When most people talk about e-commerce, they talk about business-to-consumer (B2C) models. While B2C sites like Amazon are easily the most stand-out examples of online marketplaces, business-to-business (B2B) companies must utilize online sales, too. Despite that similarity, the B2B e-commerce market is an entirely different animal.
Some web design principles remain the same between B2B and B2C sites, but not all. If you’re selling to a business instead of the general public, you must understand these differences.
How Is B2B E-Commerce Different From B2C?
Effective B2B site design starts with an understanding of how B2B e-commerce differs from B2C. Generally speaking, there are three big differences to consider.
The most obvious difference between B2B and B2C online sales is the audience. Like B2C, B2B marketing begins with a customer persona, but these personas are buying things for their company, not for personal use.
This difference in audience doesn’t just impact the kinds of things they buy but also the expectations surrounding that purchase. Cost efficiency is a much bigger concern to businesses than it is to consumers. Companies will also research options more heavily before buying than the average consumer.
A B2B audience’s purchases center around need. Some B2C transactions do, too, but desire plays a large role in consumer online shopping. Relatedly, it’s also important to consider that B2B audiences typically care less about brand names and are more resistant to cross-selling than consumers.
B2B e-commerce also has a dramatically different scope than B2C alternatives. Purchase sizes are the most notable part of this difference. B2B customers spend more at once and buy in higher volumes than consumer shoppers.
The scope of the sales process itself is also larger. B2C online sales emphasize speed, as a single person will buy a few or even just one item from a store in a single purchase. B2B sales, by contrast, involve six to 10 decision-makers on average and must consider downstream parties and customers, not just the product’s immediate use.
In some ways, B2B online shopping takes a smaller scope than B2C. While the purchases and processes are bigger, target markets are often more niche. B2B sellers have fewer entities to market to than B2C companies, whether they realize it or not.
The third significant difference between B2B and B2C e-commerce is the buyer journey. While both B2B and B2C purchases follow the general three stages of awareness, consideration and decision, the B2B flow through those stages is more complex.
Consumers — especially when shopping online — tend to be impulsive and desire as streamlined a process as possible. Efficiency is also important to businesses, but because the buying process must go through more people and involves more money, they spend more time on the consideration phase. B2B buyers are also more likely to have a firmer idea of what they want when they begin shopping.
Depending on the specific product in question, the B2B customer journey may also be less cyclical. Repeat purchases are less common in B2B e-commerce because of the nature of the items businesses buy and how they use them. Consequently, retaining existing customers requires a different strategy.
How to Optimize for B2B E-Commerce
B2B online store design should keep these differences in mind. Here are a few ways you can optimize your e-commerce site to account for these unique considerations.
Emphasize Information Over Emotion
Marketing is the key to any good e-commerce business, but B2B e-commerce marketing should prioritize information where B2C options make emotional arguments. That applies to everything from your site’s content marketing to its color scheme and product listings.
Many B2C sites use bright colors like red and yellow to drive impulsivity, as 62 to 90% of immediate judgments stem from color alone. However, because the B2B buying journey is slower and involves more people, these emotional triggers are less effective. Consequently, B2B stores should instead design and color their sites to reflect calm professionalism, highlighting confidence in the product over snap decisions.
Similarly, product descriptions should focus on facts and figures rather than experiential language. The same applies to content marketing, where case studies and specific research are better than influencer deals or merely descriptive blogs. Product demonstrations and client testimonials are also effective.
Offer Extensive Support
B2B stores should also offer more support than B2C sites typically provide. The B2B buying process is longer and more complicated, so take the time to help customers find what they need rather than convincing them to make quick decisions.
You can offer this support in many ways. Live chat services are one of the most straightforward, but you should go further, too. Tools like decision trees to help clients narrow down which product is best for them, feature comparison charts and blogs that outline how to use a product for a specific use case are also helpful.
Post-buying support is another key area to target. E-commerce sites should highlight ongoing services like installation, maintenance and repairs because cross-selling and repeat purchases are less of an option than in B2C circles.
Engage Potential Buyers Directly
Similarly, B2B e-commerce sites should take the initiative to engage with potential customers. Instead of simply having a chat option, send site visitors the first message, greeting them and asking if they have any questions. This engagement isn’t likely to work on speed-focused B2C online shoppers, but it appeals to B2B buyers’ need for support and information.
Reaching out to visitors via email after they’ve left your site is another good way to engage them. These communications should offer more insight into the products or services the user viewed and open the door to further conversation to understand the client’s needs and show how you can meet them.
The site’s text should also engage potential buyers. First-person phrasing is more effective than the alternatives because it speaks directly to the user. Changing things like “show estimate” to “show my estimate” seems insignificant initially, but it goes a long way.
Consider Your Customers’ Customers
Another unique aspect of B2B e-commerce to consider is that your customers have customers of their own. Serving their specific market should be your clients’ primary purpose in everything they do, so let that drive your content.
Product descriptions should highlight internal benefits like efficiency improvements or cost savings, but they can go further. If you also describe how these business-side benefits translate into advantages for their customers, you’ll make a stronger argument.
Content marketing pages should also reflect this focus on downstream benefits. Highlight testimonials that show how clients have improved their own customer experiences. Form decision trees and comparison charts around your clients’ market niches.
Take Some Inspiration From B2C
As different as B2B web design is from B2C, some truths remain the same between them. Applying some B2C strategies to a B2B context can appeal to a younger, digital-native buyer persona.
Omnichannel marketing is an excellent example. Advertising that uses multiple channels reaches a wider audience, regardless of the market they’re in. Even though B2B buyers may not make purchasing decisions on social media, they’re still active on social sites, so ads here still leave an impression.
B2C’s emphasis on speed and ease of use can also benefit B2B sites, as long as you’re careful. The site should be responsive, easy to navigate and require few clicks to make a purchase or inquiry to make up for B2B sales’ typical lengthy processing times. However, avoid emphasizing speed to the point of making emotional arguments over informational ones.
B2B E-Commerce Sites Require Unique Approaches
The internet will drive all sales in the future, regardless of who’s buying. In light of this shift, businesses must take B2B e-commerce seriously, and that requires an understanding of how and why it differs from B2C e-commerce.
Following these steps will help you optimize your B2B site to meet your clients’ needs. Keeping their unique buyer journeys and motivations in mind will help you create a more effective sales platform.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.