Unlocking B2B commerce: Part 2 – Is B2B really that different from B2C?

Amplience & Slatwall Commerce
May 10, 2021
10 mins

This article is part a series brought to you in collaboration with our partner, Slatwall Commerce, a modern eCommerce platform. Combining enterprise features with headless commerce flexibility, Slatwall delivers allows businesses to design and quickly launch the storefronts they want. For more information, visit slatwallcommerce.com.

eCommerce is eCommerce, right? To a certain degree of course, but selling to B2B and B2C customers comes with a number of differences and nuances that mean a business’ goals, strategy and approach are actually fundamentally different.

This is why many have argued that how a B2B business constructs its customer experiences both offline and online will follow suit and be different also.

Here, we’re going to look at some of the differences between B2B and B2C, mainly in a digital sense, so you can start to think about how each factors into your strategy and how you’re looking to deliver your brand and customer experiences as a result – whether it’s overlapping with B2C or perhaps not.

Connecting with customers

B2C buyers are buying for personal consumption whereas B2B buyers are purchasing for their organization. Stating the obvious yes, but with that comes a distinct difference in emotion attached to the purchase. B2B purchases are driven by a specific business need, and are therefore more transactional. There’s little emotion nor impulse buying that comes into the mix.

B2C on the other hand though can be both. Yes, B2C buyers will buy for need but they’ll also buy a lot for want, attaching a lot more feeling into their purchases, building more emotional connections and relationships with the brands they are shopping with.

So, B2B businesses will need to focus on streamlined ordering, getting relevant and contextual information and account-specific pricing direct to the buyer as efficiently as possible. Re-ordering will need to happen in the same manner.

B2C however, businesses will be focused on building that meaningful relationship and connection with a buyer. Of course, helping a customer to checkout as easily as possible also rings true, but there will be a need for a lot more compelling content and product information that enforces that connection and isn’t just matter of fact. They’ll be focused on building brand loyalty and drawing the buyer back more often, time and time again.

Digital functionality

As a result of the above, and the typical differences in audience and purchasing behavior, the way B2B and B2C businesses set up their technology stacks, platform features and user experience capabilities will be tailored also. Included in these are:

  1. Account hierarchy & approval management. B2C buyers are just one person buying. B2B however, are account based and resultingly will have a number of stakeholders involved in the purchase. There could be different ordering and approval workflows for each account, adding a different layer of complexity to the platform setup and user interface.

  2. Cart quantity & order size. It’s a simple one in that most B2B buyers will be buying much larger volumes than individuals, but carts need to be able to handle this order size, both at the line item level and the overall purchase quantity.

  3. Pricing models & volume ordering. B2C purchases do involve loyalty-based pricing or discounts sometimes, but mostly there will be a fixed retail price. B2B however, each account is likely to have a tailored pricing structure relevant to their contract, so it can differ by account, by volume and other factors. A business’ storefront needs to be able to handle all this different pricing and data per account.

  4. Checkout and payment. The B2B checkout process typically has more complexities than the typical B2C process, due to all the above things as well as payment and shipping options. Whereas B2C checkout may have complexities around in-store pick up, split shipments, or complex promotions, a B2B checkout flow must include features like Configure Price Quote (CPQ), purchase on credit, and purchase approval.

  5. Payment. Firstly, given the difference in order size and value, many B2B accounts simply won’t checkout instantly using a debit or credit card like B2C. Instead, a business’ checkout process will need to handle different payment options for B2B including account credit, and involve those authorization steps as outlined above. As a result, inventory will need to be held while invoices are generated and processed, as opposed to simple click, pay and ship method.

  6. Shipping & Delivery. Secondly, shipping options will need to be broader given B2B businesses may require orders to be sent to multiple warehouses, distribution centers or stores, often a combination of all these.

Marketing efforts

B2C marketing approaches are more widely known in that businesses are looking to build brand awareness before drawing the shopper in and converting. They are utilizing an array of channels in order to get cut through in a crowded market, social media a major one recently, and similarly B2C buyers are taking advantage of all these channels to research and purchase products.

B2B marketing is more unique and tailored. There’s little casting of a wide net to find customers. And given B2B has much longer lead times than B2C, they are looking to manage the relationship and transition in-person sales and physical contracts to more self-service and guided buying within the website more so.

Is the tide turning?

So, we’ve just outlined all the key differences between B2B and B2C. But as outlined in part 1 of this blog series, the B2B buyer is actually starting to merge with the B2C buyer, in terms of how they buy, where they buy, and in their digital smarts. With this, B2B companies, especially ones with a B2C presence, can start to leverage digital technologies like headless commerce and content management solutions across both B2B and B2C channels, whereby their approach can be a lot more similar than previously thought. But more on this later in the series.