What Does a B2B Model in e Commerce Look Like?

Max Bailey
March 15, 2019

The B2B e Commerce space has evolved significantly over the past decade—with more and more suppliers realizing the benefits of online ordering and implementing unique solutions that fit their business models.

But, what exactly does a B2B model in e Commerce look like for today’s wholesalers? We’re all familiar with consumer e Commerce experiences, such as online shopping on Amazon, but the B2B space is much more complex than consumer shopping entails.

Due to the simplistic nature of B2C selling, the e Commerce model has exploded in this space over the past decade. Offering consumers an intuitive online ordering method makes sense in the digital age, and wholesalers who have been paying attention to this trend are beginning to implement a B2B model for e Commerce that fits their buyers ordering preferences, as well.

Before launching a B2B portal, however, it’s important for manufacturers and distributors to understand the nuances of the B2B model in e Commerce, compared to the other popular e Commerce models out there.

What Does a B2B Model in e Commerce Look Like?

While there are a lot of differences between B2B and B2C e Commerce models, a modern B2B portal tends to replicate a similar user-experience to what everyday consumers are used to. There are various complexities in the B2B model for e Commerce (that we’ll get into), but the actual aesthetic and user-experience should feel very familiar to what buyers have come to expect in their consumer lives.

As is common in B2C, B2B e Commerce portals should include:

  • A digital catalog. As opposed to the paper catalogs that wholesalers have relied on for years, digital catalogs are extremely visual, updated in real-time, and (we hope this goes without saying) lightweight!
  • High-definition images. On their main login pages and at the item level, B2B sellers are embracing professional photography best practices from the B2C world to entice buyers and give them a sense of the intricacies of the products they offer on their B2B e Commerce portal.
High-res login images - B2B model in e Commerce
Here's an example of how one of our customers, outdoor brand Buff, utilizes high-res imagery to draw in B2B buyers on their login page.
  • Intuitive browsing. The B2B model in e Commerce is becoming increasingly modeled after the simple user experience of categorical browsing, filtering, and search that is common in B2C.
  • Mobile functionality. Not only are B2B sellers offering mobile-optimized e Commerce websites, many suppliers have implemented native mobile ordering apps to give buyers the best on-the-go experience possible—that even works offline.

Since the B2B model in e Commerce is relatively new, suppliers have been able mimic the user experiences that have helped their B2C counterparts scale online ordering for their businesses. No need to reinvent the wheel here.

But, don’t get it wrong While B2C and B2B e Commerce may look the same, there are important distinctions that must be made...

The Main Differences Between the B2C and B2B Model in e Commerce

First off, it’s important to consider the actual point of the B2C and B2B models for e Commerce, respectively. Whereas B2C e Commerce is about driving conversions, B2B e Commerce is all about productivity. Here's Handshake CEO Glen Coates' perspective on this important difference:

“While a B2C e Commerce storefront lives or dies by its ability to acquire visitors and convert them through checkout, B2B e Commerce succeeds by being a better way of placing large orders more quickly than the manual alternatives that reps and retailers are used to.”

This is because, in the B2B model, your e Commerce portal should only be available to buyers you’ve vetted and pre-approved for ordering. In a sense, you’ve already converted these visitors into customers, so your job shifts from capturing customers to just making the order process as easy as possible.

The B2B model in e Commerce also demands a level of personalization that can’t be matched with a B2C portal. This is because in B2C all buyers are equal—prices and product offerings are consistent for all customers—so personalization is not necessary.

In B2B, however, not all buyers are the same. Due to industry regulations, supply chain challenges, and the relationships established with various buyers, personalization is an extremely important requirement in the B2B e Commerce model.

The B2B model in e Commerce offers buyers:

  • A private login experience. Wholesalers need to be able to control who has access to place orders from them, which requires each eligible buyer to log into their portal with a unique username and password.
  • Relevant product offerings. In B2B, certain products are restricted to certain customers, so a wholesaler’s digital catalog should only display the products available to the individual buyer that’s currently browsing their portal.
  • Custom prices and promotions. The contractual relationships established between wholesale suppliers and buyers lock in certain prices and discounts, so the B2B model in e Commerce needs to account for personalized pricing.

In addition to these custom features available in the B2B model for e Commerce, digital ordering solutions must also consider the important role of sales reps in B2B.

Just as individual B2B buyers need to see the prices, products and promos meant for them, sales reps must also be able to quickly access this information for the various accounts they service. Given that sales reps are often on-the-go, suppliers are answering this need by offering their reps mobile apps for order entry.

Equipped with a B2B mobile app, sales reps are given the same familiar experience and personalization features offered to buyers, in a way that dovetails perfectly with their mobile workflows—allowing them to be more productive than ever before possible.

Two Different B2B Models in e Commerce

B2B e Commerce, by nature, is tailored to the specific selling strategies of various suppliers, demanding multiple selling models. The two most common selling strategies of B2B platforms are Marketplace and Direct.

The Marketplace B2B model in e Commerce involves multiple suppliers selling in one centralized online marketplace, such as Alibaba (pictured below), whereas the Direct model offers a personalized B2B e Commerce portal meant for your specific brand (or brands that you represent).

Side note: We have a blog post specifically dedicated to the pros and cons of these two models, which we’ll summarize here.

The Marketplace model is:

  • A more discoverable, but competitive environment. While having your products located in a central marketplace, in theory, makes your products easier to find, it also creates fierce competition between suppliers, who often get caught up in the pricing game.
Alibaba Marketplace B2B Model in e Commerce
With the Marketplace B2B model for e Commerce, your products are positioned against your competitors, side-by-side, which leads to stiff competition.
  • Helpful for small start-up brands. B2B companies that are just getting started and lack name recognition often find the Marketplace model helpful in getting their name and products out in front of prospective customers.
  • Not easily customizable. Some Marketplaces offer lightweight customizations, but it is difficult to implement personalized pricing and product assortments in an environment completely controlled by the Marketplace.

The Direct model offers:

  • Distraction free buying. The Direct model is your personal B2B e Commerce portal, only displaying your products, not your competitors’.
  • Complete control. Since you are in charge of the buyer experience, your brand, design and other portal features are exactly as you want them to be—which helps you build brand trust and maintain relationships with your buyers.
Catalog branding - Direct B2B Model in e Commerce
Companies that sell using the Direct model can more easily reflect their branding and position their products in the best light.
  • A personalized experience. As previously discussed, buyers in the Direct model only see the prices, products and promotions they are eligible for.

While some suppliers choose only one of these B2B e Commerce models to implement, others blend the two strategies. Manufacturers and distributors with complex selling rules, promotional structures, and pricing tiers, however, tend to focus more on the Direct model to handle the complexities of their businesses.

The B2B Model in e Commerce: Not a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

As I said, the B2B model for e Commerce is complex. With several personalization options and selling strategies involved, each supplier tends to spin up a unique B2B e Commerce solution for their business. In fact, there are several B2B e Commerce platform options which we didn’t even get into in this blog post.

As you seek to implement a B2B model in e Commerce that fits your business, make sure to research your options, consider the personalizations you’ll require, and remember to offer the user-experience your buyers are used to in their consumer lives, with an emphasis on productivity, not conversion.

To help you along, reference this recent blog post where we outlined 20 questions and tips to guide your B2B e Commerce efforts.

We hope this blog post gives you more context into how the B2B model in e Commerce might play itself out for your wholesale distribution company. If you’re ready to take the next step and find a vendor that meets your B2B e Commerce requirements, sign up for a quick demo of our software and let our team answer your questions.