B2B & B2C Fulfillment Services - The Differences Explained

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The world of B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) fulfillment may baffle you if you’re new to these industries. You’ve probably seen these abbreviations before and didn’t really know how to differentiate them from another. In the world of fulfillment, there’s vast differences in general operations, regulations, and even philosophy.

B2B and B2C Fulfillment Services

As part of any B2B versus B2C fulfillment discussion, you can go into considerable detail about how they differ. It’s a good practice to understand the differences so you can determine which aspect to business to focus on when locating a fulfillment center.

Locating a fulfillment center takes a lot of vetting, and understanding what B2B and B2C centers do can help you make better business decisions. We can help you with that here at Intelligent Connections Corp.

But let’s look at some of the definitions in what truly divides the B2B and B2C worlds. You’ll understand that B2B works on a very different emotional track, along with stricter rules. At the same time, you’ll realize B2C does a better job at providing special shipping features to customers.

How B2B Fulfillment Works

The B2B industry caters strictly to shipping items to other businesses, and that usually means shipping in bulk supply. That’s because businesses usually buy products in advance so they don’t have to buy items on a daily basis. This means supplying products to another company for resale purposes, including to many big-box stores.

Fulfillment centers take care of the above process and usually have central focus on speed of shipping. While shipping speed is always important in a B2B fulfillment center, it sometimes means placing efficiency above nurturing supreme customer service.

One reason for the attention on fulfillment speed is because of the complicated routing procedures warehouses need to follow. Rules and regulations for B2B fulfillment are quite complex and involve a lot of penalties if fulfillment rules aren’t followed.

What’s known as “charge backs” to fulfillment centers for not following procedures correctly can end up causing a lot of headaches.

Many big-box stores require B2B fulfillment centers to stay compliant with EDI (an acronym for Electronic Data Interchange), plus compliance for barcodes, parcel labels, and invoices. As a result, B2B fulfillment is more complex than the B2C fulfillment process by far.

How B2C Fulfillment Works

For B2C fulfillment, it’s all about sending to a customer rather than a business. This already simplifies much of the shipping process since there aren’t as many rules and regulations involved. B2C fulfillment cares about speed and accuracy in shipping, though there’s usually more attention on providing special features for customers.

The above occurs through more customer-oriented features like offering free shipping and even same-day shipping. Regardless, most B2C fulfillment orders are one-time orders, which is different from B2B where long-term relationships occur.

It’s here where you can see some additional divides between B2B and B2C fulfillment that extend into basic operations.

Some Other Differences to Note

Transactions are one of the major differences between B2B and B2C fulfillment. When you look at the size of orders, B2B generally has a smaller order volume because of businesses buying in bulk. B2C fulfillment usually means a larger volume of orders at a time, which can make shipping more stressful, especially during the holiday season.

With reference to emotion earlier, you can see the widest divide of all. B2C fulfillment goes by impulse buys. In B2B, businesses buy based on more carefully considered factors and research without much emotion.

B2B vs B2C eCommerce: Same but Different

Everyone is shopping online these days. Even before the pandemic of 2020, business buyers were making the move to buying more and more online. Statista puts global B2B eCommerce in 2019. That’s over four times the size of the B2C eCommerce market, which was a little over $3 trillion. While everyone may be doing it; they don’t all do it the same. There are clear differences between B2B and B2C buyers. Both sets of buyers may have some of the same expectations, but their shopping habits and behavior are quite different. That’s why their customer experience needs to be different and tailored to their wants and needs.

B2B vs B2C Fulfillment

What Both B2C and B2B Buyers Want

Before we delve into differences, let’s look at what both B2B and B2C buyers want in their eCommerce experience. Because they do have some commonality.

Mobile Ready. Both B2C and B2B buyers are not tethered to desktops. So, they want a great experience whether they are on their smartphone or laptop. Your website should perform flawlessly on any device with any browser. Mobile searches exceed desktop ones and 51% of people 16-64 purchased a product using their mobile phone in April 2020.

Rich Content. B2C and B2B buyers are looking for solutions and searching for answers to their problems. They want in-depth product information. A pretty picture and 50-word product description just won’t cut it anymore. Both types of shoppers want access to user and product manuals, how-to videos, live or AI-enabled chat, use and case studies, FAQs, user forums, and as much information as you can provide about your product or service.

