When you think of eCommerce, your thoughts likely go to traditional, consumer-based online shopping.
But – stop the presses - did you know that B2B eCommerce sales are almost double those of B2C?
In fact, the inexorable rise of eCommerce is one of the biggest trends in B2B marketing right now, and one which shows no sign of slowing down. It's been predicted that the market will be worth a phenomenal $6.7bn by 2020.
While there are certain features that are required across both customer types, it's increasingly important for businesses to understand the nuances that make B2B eCommerce so unique.
As we'll explore in more detail, there are key differences at pretty much every stage of the buyer journey that you need to keep in mind!
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Business or Pleasure?
The most fundamental difference between B2B and B2C customers is that, very simply, for many B2B buyers, procurement is a part of their job. They're not idly shopping for leisure – rather, they're buying supplies or services because they're paid to do so. They're also usually spending somebody else's money.
This often manifests itself as impatience, with buyers keen to find the path of least resistance. In (extremely) simple terms, they want to get the job done, get it done right, and move onto the next item on their lengthy task list.
The clear focus and direction of the buyer journey also yields a much higher conversion rate – 10 percent for B2B websites as opposed to 3 percent for B2C. This just illustrates that once buyers find what they're looking for, they aren't afraid to move quickly.
The takeaway for merchants here is that the B2B shopping experience needs to be straightforward, intuitive and quick. According to Hubspot research, 76 percent of consumers say that the most important factor in a website's design is that the site makes it easy for them to find what they're looking for.
This is only more important for B2B eCommerce sites. Do some research into filtered navigation and faceted search – both nice ways to deliver a highly streamlined UX.
Value and Frequency
Whereas your typical B2C customer might buy one or two items at a time, it isn't at all uncommon for B2B buyers to purchase hundreds or even thousands of items in one transaction. The numbers back up this notion, with the average order value of a B2B transaction clearing $491 as opposed to $147 for B2C.
What does this mean in real terms?
Well, for one, it makes pricing much more fluid. Merchants often have various negotiated pricing arrangements bulk discounts and specific shipping policies in place across client accounts. This information all needs to be reflected in the end pricing calculation, and – crucially – needs to be kept private from other clients. This information is normally accessible to the buyer using unique login credentials.
Another consequence is that, of course, with higher order values, come more stringent approval processes. While each B2C transaction generally involves one decision-maker – the customer – B2B transactions can rely on dozens of stakeholders, from order creators to financial procurement.
It's really important that B2B eCommerce sites acknowledge this by providing multiple users which sit inside a singular business account. Each individual account needs to be assigned the right permissions, and be displayed relevant products.
This will all help to ensure a smooth approval workflow – and a seamless process for everybody involved.
The nature of B2B transactions is such that they often need to be repeated in future, or even at regular intervals.
For this reason, reordering facilities are enormously important – customers should ideally be able to log in and easily repeat, view or edit their previous orders. Again, make this process difficult and you risk losing revenue.
Payments in B2C eCommerce are fairly straightforward, with online payment methods generally being highly preferred. B2B eCommerce platforms typically have custom payment methods, Net30, Net60, purchase orders, etc.
It's important to provide as many payment options as possible to fit into your customers' systems and processes. If you don't make it easy, there's always that chance that they'll find someone who will.
As more and more B2B users choose to make their purchases online, user experience becomes increasingly important. After all, convenience is a key driver of the decision to move online – the last thing you want to do is provide a difficult, cumbersome experience!
We could write a whole other article about what makes a great B2B eCommerce UX – but the bottom line is that the process needs to be kept as simplified as possible. Customers should be able to quickly place orders or replenish stock, on multiple devices, without friction.
It isn't easy, of course – B2B buying behavior is so much more sophisticated that designing and building great experiences requires time, patience and powerful tools.
But you need to ditch the paper spreadsheets, printed catalogs, and faxed order forms and commit wholeheartedly to making it easy for your online customers to do what they need to do – quickly and conveniently.
While a B2C site typically has just one catalog view, a B2B site can have multiple views depending on the customer segment. For example, a B2B owner could set up 3 or 4 customer types – then, each time one of those customer types logs in, they would see the catalog that applied to their account.
This also means that different product pricing can be set according to customer type and order quantity.
A feature that has become increasingly popular in recent years is the ability to run multiple storefronts from one login. This gives you the power to cater to the unique nuances of B2C and B2B retail.
So, let's say you're an automotive parts company that primarily sells B2B – but you want to start offering Jeep parts on a retail storefront. You could use a multiple store feature to open that B2C store. You could then open up another store that only sold, say, headlights. This would allow you to build a number of focused storefronts that you could manage all from one admin login.
B2B Ecommerce is becoming a huge deal, changing the industry in so many ways.
And, while all eCommerce sites need to provide a site that's simple, easy-to-navigate, beautiful and intuitive, it's also incredibly important that those sellers looking to reach B2B buyers are providing B2B specific features.