B2B eCommerce (short for business-to-business electronic commerce) is the online sale of goods or services between businesses. B2B eCommerce differs from B2C eCommerce, which is business-to-consumer electronic commerce, where a business sells goods or services directly to a consumer.
B2B e-commerce is a term that refers to any type of business that happens between two companies online. Businesses rely on other businesses to function, whether it's with supplying equipment or supplies to relying on services such as manufacturing or distribution, deals between businesses is key for the functioning of enterprises, and as more commerce has moved online in general, so too have B2B transactions.
There are many types of B2B commerce transactions and relationships which can take place online. The following are examples of common B2B eCommerce companies:
Manufacturers - Manufacturing is a key business function for any business dealing in physical goods, and because of the high cost of owning and operating manufacturing plants, many companies outsource their manufacturing to third parties, often located in countries such as China with lower labor costs.
Wholesalers - Wholesaling is when is a business buys items in bulk from another business, and then sells those items at a retail price to consumers, profiting the difference. There are many companies that sell items in bulk (again, often from China) at a discount, and there are even marketplaces such as Alibaba which help connect resellers with wholesalers.
Distributors - Distribution is another key aspect of business, and one which is increasingly being done online as the web has grown to be one of the largest marketing channels. B2B distributors leverage online channels such as SEO and social media to promote products and services on the behalf of their business clients.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) - Software-as-a-Service is a business-to-business software model that was pioneered by Salesforce, and today has become one of the fastest growing B2B business models for digital commerce focused tech companies. With SaaS, a business provides licenses and access to software that they produce to other businesses, who then pay the business a recurring monthly or annual fee in order to continue to gain access to the software.
Amazon - Amazon, in addition to its B2C sales, also serves as a marketplace for other businesses to transact online. Amazon also offers a service called Amazon web services (AWS) which enables cloud-base software companies to outsource their cloud architecture.
Alibaba - Alibaba is one of the largest ecommerce sites in China, and it is solely focused on B2B commerce. The site serves as a B2B ecommerce market, and businesses can go to Alibaba to find wholesalers who sell items in bulk, or to connect with manufacturers in China for designing custom products.
Mckesson - Mckesson is the largest distributor of healthcare products and drugs in the US, and provides distribution services to pharmaceutical and medical devices companies with the proper care that is needed for sensitive medical equipment.
Google - In addition to its B2C search engine, Google also offers many B2B software services. Google's GSuite provides word processing, spreadsheets, and calendaring on the cloud for businesses, while their marketing suite Google 360 provides critical tools for digital marketers. Google also offers advertising on its search results, which even today is one of their core income streams.
Facebook - Facebook is another B2C company that offers B2B services. Facebook and other social networks such as Instagram (owned by Facebook), Twitter, and Snapchat monetize their free B2C services by charging marketers for running ads on their platforms.
Microsoft - Microsoft also offers many B2B services in addition to its consumer-level office suite. Microsoft offers business licensing for its software products such as Office and Windows, as well as hardware, marketing technology, and cloud hosting services.
Salesforce - Salesforce is one of the largest B2B software companies in the world, and company that helped to popularize software-as-a-service (Saas). Salesforce provides CRM software that sales representatives can use to keep track of prospects and customers through long sales cycles and buying journeys.
Orcale - Oracle is one of the giants of B2B ecommerce, providing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software which helps businesses streamline their enterprise workflows such as accounting, procurement, project management, security and compliance, supply chains, and more.
The types of apps or websites that support B2B commerce may appear similar to consumer ecommerce platforms and apps, but often offer additional functionality that businesses require since B2B companies often have different needs than regular consumers.
For example, a B2B ecommerce site might provide pricing for ordering in bulk, since companies often need large quantities of items for their workforces. Or a site may offer different payment options in addition to consumer payment methods such credit cards as or PayPal, since B2B buyers often have to go through approval processes and pay for large orders via invoice.
Larger business deals often require negotiation between companies, often the case with SaaS sales, and in such cases it may not even be possible for users to checkout and pay for a purchase directly through a website. Instead B2B customers get in touch through the website with a sales rep who then begins an enterprise sales process to complete the transaction.
The lines between B2B and B2C ecommerce websites is not always crystal clear, however. For example, Amazon is the largest B2C ecommerce site on the web today, projected to do over $400 billion in revenue according to Forrester and other analysts.
However, although Amazon primarily serves consumers, it also serves as a marketplace for other companies. Merchants (from individual business owners to major brands) can open their own stores within the Amazon platform, and sell directly to consumers. Thus Amazon serves as both a B2C and B2B ecommerce solution.
B2B2C (businness-to-business-to-consumer) is a business model whereby a business works to provide an intermediary business with a service in order to gain access to their customers.
An example of a company that follows this business model is Instacart. Instacart partners with grocery chains, offering grocery delivery to retailers who otherwise don't offer that service. While the grocery chains benefit in the short term, Instacart gradually gains access to many of the grocery stores' customers, to the point that consumers often end up dealing directly with Instacart, skipping the grocery entirely.
The same business model is followed by companies such as Uber Eats and DoorDash. They partner with local restaurants to again offer delivery services to businesses that otherwise don't offer them, and use that to gain access to the restaurants customers.
This can be mutually beneficial, but can also be symbiotic as the companies gain greater and greater leverage over the businesses that they provide a service to, and can squeeze profits by charging fees to the businesses whom they provide the service for.
As B2B commerce has grown as a market activity, many companies have sprung up to facilitate setting up virtual storefronts. Smaller companies may rely on common B2C ecommerce solutions such as Shopify or Bigcommerce, but there are also B2B platforms that are built specifically for businesses.
Some enterprise-grade commerce platforms include software such as Optimizely (formely Episerver), Salesforce B2B Commerce, B2B Wave, OrderCircle, Drupal Commerce, and Shopify Plus. These B2B ecommerce platforms allow businesses to quickly setup ecommerce stores that have the specific needs of B2B commerce in mind, such as recurring payments and custom payment methods.
Although many companies have come online in recent years, many lack the expertise to build their own ecommerce platforms from scratch, hence the popularity of B2B ecommerce software has grown as more and more legacy businesses come online.
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