Self-Serve Model. It’s important to provide all of this rich content because what buyers of both stripes really want is a completely self-serve model. They don’t want to pick up the phone or send an email. Customers demand speed and they want answers now! And 70% of customers expect your website to include a self-service application. So, provide order tracking, order history, return authorization, and other common customer service tasks directly from your website.

Frictionless Experience. What do the items above have in common? They all work together to create a frictionless experience. Now that’s what customers really want. So, give them one-page checkout, multiple payment options, easy reordering, and chatbots for inquiries. Consider your menu structure and make sure your design allows someone to purchase in as few clicks as possible. Every form they must fill out and every click they must make creates friction. If you provide site search (and you should) be sure to include an autofill function.

The Different Shopping Habits of B2C and B2B

So, while B2C and B2B may have some expectations for customer experience in common, they have quite different shopping habits.

Shopping Habits of B2C Buyers

B2C buyers may not even set out to make a purchase. They may see an ad on social media, receive an email offer, or just be simply surfing the net.

They tend to make purchases based on emotion. That makes them more receptive to advertising and marketing efforts. They might see a new product and think “that’s something that I might enjoy”.

B2C buyers tend to make more one-off purchases than B2B buyers. They aren’t looking to establish a relationship; they just want a product that they might not even know existed an hour ago. And they don’t usually buy in large quantities.

When it comes to cost, the B2C buyer doesn’t negotiate cost.

Shopping Habits of B2B Buyers

B2B buyers usually start their purchase journey with a search for product information. They take their time gathering information because they usually have defined product specifications in mind. Potential products must be measured against these specifications. They may be looking for items that must be customized to their needs

There’s little to no emotion in a B2B purchase. Advertising and marketing efforts revolve around resolving pain points. This buyer is making a well-researched rational buying decision and from start to finish, the sales cycle is long.

That’s because B2B buyers tend to purchase the same product again and again. They are evaluating the vendor as much as the product. The relationship is important and they are generally looking at post-purchase support as well. To this buyer, the purchase experience is even more important than the price.

And, when it comes to price, the B2B buyer is accustomed to negotiating a price based on volume and frequency of purchase. This buyer expects their prices as well as freight and payment options to be customized to their needs. They generally evaluate multiple suppliers at one time. Then when it comes time to make the purchase, a B2B buyer usually must obtain approval from others.

How eCommerce Meets the Needs of B2C and B2B Buyers and Sellers

eCommerce must adapt to meet the different needs of B2C and B2B buyers and one size doesn’t fit all situations.

eCommerce for B2C

B2C buyers are just as happy shopping on a marketplace like Amazon as they are on a company’s website. B2C sellers need to offer multiple channels for eCommerce. If you have brick and mortar stores, your eCommerce strategy should align. Options like buying online and pick-up in-store and location services that can send push notifications when shoppers come inside provide the type of personalized attention retail shoppers love.

Eye-catching graphics and design are a must to catch and hold the attention of B2C shoppers. Remember these are impulse buyers and eCommerce allows you to convert interest to a sale right away.

If they don’t convert, the eCommerce solution should provide ways to capture abandoned carts and turn them into completed sales.

For consumable items, a subscription model combined with eCommerce keeps repeat orders coming in and makes cash flow even more predictable.

Don’t underestimate the power of social media to fuel B2C eCommerce. Whether you operate separate storefronts on Facebook or Pinterest or use social to keep the sales funnel full, your eCommerce strategy must include a social component.

A B2B eCommerce platform must integrate well with your social channels, have a robust CMS, offer multiple payment options (credit/debit and PayPal) with a secure checkout, be easy to get up and running quickly. Some software as a service (SaaS) options like BigCommerce or Shopify fulfillment are easy to implement but lack the ability to customize workflows.

eCommerce for B2B

B2B buyers are looking for a different type of personalization. They want custom catalogs and price lists that are tailored for their account so be sure to show this buyer their pre-negotiated prices when they log-in. You may need to create different storefronts for different verticals.

For visitors that aren’t yet customers, an automated RFQ workflow will allow shoppers to get accurate quotes quickly.

Because most business purchases involve more than one buyer, it’s important to allow your users to define the roles and permissions that align with their internal practices.

Because most purchases are repeat sales, by providing quick order forms, accepting CSV file uploads, and order from sales history functions, buyers can place their orders quickly and accurately without the need to speak to a sales rep.

