Is B2B Shopping Really Like B2C?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard that all B2B eCommerce websites need to provide an Amazon-style experience.

If you haven’t heard this, you will! It’s one of the most common talking points in the industry today.

To some extent, it’s true. At a high level, all B2B eCommerce experiences should be as easy as the experience of using Amazon. More importantly, you should provide a great customer experience across all channels—phone, email, EDI, and eCommerce, with consistent real-time data in each one.

The trouble arises when manufacturers try to mimic the specific shopping functionality of Amazon without first questioning any underlying assumptions.

Here are common 3 assumptions about B2B. It’s worth interrogating each one in the context of your business. 

Assumption 1: B2B shopping processes are just like B2C

Shopping on a B2B site is fundamentally different from shopping on a B2C site. In many cases, it’s not even “shopping” in the proper sense. 

Most B2B customers know exactly what they need—and what they’re authorized to buy. They are purchasing agents, not shoppers.

When they come to your B2B eCommerce site, they’re not necessarily planning to browse your catalog to learn about products. More likely, they need to get pricing and availability information for known products. Perhaps they need this for budgeting purposes. Maybe they want to check their data before submitting an EDI order—or maybe they’re checking before placing an order through B2B eCommerce.

They may also come to the site to check credit status. Or to track an order. Or to pay off an invoice (if you have digital payments enabled).

In all these scenarios, the B2B buyer is starting from a different place than the B2C shopper. Your goal in B2B eCommerce is not so much to attract and convert them off the open internet, but to delight a person who’s already committed to being your customer.

Assumption 2: Merchandising is a core component of B2B eCommerce

The Amazon-style experience is designed to attract and convert a customer who has total freedom to buy whatever they want—for their own purposes as an individual.

The true B2B experience starts with customers who don’t have total freedom and aren’t buying for their own purposes. Consequently, the true B2B experience is designed to give customers the information they need—fast.

This means merchandising often plays a reduced role, or no role at all, in B2B eCommerce.

Now, in some B2B scenarios, catalog browsing and product recommendations are still crucial. They can be useful to remind the buyer of the other products associated with what they’re buying to ensure their order is complete.

But in true B2B scenarios, it’s not as common to entice a contract customer to buy a product they don’t already know or suspect they need.

In B2C eCommerce, one could argue it’s merchandising that makes the channel tick.

In B2B eCommerce, it’s cross-channel transparency that makes the channel tick. When customers can get the same pricing and availability through every channel—whether B2B eCommerce, a customer service rep, or EDI—then you’ve got a great cross-channel experience, and B2B eCommerce is doing its job.

Of course, this requires comprehensive, real-time SAP ERP integration. That’s why the Corevist Platform includes prebuilt integration for ECC and S/4HANA out of the box.

Assumption 3: The bundle of essential B2B features is largely the same as B2C

Most B2B eCommerce platforms take the essential functions of B2C eCommerce and bundle them into one package. They require you to build out:

  • A public storefront that functions as the first stop on a customer journey that’s saturated with merchandising.
  • A public catalog that deepens the merchandising saturation, as every product tries to attract the customer away from every other product.
  • Rich content for every product—i.e. pictures, videos, descriptions, comparisons, downloadable spec sheets, and more.
  • Recommended products displayed within a product listing.
  • Credit card support at checkout. This is a tough transition to make overnight if your accounts receivable processes currently depend on net 30/60/90 terms and invoicing.
  • Some form of integration with SAP ERP so B2B eCommerce tells the same story as your ERP. (The most common approach here is synchronization architecture, which requires 3 separate systems—SAP ERP, eCommerce, and middleware. This causes significant problems over time, which is why the Corevist Platform includes 49 prebuilt, real-time, direct integration points to SAP—but I digress!)

To do any of this on most B2B eCommerce platforms, you have to do all of it.

Yet some organizations aren’t ready for the whole package. Even if they intend to get there eventually, they don’t have the experience or the resources to do it well today. Kudos to them for refusing to buy things they don’t need and can’t support.  

Other organizations never intend to get there. This all-or-nothing package doesn’t fit their business processes or their customers’ needs—because the biggest thing they need is an easy self-service experience that’s deeply integrated with SAP ERP.  

Why? Because that’s the only way to deliver the most essential elements of customer experience in true B2B scenarios—things like:

  • Real-time product availability straight from SAP ERP, including personalized ATP (available to promise).
  • Real-time contract pricing straight from SAP ERP, including quantity rule enforcement.
  • Real-time credit status straight from the ERP, so customers know if their order will go on credit block.
  • Quick order-building by SKU, for those customers who know what they need (and don’t want to wade through a product catalog to find it and add it to the cart).
  • Quick order upload by CSV, for those customers who work with an internal procurement system and don’t want to re-key everything in B2B eCommerce.
  • All SAP business rules enforced in the cart, so every order posts to SAP without errors.
  • Real-time history and status for all orders, line items, and shipments, from all channels, so customers get total transparency through self-service.
  • Real-time history and status for all invoices, so customers can get a clear picture of their account without making a phone call, sending an email, or waiting for an outdated paper statement.
  • Self-service digital payment capabilities, both for cart checkout and for existing invoices, so customers can buy with convenience and keep their accounts in good standing.

As you can see, the requirements of true B2B eCommerce scenarios are quite different from B2C. In fact, the question of shopping, merchandising, and product content only scrapes the surface of complex B2B use cases.

Here at Corevist, we’ve seen diverse forms of B2B eCommerce in 14 years of helping manufacturers. Here are just a few examples.

  • A self-service B2B portal for order tracking, so customers don’t have to call customer service. (This is how our client Emmerson Packaging slashed their customer service burden by 97%.)
  • An online ordering portal, without a product catalog, where customers can place quick orders by SKU and manage their accounts. (Check out our case study on LORD Corporation for details.)
  • Full-featured B2B eCommerce, including product catalogs with rich content, in addition to online ordering and account management capabilities that support the complexities of B2B. (See our story on Axalta Coating Systems for more.)

The takeaway: Don’t let vendors define how B2B eCommerce works for your customers

There’s a lot of pressure out there to bend your business processes (and your customers) to the capabilities of B2B eCommerce platforms that began life in the B2C sector. The key is to step back from this pressure and examine two things:

  1. The real needs of your customers.
  2. Outdated business processes that you need to streamline (or retire)

When you look at things from these angles, B2B eCommerce becomes much clearer. You have everything you need in SAP ERP, as far as data and logic. The key is to make the power of your ERP investment available directly to customers to do business with you on any device. If you can do this without buying features and functionality that you don’t need, you’ve got a real win.

That’s the thinking behind the Corevist Platform.

The Corevist Platform | Full SAP Integration Included | Corevist, Inc.

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About Author

Susan Wall

Susan Wall, COO, brings a wealth of experience to the Corevist team as a customer-focused executive with a demonstrated history of success in the software and media industries. Driven by data, skilled at leading high-growth companies with entrepreneurial cultures, she’s a Revenue Marketer and Data Geek at her core. She likes nothing better than building repeatable, predictable engines for business success.