B2B vs. B2C Ecommerce: The Most Important Differences

by Jason Vaught

B2B vs B2C Ecommerce

We often lump ecommerce into a single category where the conversation assumes that the retailer sells directly to the consumer. But with Statista’s report about the B2B ecommerce industry exceeding over 2.7 trillion in global revenues, there needs to be a discussion about the differences between the two. In B2B vs. B2C ecommerce, we discuss the differences in running each type of an online store. 

In this article, you will learn:

  • An overview of each type of ecommerce.

  • How they differ in marketing & advertising.

  • What differences exist in company operations?

  • Key takeaways to help you develop your ecommerce strategy.

By the end, you will understand the principle differences and a more strategic way to approach a B2B ecommerce business.

B2B VS B2C Overview

B2B ecommerce is the sale of both products and services to other businesses. A short list of business types includes:

  • Healthcare professionals 

  • Car mechanics

  • Legal practices

  • Educational institutions

  • Government agencies

  • Retail stores

Every business buys products to sustain its operational needs. While transitioning from offline to online B2B commerce might have taken longer, business customers are now fully integrated into buying their products and services from online stores. 

When marketing to the B2B customer, companies need to understand the specific needs of this target audience. They must mitigate as much complexity as possible in this business model to make purchasing easy and seamless while ensuring trust and nurturing the relationship. The B2B model also has a larger transaction size as the buyers order multiple products from a single source. 

The B2C model requires little explanation apart from stating how the B2C customer uses their products for individual use. Unless it is a gift or for a household, B2C commerce doesn’t require conversing with others before purchasing, making it more of a personal decision. 

What About Multichannel Marketing?

Multichannel marketing is the precursor to omnichannel marketing, where a brand sells in two channels. In this scenario, a brand could sell B2B and B2C. Multichannel marketing through B2B and B2C is possible but requires a B2C look & feel. The messaging for multichannel brands is generally consumer-facing, with only a few brands able to target business customers through their marketing messages. 

Amazon is recognizable as a B2C ecommerce company, but they recognize how big the B2B market is. After realizing how many businesses were purchasing and perhaps their desire to compete with Costco and Sams Club, Amazon entered multichannel marketing.

The Amazon Business-B2B ecommerce platform paved the way for office supplies, industrial equipment, and other business item makers to sell their products through the Amazon channel. 

While some may tell B2B ecommerce companies to run for their lives, there is a wide gap for B2B brands to fill with customer-centric business models. 

B2B vs. B2C Ecommerce Marketing

We find the primary differences in marketing through the target audience and what satisfies their needs. Whereas the B2C marketer might target the customer’s emotions, the B2B marketer will look more toward their behaviors. 

However, the B2B customer still has emotions and will often make purchases because they “like” a company. Therefore, just as in the old days, when a smile and a handshake got the deal done, likeability is essential through digital commerce. 

B2C Ecommerce Marketing

Marketing to B2C consumers often occurs during times of leisure. Whether they are wasting away on social media or watching videos on YouTube, B2C marketing comes when an individual customer is relaxed. 

The other part of the time, customers seek answers to questions. Here, the potential customer searches the internet for products or articles that solve a particular problem

In both cases, emotions stimulate the need to purchase a product. 

A B2C company must keep emotions where they want them throughout the buyer journey. Marketing might get them to the website, but without the right strategies within your B2C ecommerce website, expect to lose a potential customer to their wandering minds. 

For B2C marketing to work, customers must target consumers and retarget frequently. Repeat marketing occurs through mediums such as email marketing and digital retargeting. 

With the smaller B2C transaction size, a B2C website has a lower point of profitability in its customer acquisition costs. The inability to profit from the first purchase makes repeat purchases important, and most brands must take an omnichannel approach. Ultimately, B2C marketing requires a comprehensive and diversified strategy that lives on and off your ecommerce platform. 

Case Study: MSC Industrial Supply

MSC is an industrial supply distributor that offers metalworking products for maintenance and repair. Their online store offers a wide selection of products distributed to metal shops, welders, and industries that use metal products. MSC Industrial is well known for its thick catalog and special offers. 

Evolving into a B2B ecommerce company in an established requires a company to dive deep into the world of digital marketing. However, MSC understands its target customer and will not fall victim to the latest marketing trends. Instead, MSC focuses on search engine optimization to capture the customer in a ready-to-buy state and podcasts where they can provide education and experience to people in the industry. 

B2B Ecommerce Marketing

The marketing mediums for B2B ecommerce marketing remain the same, but the ratios of effort we provide to each channel do. Will a B2B company see a significant response from a TikTok ad offering bulk toilet paper? it’s unlikely. But more specific items, such as a premium decompression table for the licensed chiropractor, might have enough profit to warrant digital advertising. 

