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What is B2B Ecommerce? | The Ultimate Guide

Written by
Team BlueCart

B2B ecommerce can seem like a buzzword. In fact, it can seem like a buzzword made of two other buzzwords. That’s a lot of buzz.

But it’s a phrase worth paying attention to. Because the benefits of b2b ecommerce are astounding. Understanding B2B ecommerce is understanding human behavior in the 21st century. And any company that wants to grow has to understand that.

So let’s turn down the noise and get to the heart of it. First, we’ll lay out the B2B definition and meaning of ecommerce to set the stage. Then we’ll cover what successful B2B ecommerce looks like for manufacturers and distributors. And, finally, we’ll look into some relevant and telling trends and statistics about the reality and future of B2B ecommerce.

B2B Definition

B2B, or B-to-B, is short for business-to-business. It refers to transactions that take place between businesses. Like those between manufacturers or wholesalers and hospitality businesses like restaurants or retail operations like grocery stores. B2B transactions are usually for the raw materials used to make finished goods to be sold to individual consumers.

This is in contrast to B2C, or B-to-C, which refers to transactions between businesses and individual consumers. But while they can be contrasted, they don’t exist independently of each other.

One example of this (something we could call a business-to-business-to-consumer transaction) is when a business like Fells Point Meats, a meat wholesaler, sells steaks to Joe's steakhouse. And Joe's steakhouse sells one of those same steaks to Sally, a diner.

Ecommerce Meaning 

Ecommerce means electronic commerce. It’s the process of buying and selling products and services online. It’s the digital equivalent of a traditional marketplace, where there are buyers and sellers exchanging products or services for payment.

Just as with traditional commerce, there are different types of Ecommerce transactions: 

  1. What is B2B ecommerce? It's a business selling to another business.
  2. What is B2C ecommerce? It's a business selling to an individual consumer.
  3. What is C2C ecommerce? It's an individual consumer selling to another individual consumer (generally second-hand goods).

Ecommerce: B2B vs. B2C

The differences between B2B vs. B2C ecommerce can be broken down into three main categories. Let’s take a look at each, then go over an example.

The Decision-Making Process

B2B transactions tend to be much bigger in volume and dollar value than B2C ones. Accordingly, the vendor selection and decision-making process behind these transactions is more complex.

You can expect multiple decision makers and influencers involved, and protracted negotiations before a deal is made. The negotiations can include everything from samples and trial periods, to pricing, volume discounts, promotions, and other preferential treatment. 

B2C transactions, by comparison, often have a single decision maker. And that person is also the end user of the product or service. 

The Decision-Making Time Frame

B2B buyers enter into new relationships cautiously and infrequently. That’s both an opportunity and a challenge. 

Because B2B suppliers are thoroughly vetted by buyers, B2B relationships tend to have higher switching costs and risk factors. This means, while B2B buyers are difficult to acquire, they tend to have high lifetime value. As long as they’re satisfied.

B2C buyers, on the flip side, tend to make purchasing decisions on a whim and have shifting loyalties.

Marketing and Customer Acquisition

The third difference is in how you market to B2B buyers to convince them to become customers. B2C marketing is geared toward individual consumers and focuses on branding and experience. But B2B marketing focuses more on information, facts, and results (e.g. sales, margin growth, and profits). All quantifiable metrics that organizations care about.

B2B Vs. B2C Example

Consider Joe's steakhouse. Joe’s buys hundreds of steaks to sell to diners every month. But Sally, the individual diner, purchases a single steak per visit and dines at Joe’s once every few months.

If Joe’s has been purchasing steaks from Fells Point Meats for over a decade, they’re unlikely to switch to another meat supplier. Unless something drastic and unfixable happens. But if Sally has one bad experience at Joe’s steakhouse, she’ll just go to another steakhouse. She factors in the customer experience of going to Joe’s into the price of her dinner. But all Joe’s cares about is the quality, cost, and yield of the meats they’re purchasing from their supplier.

Sally communicates her feedback not with a negotiation, but with her permanent absence. Severing a relationship isn’t as easy on the supply side. Which is why more care is shown when forming those relationships.

B2B Ecommerce for Distributors

B2B ecommerce for distributors has seen massive growth in the last few years, driven by B2B buyer demands. An ever-increasing number of buyers is switching from traditional (i.e. manual and error-prone) ways of placing orders, to using B2B ecommerce. The numbers are remarkable:

  • 69% of buyers are already ordering online using a computer
  • 57% of buyers not yet ordering online are interested in doing so
  • 40% of buyers want to order using a mobile application 

To leverage this new buyer behavior, it’s more important than ever to have a digital presence if you don’t already have one. And if you do have one, to convert it into a transactional one.

