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B2B vs. B2C e-commerce: What's the difference?

B2B e-commerce websites offer many ways to reach agents, whereas B2C sites prioritize self-service. E-commerce leaders must build their websites to meet their customers' needs.

Many consumers buy their everyday products, such as clothing and makeup, from e-commerce websites. However, businesses also make online purchases.

The B2B and B2C e-commerce markets have seen significant growth since the early 2000s because they offer customers convenience and can cut costs for sellers. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce growth accelerated in response to social distancing restrictions. Given its benefits, many organizations -- both B2B and B2C -- have an e-commerce component. However, different business models require different e-commerce strategies.

Explore key differences between B2B and B2C e-commerce, which include customers, marketing, support, pricing, order sizes and website design.

What is B2B e-commerce?

B2B stands for business-to-business. B2B e-commerce refers to a business model that lets organizations sell products and services to other businesses over the internet. For example, Micron Technology -- which sells computer chips to smartphone manufacturers, such as Apple -- is a B2B company. Business decision-makers from companies like Apple can visit Micron's website and purchase products in large quantities. B2B e-commerce organizations sell products in bulk more often than B2C organizations.

What is B2C e-commerce?

B2C stands for business-to-consumer. B2C e-commerce refers to a business model that lets organizations sell products and services to end consumers over the internet. Walmart is an example of a B2C company with in-person and e-commerce components. Unlike B2B companies, like Micron Technology, Walmart sells most of its products to individuals, not businesses.

6 differences between B2B and B2C e-commerce

B2B and B2C e-commerce websites let customers purchase products and services over the internet. However, they have different customer bases and use different marketing approaches, support strategies, pricing options, order sizes and website designs.

1. Customers

B2B organizations sell their products and services to businesses, whereas B2C organizations serve individual consumers. Businesses and consumers demonstrate different purchasing behavior because organizations make much larger purchases than consumers. For instance, an insurance company may order hundreds of laptop computers at once to equip its remote contact center agents. B2C customers, on the other hand, tend to make small, frequent purchases, which may include clothing for themselves or toys for their children.

Additionally, the sales process can take longer in B2B than B2C because business purchases involve many players. Organizations make purchases less frequently than consumers, but those purchases involve large investments that affect hundreds of people. For instance, if a pharmaceutical company buys new content management software, that purchase affects employees in IT, marketing, finance graphic design, sales and HR. Leaders from each department may also play a role in the sales process.

2. Marketing content

Businesses make larger purchases than consumers, so they tend to engage in heavier product research. B2B e-commerce marketing appeals to logic and includes detailed product information, such as buyer guides, specs, FAQ pages, blogs and video demonstrations. B2C marketing primarily wants to get people's attention, and people often purchase products spontaneously. B2C marketing content often involves fun, flashy and creative messaging designed to resonate with personal desires.

Additionally, B2B marketing seeks to build strong relationships between businesses and their clients. Its content often includes click-to-call buttons or live chat windows that connect shoppers with sales representatives. B2B shoppers make high-value purchases and often stick with one vendor for other purchases, so B2B organizations put significant effort into their individual customer relationships.

B2C marketing content focuses more on facilitating speedy checkouts than personal relationships. However, these organizations increasingly rely on customer data to create personalized discounts and product recommendations.

3. Support

B2B e-commerce organizations require more elaborate support teams than B2C because they have more complex products and business relations. Support may include agents, community forums, 24/7 chatbots, FAQ pages, product demos and troubleshooting videos. B2B customers typically have a high customer lifetime value (CLV), and organizations invest in strong support infrastructures to quickly solve their complex issues.

B2C e-commerce organizations also require customer support teams, but their customers often ask simpler questions. Chatbots and FAQ pages can handle common inquiries, such as those related to return policies, and agents don't always need extensive product knowledge.

A chart that compares the qualities of B2C retailers with those of B2B organizations
B2B customers consider their purchases with teams of people over long periods of time, whereas consumers may buy products spontaneously.

4. Pricing

B2B organizations typically offer negotiable pricing, whereas B2C retailers have fixed prices. Given the high CLV of B2B customers, B2B organizations focus on a long-term sales cycle. For example, if a growing startup company with a small budget wants to purchase CRM software from a vendor, the vendor may want to offer a lower price if it expects the company to significantly grow in the coming years. As the startup grows, the software vendor can expect to sell it more product licenses in the future.

Also, B2B organizations may offer negotiable pricing to account for their products' complex nature. For example, many B2B software vendors offer highly customizable products that involve different microservices and deployment requirements for different customers. This complexity can cause prices to vary between customers.

B2C pricing, on the other hand, usually remains fixed. Consumer products tend to be less complex and customizable than B2B products, so sellers don't need to tailor prices to unique product customizations. However, retailers often give discounts and personalized offers, such as birthday coupons, to boost customer engagement.

5. Order size

Although B2B e-commerce organizations have fewer customers than B2C companies, those customers make much larger purchases. B2B e-commerce organizations sell in bulk, which requires them to set minimum pricing levels. For instance, a lumbar wholesaler may require customers to buy at least $5,000 worth of wood, whereas B2C retailers, like Home Depot, have no such minimum.

In fact, B2C e-commerce organizations may put product maximum limits on certain high-demand items. For instance, a retailer may limit how many gaming consoles a customer can buy during the holiday season. Because they serve high volumes of people, B2C retailers want to avoid a handful of customers buying up all their inventory.

6. Website design

Given their different customers bases, B2B and B2C e-commerce websites often have different designs. B2B sites typically offer simple and clean homepages because bright and busy B2C marketing techniques don't appeal as much to corporate audiences. B2C retailers, on the other hand, often make their e-commerce homepages creative, loud and flashy to get users' attention.

B2B websites also offer extensive product information, such as detailed demonstration videos, blogs and specs, to help customers complete their research processes. B2C e-commerce sites also include product information, but they may limit it to basic descriptions and attributes, like size, color and dimensions.

B2B e-commerce websites use live chat windows and click-to-call buttons across their product pages so customers can easily reach sales and support representatives to discuss product features, plans and pricing options. These live interactions can help B2B organizations build relationships with their customers. Conversely, B2C website designs prioritize self-service and quick checkout processes.

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