Pedro Pinto October 24, 2020 1:58 pm

B2B ecommerce: everything you need to know

B2B ecommerce can sometimes feel like a complicated mystery.

There’s so much more to think about than in B2C ecommerce. For example, product catalogs are often massive compared to their B2C counterparts. Plus, products typically have many variants or custom options.

What’s more, ecommerce relies on inbound sales by nature – driven by digital marketing and optimised websites. But many B2B businesses still depend mainly on outbound sales techniques, such as cold calls and social selling.

The result?

Many brands have put off launching a B2B ecommerce channel, opting to use their website as a simple online catalog.

This strategy won’t work for long.

The B2B landscape is changing as millennials dominate B2B buying roles. These decision-makers expect a self check-out online shopping experience, similar to B2C brands.

So, what can you do?

In short, start and optimise a B2B ecommerce site. To help you get started, this article will explore B2B ecommerce statistics, pros and cons, examples, platforms, and essential tips.

But first things first – let’s start with a quick definition.

What is B2B ecommerce?

Definition: B2B ecommerce – which stands for business-to-business electronic commerce – is the term given to the sale of goods and services via the internet. It’s a way for brands to automate much of their sales process and increase efficiency by using online catalogs and self-checkout portals instead of relying solely on sales reps.

5 key B2B ecommerce statistics

Now that we know what B2B ecommerce is, let’s take a look at five B2B ecommerce statistics that help to illustrate the current state of the industry.

1. Global B2B ecommerce is twice as large as B2C

Whether it’s Amazon, eBay, or Instagram Shopping, B2C ecommerce seems to get all the attention.

In reality, global B2B ecommerce sales are predicted to reach more than $6.6 trillion in 2020 – surpassing B2C, which is expected to reach $3.2 trillion in 2020. (Frost and Sullivan)

2. The US is a massive player

There’s no doubt that the US is a global leader in commerce, but it’s also leading the way in B2B ecommerce.

In fact, US B2B ecommerce alone is predicted to reach a whopping $1.8 trillion by 2023. (Forrester)

3. Traditional sales channels are losing ground

B2B ecommerce is growing as millennials move into decision-making positions in the workplace.

To be precise, B2B ecommerce sales are expected to make up 17% of all B2B sales in the US by 2023. (Forrester)

4. Mobile devices are used frequently

B2B ecommerce isn’t limited to desktop computers in offices.

In 2017, 50% of B2B search queries were made on smartphones, and the Boston Consulting Group expects this figure to reach 70% in 2020. (Think with Google)

5. LinkedIn plays a vital marketing role

Social media marketing and social selling strategies are crucial to B2B ecommerce success – and LinkedIn leads the way.

Specifically, LinkedIn is 277% more effective at generating B2B leads than Facebook and Twitter. (HubSpot)

Social Media Conversion RateB2B Ecommerce Stats: LinkedIn Best for Lead Gens

 

Next, let’s check out the pros and cons of B2B ecommerce.

B2B Ecommerce advantages and disadvantages

Should your brand invest in creating an online store for your customers? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Here are some advantages and disadvantages.

B2B ecommerce benefits

  • B2B ecommerce presents an exciting opportunity for brands to leverage a powerful channel to increase sales and grow the business.
  • You can also increase your inbound sales by building extensive digital marketing funnels that harness tools and tactics such as Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and social media marketing.
  • By automating the sales process with self-checkout, you can free up employee’s time and reduce costs.
  • An increase in inbound leads and sales automation are two impactful ways to scale your business faster.
  • Ecommerce solutions like dropshipping can help you to expand your product lines easily.
  • Ecommerce allows you to provide an up-to-date, superior customer experience that meets your target market’s evolving preferences.
  • Platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce make it quick and easy to get up and running with an online store.

B2B ecommerce drawbacks

  • Depending on your business needs, starting up a B2B ecommerce site can require a large upfront investment.
  • To take advantage of the digital marketing tools and strategies available, you’ll need to hire a full-stack marketing agency or in-house talent to manage the website and sales funnels.
  • Your operations process and employees will need to adapt to online ordering and sales. This requires an effective strategy and comprehensive employee training.

5 of the best B2B ecommerce examples

What does B2B ecommerce look like in practice? Let’s take a look at five examples from large, established companies to find out.

1. GE

Best B2B Ecommerce Examples: GE

 

General Electric is an American multinational conglomerate operating across industries that include aviation, healthcare, power, renewable energy, and finance.

Each of GE’s major sectors has an online portal. Customers can log in to research and purchase products, access technical documents, track orders and repairs, and more.

2. H&D Supply

Best B2B Ecommerce Examples: HD Supply

 

HD Supply is an industrial distributor based in North America. The company provides a range of products to governments and commercial businesses.

HD Supply’s B2B ecommerce site is like most B2C online stores. There’s an extensive menu featuring product categories, product pages list all the necessary details, and there’s plenty of calls-to-actions compelling users to self-checkout.

3. Clarion Safety

Best B2B Ecommerce Examples: Clarion

 

Clarion Safety Systems provides safety labels, signs, tags, and custom printing solutions, designed in line with the latest policies and best practices.

The website is highly intuitive and easy to navigate. Clarion provides a B2C-like shopping experience, complete with detailed product order pages. The example below shows how simple it is to customise the product and order size when using the self-checkout option.

Best B2B Ecommerce Examples: Clarion Product Page

4. Berlin Packaging

Best B2B Ecommerce Examples: Berlin Packaging

 

Berlin Packaging is a US company that provides packaging services to businesses in many different industries, including food and beverage, personal care, pharmaceutical, and industrial.

