have the back-office features to help you do that.

Flexibility and customization customization
Flexibility and customization
customization

Keep your data in a single place and control inventory, multiple websites and vendor portals from a single place. With a flexible, robust B2B eCommerce platform, you’ll be able to integrate or build solutions that centralize data. And, with your eCommerce system acting as a single source of truth, you’ll keep product, inventory, and pricing information accurate without the need to re-enter or verify data in numerous systems.

Customer experience
Customer
experience

It’s no secret that today’s customers are demanding and looking for personalization and convenience. A B2B eCommerce system with modern self-service capabilities helps you build branded experiences that promote trust and loyalty. Differentiate yourself with ease-of-use, reliability, accuracy, and maintain alignment by tailoring UX to every customer so they convert and purchase more.

Open source ecosystem
Open source
ecosystem

Open source products, with strong development and community backing behind them, will beat out their proprietary alternatives over time. With a powerful ecosystem of developers and users, open source products are constantly improved. Therefore, the longer it stays on the market, the better it becomes.

12. OroCommerce is built for B2B scenarios of any complexity

OroCommerce is built for B2B scenarios of any complexity
  • B2B online store

    OroCommerce allows you to build a B2B eCommerce presence from the ground up with ease, and for any scenario. Deploy in the cloud, on-premise, or leverage PWAs and integrations for headless commerce.

  • Built-in CRM system

    OroCommerce helps you manage sales pipelines and maintain an accurate view of the customer with a native CRM system. Build better sales projections and give better visibility to sales, marketing and support.

  • B2B, B2C and B2X

    OroCommerce accommodates B2B, B2C, B2B2B, B2B2C, and other business models from a single platform. Support multiple websites and build personalized self-service portals for specific vendor requirements.

  • B2B Marketplace

    OroCommerce gives you the ability to create multi-vendor marketplaces for B2B buyers and vendors of all types. Grow your B2B marketplace concurrently with separate B2B stores.

  • Faster time to market

    OroCommerce allows you to quickly launch a fully functional storefront that is ready to start selling, getting you closer to ROI. A faster time to market also helps with onboarding, implementation, and gets you selling faster.

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