Let’s quantify that importance with some numbers.

B2B Ecommerce Ordering: Trends, Statistics, and Forecast

Almost 2 billion people fired up their computers, logged on to the internet, and shopped online last year. That's a staggering number. In other words, B2B ecommerce is booming. And if you’ve been paying attention to the B2B ecommerce forecast for the last few years, then you already know: the future of B2B ecommerce happening right now.

According to Forrester Research, the B2B ecommerce market size grew to over $1.134 trillion in 2018. That’s about 12% of all B2B sales in the U.S. for the year. Two years later, Frost & Sullivan’s B2B ecommerce forecast projects the global B2B market will hit $6.6 trillion by the end of this year. That’s more than doubling the B2C market. 

Technology can sometimes make us feel like it’s always been here, but the B2B ecommerce revolution has just begun. You must get in on it. To help you do it, we put together some B2B ecommerce trends we’ve been seeing. Take advantage of these and you’ll be well on your way.

Ubiquity of B2B Ecommerce Marketplaces

Ecommerce marketplaces have thrived in the B2C space for many years. Companies like Amazon and eBay are household names. As more millennials who cut their teeth on B2C ecommerce marketplaces move into executive positions in the B2B environment, expect this trend to continue. It’ll become the de facto way B2B buyers transact with manufacturers and distributors. 

Mobile First Transactions

Scan the headlines from the last few years and one thing becomes abundantly clear. People are spending more and more of their time online. And in front of screens, in general. Mobile device screen time exceeding that of desktop computers.

Around 70% of all adults in the U.S. shop online, and 87% of adults aged 30–49 shop on their mobile devices. By the end of next year, 3 out of every 4 ecommerce transactions are expected to be done on a mobile device.

If you want a piece of this pie (which you do), you have to have an ecommerce platform in place that has easy-to-use native mobile apps for you, your sales reps, and your buyers.

Frictionless Payment Processing

What’s the best way to ensure that every buyer who adds something to their cart actually checks out? Reduce friction. The easier you make it to go from product page to order confirmation, the lower your cart abandonment.

According to one source of B2B ecommerce statistics, checkout friction and cart abandonment are a $4 trillion problem for the ecommerce industry. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the key ecommerce trends we identified is frictionless payment processing built into your B2B ecommerce platform.

Personalization of Customer Experience

As an industry-leading B2B ecommerce platform, we interact with B2B suppliers all day. In our conversations with them, there’s a common objection to the adoption of ecommerce platforms: fear of losing a personal touch. That their business will lose some of its identity.

Wholesale distributors pride themselves on intimate knowledge of their customers. That allows their sales teams to provide an expertly-curated experience for every buyer. Fortunately for these holdouts, personalization has come to ecommerce in full force. 

The best B2B ecommerce platforms support detailed personalization with tailored online catalog makers and order guides, customized volume pricing, targeted deals and promotions, and more. Check out our guide on how to create a digital catalog.

Peerless Customer Support

Did you know that 9 out of 10 consumers say they’ll switch to a competitor following a single poor customer experience? This is one thing the B2B buyer has in common with the B2C buyer.

It’s understandable, then, that easier and more accessible ways to receive customer support has been a B2B priority for decades. And because customer support technology and expectations are a moving target, it’ll likely always be a priority.

So how do you scale customer service in this increasingly always-on digital age? One way is to leverage built-in live chat functionality in the leading B2B ecommerce platforms and the associated mobile apps for sales reps. Phone calls are time-consuming. Phone tag is frustrating. Neither lend themselves particularly well to multi-tasking. So integrate a suite of technology that eliminates them. Something that can handle multiple customer queries on the fly.

And another way is to use B2B route planning software or route optimization software. That'll ensure your deliveries are on-time and any specific buyer requests for delivery are met.

You’ll find that when you go beyond the digital catalog and all that it contains (quality, selection, prices), customer service is what actually sets you apart from your competitors.

Wholesale distribution companies across the country increase revenue, improve sales team efficiency, and grow their customer base with BlueCart. If you’re looking for a B2B ecommerce platform that’ll allow you to immediately leverage today’s buyer behavior, book a demo. We’ll show you everything. And if you want more, check out our ultimate guide to choosing a B2B ecommerce platform and B2B route optimization software.

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