March 11, 2014, 2:06 PM

B2B and B2C e-commerce: similarities in the digital age

Purchasing agents are online consumers themselves, accustomed to buying online. Plus, Amazon’s entry into B2B e-commerce in 2012 accelerated growth, says Gartner analyst Gene Alvarez.

Remember back in the early days of business-to-consumer e-commerce, when catalogers easily made the transition to online selling? The catalogers could make this transition because they had customer service, fulfillment capabilities and a direct connection with consumers. Well, that is the first of the similarities of B2C and business-to-business e-commerce.

Today many B2B organizations that have sold through catalogs for years are now quickly moving to an online sales model. This is because many of the buyers are that are working in organizations that purchase B2B goods have been exposed to B2C selling at home.

Whether it’s because of items they buy on Amazon.com for personal use, or the office supplies they purchase for their company from organizations like Staples, OfficeMax or Office Depot, the consumerization of the customer experience has worked its way into many B2B sales models.

These B2B organizations are now seeking to sell everything from spare parts and business commodities to services, and today’s employees prefer to purchase the things they need for work in the same manner that they purchase things for themselves.

This B2B race to sell online was also fueled by Amazon’s 2012 launch of its own B2B site, AmazonSupply.com, which sells more than 1.25 million products in categories ranging from industrial parts and power tools to equipment for science laboratories and occupational safety.  Amazon has raised the bar for those B2B suppliers already selling online as it brings it customer expertise to the B2B world, and customers are beginning to expect the same level of customer experience online that they have for B2C purchases in a B2B environment.

Additionally, these savvy B2C Internet shoppers expect everything from personalization to repeat ordering via a multitude of devices as they jump from one site to another.

Companies that sell to other businesses need to address these questions: If your product category is on AmazonSupply, can you catch up? And if it isn’t on Amazon Supply, how do you think you can begin selling it online before it is on AmazonSupply? Is your organization ready to meet this challenge, or is it falling behind?

Most companies can still get in the game, if they act now and build a B2B e-commerce strategy with the right mix of e-commerce technology that provides their existing and prospective customers a new way to find and purchase their products.

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