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B2B (business-to-business) eCommerce is the process of buying and selling goods between two businesses. It’s the electronic sale of goods and services, where businesses exchange physical goods, information, and payments via digital channels.

The B2B eCommerce industry is enormous. As of 2023, it’s estimated that B2B eCommerce is worth USD$1.8trillion, and accounts for around 17% of all B2B trade in the United States.

In the UK, B2B eCommerce is valued at £159billion, and estimated to grow to £188billion by 2024.

For entrepreneurs and businesses looking to enter – or are already inside – the B2B eCommerce space, the opportunities are vast. But how can we effectively make the most of these exciting avenues for business?

Today, we’re going to help answer that question.

B2B eCommerce vs B2C eCommerce

While both B2B and B2C eCommerce make savvy use of the digital space, they’re fundamentally very different. B2C (business-to-consumer) is a trading model that effectively cuts out the middleman between brand and consumer, meaning the seller fulfils goods directly to their customers rather than going through traditional routes such as retailers.

B2C is generally more straightforward…

B2C eCommerce is generally more straightforward than B2B, at all levels of growth. The transactions are much simpler in B2C, and the sales cycle is nowhere near as long as the average B2B transaction. B2B eCommerce often needs many aligned stakeholders to make decisions, with various touchpoints, negotiations, contracts, and more creating a complex process.

Furthermore, back-end set ups and integrations are often more complex and expensive in B2B. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, bulky customer relationship management (CRM) systems, analysis tools and more are all required for B2B.

But B2C doesn’t come without its complexities…

That said, B2C eCommerce doesn’t come without huge complexities. For example, B2C businesses generally have wider customer demographics to appeal to, meaning they’ll need to spend a lot of time thinking how to appeal to people of different ages, cultures, and interests with unique messaging and personalisation.

Fulfilment can also be more complex in B2C, as B2C companies often have many more SKUs to store, handle, and distribute. Similarly, where B2B companies usually ship in bulk to a select few addresses during last mile delivery, B2C needs to account for a huge range of customer addresses. Coordinating last-mile delivery, managing returns, and handling customer service inquiries related to shipping can present significant challenges.

3 types of B2B eCommerce

As a B2B business, there are many different paths to explore. Whether you want to ship goods directly to a retailer wholesale, or want to be on the manufacturing side of the supply chain, there are multiple ways to operate within the B2B space.

Some B2B businesses may fall into multiple categories, whereas others may specialise in a specific trading model. Here are the major categories that B2B traders generally fall into.

B2B2C eCommerce

B2B2C eCommerce (or business-to-business-to-consumer) sees a business partnering with another business (the B2B component) to reach the end customer. This is a widespread type of B2B eCommerce, as businesses often collaborate with retailers to get their goods into the hands of consumers.

Pretty much every retailer you come across is involved in B2B2C, from supermarkets to clothing stores, electronics sellers to book merchants, and many more.

Traditionally, partnering with retailers was the only way for businesses to get mass-market appeal. Why this isn’t necessarily the case anymore thanks to eCommerce and omnichannel selling strategies, many businesses still choose to partner with retailers to ensure maximum reach, brand exposure, a physical presence in-store, and to aid with distribution and logistics.

Wholesale eCommerce

In the context of eCommerce, wholesale refers to the bulk purchase of goods, usually at a discounted price due to the high volume.

In eCommerce, this transaction is usually made through a platform or online marketplace designed for such purchases, allowing business to negotiate better rates and terms due to economies of scale.

The online wholesalers act as the digital middlemen, helping to create a smooth transaction for both buyers and sellers. This involves aggregating and displaying wholesale goods, providing the necessary tools for negotiating, with some even assisting with fulfilment and logistics, and offering buyers credit and other finance options.

Often, retailers will purchase wholesale goods from suppliers or manufacturers directly, well below the RRP, and resell them through both online and offline channels at retail value.

B2B Manufacturing

B2B manufacturing is when manufacturers sell their newly made items directly to another business. Also known as suppliers, manufacturers generally sell their items in bulk to other companies.

B2B Manufacturers work with all kinds of companies, as all goods need to be made somewhere. The vast majority of businesses outsource their production to manufacturers, and they have the experience, specialism, and infrastructure to create the items while keeping costs down.

How to succeed in the world of B2B eCommerce

The principles of successful B2B eCommerce trading aren’t fundamentally different from any other business model. It’s about understanding your customers, expanding your online presence, and making the customer experience as smooth as possible.

Research (and remember) who your customers are

Although your customers are going to be businesses rather than consumers, it’s still important to remember that business decisions are still made by people. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that corporations are faceless entities.

But, behind every logo is a team of people with wants and needs. You should make it your mission to understand the people that make decisions in the industries you’re targeting.

Build a strong online presence

B2B businesses need a strong online presence to bolster authority and credibility. It’s arguably more important in B2B than B2C, because the customers you’re working with will likely be spending significantly more money with you, and, perhaps more importantly, have their reputation of their own business on the line.

Every B2B business should invest in digital marketing, including SEO, paid ads, and social media. How you weigh each one will depend on your industry and business goals, but your presence should be felt across every digital channel.

Invest in a streamlined buying process

Like B2C, B2B businesses need to make the act of buying from them as simple and painless as possible. For obvious reasons, this is much harder to do in a B2B setting. Still, making a conscious effort to reduce friction in the buying process will result in more customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A good B2B and B2C buying journey have the same fundamentals. You should look to create an intuitive user-interface for brands to do business with you, and empower them with self-service functionalities where possible. Give brands the power to do business with you in their own time, on their own terms.

Conversely, a streamlined buying process also requires hands-on support from your company should your customers need it. While self-service is the future, that shouldn’t come at the expense of accessible human support should it be required.

Be as transparent as possible

Returning to trust for a moment, you’ll never build meaningful business relationships if you’re purposefully obscure when it comes to pricing, or make your terms and conditions unfair, predatory, or overly complicated.

Unlike D2C, B2B pricing models are rarely fixed. Buyers understand this, and it’s necessary to allow for negotiations to happen.

That said, it’s still possible to provide price ranges or tiered pricing models up-front. This gives potential buyers a heads up in regards to whether your goods are within their price range, rather than wasting the time of both parties when they find out your prices are out of their budget.

Focus on building relationships

In the age of digital, it’s definitely harder to build relationships when so much of the nitty gritty is done through a screen. That said, it’s still very much possible, as long as you make a conscious effort to engage with your customers.

You can do this in a number of ways. At the very least, you should have a team of humans whose job it is to engage with your existing customers, prospects, and people working in your industry. This could include organising face-to-face meetings, events, or collaborations.

When building relationships, it’s always important to remember that the best relationships develop through human interaction, rather than via text or phone. Get out there and meet the people you do business with.

Win at B2B eCommerce with James and James Fulfilment

We understand the unique challenges that B2B eCommerce businesses face. That’s why we’ve developed a B2B fulfilment solution that’s scalable, affordable, and most importantly, straightforward.

By letting us take care of your distribution, you can spend time and energy on creating the best B2B experience for your clients, without worrying about packaging, logistics, or carriers. And, thanks to our award-winning inventory management platform, we make it easy for you to see, track, and act upon all of your inventory data.

So, look no further than James and James for a B2B eCommerce solution you can trust. With fulfilment centres across the world, we’re the perfect partner for businesses that are serious about growth.

To get started or find out more, please fill in this form or give us a call on +44 (0)1604 809 987 to arrange a consultation.

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