Contributor: Ozan Yavasoglulari, Managing Consultant – eCommerce & Portals.

In my last blog I talked about the concept of ‘Simple in Behaviour, Complex in Use’, which you can read here. In this blog, #3, we’ll look at the nature of selling to both B2B and B2C audiences with your Commerce platform.

Almost all B2B interactions ultimately will have a B2C transaction. You sell to a business (retailers, wholesalers etc) who in turn, one way or another, uses the acquired goods or services to sell on to their consumers. For some B2B businesses, these ‘B2C transactions’ play no part in their operations (or their revenue) but for  others, it’s an integral part. Enter challenge #3 in this blog series – Providing online sales with both B2B and B2C ecommerce.

So, what’s the issue? One site for B2B and another for B2C. Well, imagine you’re a sole trader and you require a vehicle, let’s say a small pickup, specifically for heavy duty work with the ability to carry heavy goods, tools etc and cover long distances, hundreds of miles a day. Electric may work… but if you’re having to do hundreds of miles a day and time is important you don’t really want to be stopping every so often to recharge. You also need something for the weekend, a city run-around for meeting friends and going out. A car that is better for inner city travel, most likely electric. You ask yourself, should I look for something that can do both? What would be the downside? If it breaks down, then it will impact both my social and business activity. On the upside, one insurance, one road tax, on service, one repair. (Also, if you install a good sound system, it’ll be available for both your work and social commutes).

While it may be easy enough to assess the pros and cons for the above analogy, it’s not quite as simple when it comes to online B2B with B2C sales. Nonetheless, the question still stands – “should it be a hybrid solution or two disparate solutions”.

A hybrid approach may seem like a no brainer, if for nothing else it will reduce the overhead of maintaining two solutions. Maybe.

Firstly, let’s define what we mean by a hybrid solution. The physical world equivalent would be selling to both business and consumer accounts out of a single store location leveraging common resources, processes, hardware etc. When moving this into the digital space however, there are several requirements that need to be carefully considered.

 “At what point within the customer online journey will your users (trade vs consumer) need to identify themselves to the system (i.e., logging into their account)?”

For example, “…before they see any price”, or “…before they are allowed to see any products”, or “…. any time, however, the price may change once they log in.” etc.  This should also be considered with discount pricing and at what point it is displayed to each user type.

“Will your trade customers purchasing journey (i.e., by volume, buying in bulk, paying on account etc) differ greatly from that of your consumers?”

The system may natively handle funnelling of the checkout journey based on the user type (trade, consumer) while still maintaining a generally common browsing experience to allow a hybrid solution. However, the answer to this question will have an impact on the first question and both need to be considered in tandem. As a result, a hybrid solution here could get very complex.

“Will both trade and consumers be allowed to purchase from the same inventory or stock location?”

In the event the answer is ‘No’, would the hybrid model of maintaining a single store to handle such complexity be as streamlined as splitting the solution up into two disparate stores? Even if the system had the inbuilt capability to handle such complexity, what about the orchestration of orders/stock to and from external systems such as your Order Management System (OMS) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. In some cases, it may be simpler to handle this within separate online stores.

“Will the available currencies depend on any price groups or trade and consumer account types?”

In most cases, where there is such a requirement, the solution tends to move away from a hybrid to a multi-store or disparate approach. Mainly because of the limitations within the platform of choice.

Whether you go with a hybrid/single store or a disparate/multi-store solution, ultimately the aim is to provide both B2B and B2C customers the online experience they expect with as little compromise as possible. While tackling the above questions will help clarify key requirements in assisting you in your decision, they are by no means the definitive list. It’s also important that you clearly understand not only the limitations of, but also how the digital platform you choose (or have chosen) is constrained to dealing with a hybrid/disparate or single/multi store approach.

In most cases you may need to engage with, or leverage the experience and knowledge of your existing or new digital partner. Getting the approach right the first time can be the difference between success or failure.

– Oz

Stuck making a choice on which eCommerce platform you should consider for your B2B & B2C transactions? Reach out to me for a quick chat to gain some clarity, or contact our team at info@enigen.co.uk

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