The secure checkout for B2B eCommerce should support multiple workflows. Most business purchases aren’t paid for with a credit card at the time of purchase. So, options for establishing a line of credit and paying on terms must be provided. Your eCommerce solution will need to integrate with partners that factor your receivables, check credit, or perform other financing services.

Speaking of integration, in B2B eCommerce, the ability to work and play well with other solutions is essential. B2B buyers may want to use EDI or punchout catalogs and you’ll need to integrate. Your eCommerce solution should seamlessly slide into action with your ERP, WMS, PIM, CMS, and other business software.

B2C and B2B eCommerce are Different – So Are Their Solutions

As you can see, while B2C and B2B buyers have some common expectations, their actual transactional needs are very different. B2B is much more complex than B2C.

B2B eCommerce solutions need to be built from the ground up for how companies do business with each other. B2C platforms repurposed for B2B just aren’t up to the job. So, when you look for a B2B eCommerce solution be sure to look for:

  • Ability to handle unlimited SKUs is imperative – with multiple warehouses or stock locations, so don’t be limited by the number of SKUs your solution can process.
  • CRM integration or inclusion – your solution must either include or integrate with a CRM to increase the productivity of your sales and marketing assets.
  • User-defined roles and permissions – make like Amazon Business and let your users set limits on their authority to purchase.
  • Robust workflow engine – your solution should conform to your business, not the other way around. Make sure you can define workflows.

There are many eCommerce solutions on the market today. If your digital strategy includes B2B eCommerce, make sure your solution is B2B ready and not repurposed B2C.

How Customer Experience Extends Into Both Niches

Once upon a time, ecommerce fulfillment was almost 100% retail and etail businesses. Slowly but steadily, B2B enterprises are jumping into the market and are becoming a larger part of the fulfillment world.

Historically, fulfillment has been considered to be the “back-end” of an operation, a necessary cost after everything else has been decided. That old-fashioned approach changed drastically during the dot.com era. The realization that fulfillment is indeed a place where strategic imperatives, such as brand building, maintaining a relationship and driving down costs, can be achieved. Once this message started spreading, it did not take B2B companies long to realize that the exact same imperatives are applied in their business model.

Fulfillment Should be Part of the Marketing Program

Many astute marketers from both B2B and B2C, now consider fulfillment to be just as important as any other component of a marketing initiative. An obvious example of this is how the use of the internet has been incorporated into the fulfillment processes, resulting in strategic or integrated fulfillment systems.

As a fulfillment provider, it is important to recognize that clients are becoming more and more experience-oriented. Further, when it comes to B2C and B2B fulfillment clients, it is very important to be aware of the differentiating factors that have an influence on their experience.

The client who sells direct to the consumer and the client who sells to other businesses, each demand a high level of service, along with specific technological and reporting needs. But, it is the fulfillment partner that can create the exceptional customer experience (either consumer, or business) that gains the competitive advantage.

Customer Experience is the Intersection

Over the years, consumers have evolved from a product-led to a consumption-driven economy. In today’s competitive environment, it is the fulfillment provider’s responsibility to create an exceptional customer experience for their clients. The way in which products are received, whether by a consumer, or a business, is the VERY first impression the recipient has of a business.

Although much discussed, this concept is often misunderstood. In a recent poll conducted of 81 businesses, several interesting insights were made:

The ecommerce, direct to consumer client is most satisfied with their fulfillment partner when the following key factors are met:

1. Helpfulness in resolving their problem or challenge
2. Value for the client’s time
3. Customer recognition – the client’s customer
4. Promised fulfillment – the fulfillment partner does what they promise
5. Personalization – the fulfillment partner is a part of the client’s team?
6. Competence
7. Accessibility

The factors that have a fundamental impact on the B2B client are:

1. The extent of personal contact
2. Flexibility
3. Implicit understanding of their needs
4. Pro-activity in eliciting customer’s objectives
5. Pro-activity in follow up
6. Promised fulfillment
7. Knowledge

Note that only Promised Fulfillment makes it to both lists. Fulfillment, by definition, is that part of the business process that plans, implements and controls the efficient, effective forward and reverse flow of goods, services and related information from the point of origin to the point of consumption in order to meet customer’s requirements. What is important to recognize is the means by which the B2B client demands satisfaction, are very different than those of a B2C company.

Whether Business to Business or Direct to Consumer, achieving a great client experience is the cornerstone of client satisfaction.

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