How can the B2B ecommerce website interrupt the conversation going on in the minds of the B2B audience? That is the principle question every B2B marketer must remember. What are their professional pain points, and how can you make their lives easier? 

The B2B buyer may respond better to longer-form communications, such as articles they find while researching on Google and direct mail pieces that solve a problem. When a B2B website can interrupt a purchasing habit, provide a price saving or problem-solving opportunity, and deliver the goods and services promptly, they may earn their business.

B2B vs B2C Ecommerce Operations 

B2B and B2C companies differ in many ways, directly impacting ecommerce operations. When running a B2B business, you can expect your buying process, payment methods, order fulfillment, and customer service to differ from that of a B2C company. 

B2C Ecommerce Operations

Most companies go into B2C ecommerce to eliminate much of the operational process. DTC ecommerce creates the dream of sitting on a beach somewhere, sippin’ margaritas while the cash continues to roll in. While that’s not a realistic scenario for any business, ecommerce operations may be simpler and easier to manage when selling to an individual customer. 

While it may be “easier” to manage, there’s significantly more competition in the B2C business model, making each aspect of your ecommerce operation critical to your overall success. Customer service requires direct personalization to show your ideal prospect you care about their customer experience. 

In many ways, a B2C ecommerce platform is pre-built to handle these touchpoints, but companies must go beyond stock offerings to achieve greater B2C sales than their competition. In this way, B2C might look at the B2B model in how they communicate with customers past the point of automation. 

B2B Ecommerce Operations

The online-driven B2B business model is a more complex process than B2C. Rather than one on one, customer experience is personalization on a company level. Not only do you need to consider the purchaser in every B2B transaction, but you must also consider the inventory management director, business manager, stakeholders, and other company roles. 

On-demand customer service is critical for the B2B seller. As advanced as AI support has become for ecommerce brands, human interaction is required when selling business to business. The B2B business model may have outliers that avoid personal contact, but these are few and far between. A B2B purchase may occur online, but it is what you do to nurture the relationship that ultimately creates sales. 

When choosing an ecommerce platform, B2B brands may need help to decide. Some software solutions market themselves as a B2B ecommerce platform, but the customizations come at the cost of user experience. Most B2B businesses are better served using a company like Shopify Plus and creating or purchasing plugins for a specific purpose. 

Case Study: Grainger 

With locations nationwide, Grainger is a century-old US-Based industrial and safety supplies company that has successfully pivoted into the B2B ecommerce space. Their website features high-level customer support where the company emphasizes live chat and phone calls. They also can create special orders showcasing their ability to provide specialization that meets the consumer’s needs. 

Grainger meets the needs of its customers by providing services such as inventory management and helpful one-stop-shop solutions, such as their safety training video. Grainger understands the need to thread B2B ecommerce throughout the entire organization.

Key Takeaways

If you are starting a B2B business and hoping to convert prospects into customers through an ecommerce website, consider the following. 

  • While you should test every marketing medium for impact, longer-form marketing such as B2B ecommerce SEO may be suited when selling business to business. 

  • Ecommerce may be where the transaction occurs, but customer experience will appear online and offline. 

  • Your target customer is more than a customer; it’s a company, so consider all individuals involved in purchasing your goods or services. 

  • Ensure that your payment methods align with how the customer purchases. 

  • While you can choose an ecommerce platform specifically built to support your B2B business, these are less helpful than the best-selling platforms. 

Digital Marketing For Ecommerce Brands

Need help executing a B2C or B2B ecommerce strategy? We can help. At The Nine, we specialize in ecommerce services, assisting companies as you win with digital marketing. Whether it’s targeted advertising, SEO, PPC, or social media marketing, we will create and manage a comprehensive revenue-generating campaign. Fill out the form below to learn more about our ecommerce digital marketing services.

Jason Vaught

About Jason Vaught

Business and entrepreneurship came early for Jason, with his candy selling business being shut down by the middle school principal, which led to his suspension. Taking a break from marketing and strategy until after his formative years, Jason began his first “real” business at 22, which he held until December 2021. Throughout this time, Jason owned various businesses in many industries, which gave him a unique lens to look through. He channeled the information gained from these various perspectives through article content writing. He quickly realized that it took more than good content to rank in Google. This is when his fire for SEO and content marketing first started. Now, Jason focuses all his efforts on SEO and content marketing, finding that he enjoys helping other companies more than his own. There is something special (and spiritual) about being a part of someone else’s success. Personally, Jason most enjoys spending time with his 5-kids and beautiful wife. He’s also passionate about golf, gardening, and reading good books.