The website isn’t particularly intuitive at first glance. Users must create an account and log in to shop online, but once logged in, the experience is similar to a typical B2C ecommerce website. Plus, Berlin Packaging provides an ultra-high-definition custom label creator in the online shopping cart.

5. Polycom

Best B2B Ecommerce Examples: Polycom

 

Polycom is the creator of the iconic three-point conference call phone. These days, the company provides industry-leading communications products for businesses in various industries, including commercial, healthcare, aviation, financial, and education.

The company’s site has evolved to the point where users can browse products just like on a B2C ecommerce website. However, Polycom still doesn’t allow users to self-checkout. At the moment, users must still contact sales or reach out to Polycom’s listed distributors.

5 of the best B2B ecommerce platforms

Many companies choose to sell exclusively through B2B marketplaces like Alibaba and IndiaMart. However, if you want to lead the pack, you’ll need your own B2B ecommerce site.

Thankfully, there are plenty of feature-packed B2B ecommerce platforms out there that you can use to create an industry-leading presence.

Here are five of the best B2B ecommerce platforms to consider.

1. Shopify Plus

Best B2B Ecommerce Platforms: Shopify

 

Shopify is one of the largest, most-successful B2B ecommerce platforms on the market. It plays host to many leading companies, such as Tesla and Adidas. Shopify’s enterprise arm, Shopify Plus, provides extra support and customisation options that many large B2B brands need.

2. Magento

Best B2B Ecommerce Platforms: Magento

 

Magento is arguably the best open-source B2B ecommerce platform around. The company was acquired by Adobe in 2018 and provides an enormous amount of features and customisability. However, customisation can take time and delay the launch of your site.

3. BigCommerce

 B2B Ecommerce Platforms: BigCommerce

 

BigCommerce is another big player in the B2B ecommerce platform market. Unlike many platforms, it caters heavily to massive B2B brands. The business examples we saw above from GE, HD Supply, and Clarion all use BigCommerce.

4. 3dcart

Best B2B Ecommerce Platforms: 3dcart

 

3dCart is smaller than the platforms mentioned above. However, the platform does boast a range of high-quality features for a competitive price, such as automated product quantity discounts and pricing customisation options.

5. WooCommerce

Best B2B Ecommerce Platforms: WooCommerce

 

If you already have a WordPress website, it may be worth considering WooCommerce. This platform plugs into your existing WordPress site, and just like WordPress itself, it’s very customisable. To access additional B2B features, you’ll need to purchase the WooCommerce B2B plugin.

5 essential B2B ecommerce tips

Before diving into B2B ecommerce, take note of these five essential tips.

1. B2B ecommerce should act and feel like B2C

These days, B2B buyers expect the same level of speed, ease, and autonomy as they get in their B2C transactions.

Bryan Eisenberg, the co-author of Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It, said:

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that B2B is fundamentally different than B2C. There are nuances depending on your customer’s level of technical proficiency. But at the end of the day, we are still selling to people. Ecommerce expectations are being set by others outside your industry like Amazon.com.”

In other words, take note of top-performing B2C brands and marketplaces.

2. Optimise your website’s design and speed across devices

In September 2020, Google switched to mobile-first indexing for all websites. If you’re wondering what this means, Google developer advocate John Mueller explains:

“Currently, Google looks at the desktop version of a site and then bases how it will rank the mobile site according to that information. Once this update rolls out, the opposite of that will happen. Google will begin looking at your mobile site and from that, will rank the desktop site.”

Take this as a clear sign that mobile user-experiences matter – a lot. Remember, 50% of B2B search queries are made on smartphones.

So, make sure your B2B ecommerce site is responsive, and use Google’s Lighthouse and Pagespeed Insights tools to optimise usability, performance, and SEO.

Google’s Lighthouse Tool

3. Focus on the user experience

Plenty of B2B brands don’t worry too much about their website’s user experience. This is a mistake.

Marketing experts agree that providing a quality user-experience is essential. Digital consultant Shane Barker said:

“I think every business should focus on optimising their website to improve the user experience. Your website is your virtual storefront, so you need to make sure visitors can easily navigate it to find what they need. That’s true whether you’re selling your goods/services to individual consumers, or to other businesses.”

So, strive to provide a stellar user-experience. For example, you could offer features like free shipping and fast delivery. You could also make it easy for customers to log in to track their orders and reorder.

4. Provide B2B specific options

Although it’s important to catch up with B2C ecommerce, B2B brands have unique challenges that need to be overcome.

For example, you may need to find a way to provide custom quoting tools, product variants, customisation options, and customer-specific pricing.

With effective planning and implementation, it’s possible to automate all of these things.

5. Communicate via messaging and chat

The New York Post once dubbed millennials as “the anxious generation.” No wonder many millennials aren’t keen on phone calls and prefer communicating via social messaging or website chat.

That’s why Coca-Cola uses live chat on their B2B site, MyCoke.com:

 

B2B Ecommerce Example: Coke

 

Still, don’t just use chat, also take into account why many prefer chat – speed, ease, autonomy – and then find ways to bake these characteristics into your B2B ecommerce site.

Summary: B2B ecommerce

B2B ecommerce refers to the sale of products or services between businesses via the internet.

Many B2B companies mistakenly believe that customers want to continue using traditional sales channels. However, as millennials have moved into authoritative buying positions, offering an online sales channel is essential if companies are to maintain or grow their market share.

In summary, here are five of the best B2B ecommerce platforms that you can use to get started:

  1. Shopify
  2. Magento
  3. BigCommerce
  4. 3dcart
  5. WooCommerce

Remember, B2B buyers expect an experience that mirrors B2C. So, when creating a B2B ecommerce site, follow the lead of top B2C brands and marketplaces, like Patagonia and Amazon.

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