Can B2B and B2C e-commerce be compared?

When it comes to B2B selling online, automotive organisations are struggling to provide the online buying experience that their customers have come to expect. That’s the view published in the 2013 E-commerce Report from Intershop, which also reveals that smartphone usage, social media and the so-called “consumerisation of IT” are driving up B2B customer expectations. The report’s advice? Automotive firms have to adapt to changing customer expectations, driven by trends such as smartphone usage and social media. But how can that be done? In addition to assimilating the research data, Tyres & Accessories asked Chris Barling, chairman on e-commerce system developer SellerDeck for his views.

For Barling’s company, SellerDeck has purportedly helped tens of thousands of smaller companies start selling on the web. “At SellerDeck (www.sellerdeck.co.uk) we have long sold e-commerce solutions to both B2C and B2B companies, with a fair smattering doing both. However, uptake in the B2B space has noticeably lagged that in B2C. That’s why the Intershop report makes interesting reading,” Barling commented.

He continued by pointing out that the fundamental difference between B2B and B2C e-commerce lies in what happens prior to the buying decision being made. B2B customers are hugely more likely to be repeat buyers, and much more likely to have accounts, to be given credit etc, so they are just visiting the site to place the order, not to make a buying decision. Conversely, B2C buyers are more likely to be encountering retailers for the first time. This means that the online opportunity is greater and marketing plays a larger part.

“To quote an extreme example to illustrate the point, a buyer of commercial jets won’t search online, discover a new type of plane and then place an online order all in the same session. Similarly, most retailers will be repeat buying from wholesalers, not searching anew before every order. Once an auto accessories outlet has established a good relationship with a reliable parts supplier, and maybe has its own discounted price list, why should it look elsewhere?” Barling asked.

According to the SellerDeck chairman, the big benefits in B2B ecommerce are around the cost of processing orders (online is cheaper) and subsequent visibility and tracking of the status of the order. Online orders both reduce queries and provide a better service to the buyer, so both sides gain. These benefits are most powerful when the cost of processing and tracking orders is high relative to the value of the order, which is less common with B2B transactions where the average order size is higher. The relative cost of answering queries on the telephone or by email (which, of course, is the alternative to answering on the web) about £10,000 orders is much lower than the cost of answering many queries about £50 orders.

“However, it’s becoming increasingly hard for B2B sites to stop the tide. Most buyers are now also consumers who in their personal life are buying on B2C sites. They expect the same, or better service in their business lives. It is true that B2B sites have lagged the market, but it is also true that there are benefits for B2B sites, as cited by the survey. The most likely outcome is that online ordering, and equally important, online order tracking, will be become a necessary part of doing business in the auto trade in the future, whatever the cost,” Barling concluded.

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