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Why eB2B is growing faster than B2C and how to win in the channel

Business-to-Business eCommerce has its own unique challenges. We share three steps you can take to ensure you understand your opportunities and maximize your eB2B potential.

Written by
Nick Everitt
June 6, 2024
5
mins
Ecommerce
Why eB2B is growing faster than B2C and how to win in the channel

Table of contents

Business-to-Business eCommerce (or eB2B) is experiencing rapid growth, as retailers and manufacturers continue to invest and build capability. Unlike Business-to-Consumer (B2C) eCommerce, eB2B is defined as brands, manufacturers and wholesalers selling products and services to other businesses, often in bulk. The transactions are processed by an online platform or marketplace, and leading players in this space include Amazon Business, Indiamart and Metro, although there are a variety of different formats emerging.

The B2B channel has historically been slower to embrace online, favoring more traditional in-person or phone-based sales techniques. However, B2B eCommerce has gained momentum in recent years, such that eB2B sales are now growing faster than online B2C sales, with a forecasted CAGR of 15.7% for Business-to-Business eCommerce grocery between now and 2028 (vs. 9.7% for eB2C).

3 steps to succeed in B2B eCommerce

Over the past 12 months, we at Flywheel Consulting have worked with numerous clients on their Business-to-Business eCommerce strategies, supporting them on projects from market and operator sizing to developing actionable go-to-market playbooks and business plans. This work has highlighted some important differences between eB2B and eB2C, and we’ve established three key steps that we believe businesses need to take to win in B2B eCommerce.

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Step one: understand that eB2B retailers are not all the same

The B2B eCommerce sphere comprises multiple operator types with different characteristics. To help understand the dynamics, we can segment the eB2B channel into four sub-channels. The first group are online marketplaces, such as Amazon Business, Indiamart or Alibaba's 1688.com. These platforms typically sell a broad assortment of products, connecting multiple manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, often on a global scale.

Secondly, digital disruptors are usually start-ups that connect small retailers with manufacturers and wholesalers in emerging markets—predominantly in south and south-east Asia. Examples of digital disruptors include Udaan (India), bukalapak (Indonesia) and Vinshop (Vietnam). This group has seen dramatic growth and investment in recent years, although many are now experiencing profitability challenges in the face of rising costs, with Alibaba’s LST suspending operations in March 2024.

The third group are cash & carry/wholesalers. These store-based operators are now expanding their eCommerce businesses to sell to retailers or other business shoppers online. Examples include Carrefour's Atacadão, Tesco's Booker and Germany-based cash & carry operator Metro, which is targeting 40% of sales through digital channels by 2030—up from 13% in 2024.

The fourth sub-channel is a growing segment of CPG manufacturers who are setting up B2B eCommerce platforms of their own so they can connect directly with retailers and professional business customers. One of the most well-known is the BEES platform, which is operated by AB InBev, and is now live in 26 markets. BEES achieved $39.8 billion in Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) in 2023.

Each of these four operator types is unique and each requires a tailored approach that considers both the market and the customer. This leads us into the second step—sizing and segmenting in each market you operate in.

Step two: use a bottom-up approach to assess your Business-to-Business eCommerce opportunity

When calculating the eB2B opportunity available to your business, there is a danger of relying solely on traditional top-down estimates of market size. This approach often creates unrealistically high estimates of the opportunity and can inflate the importance of certain regions. For example, Asia-Pacific is often weighted too heavily due to the presence of large-scale online marketplaces and digital disruptors. These estimates also typically combine sales from all product categories, which—given the nature of B2B eCommerce—can mean including everything from electrical components to financial payments.

That's why, at Flywheel Consulting, we recommend a detailed, bottom-up approach to assessing the eB2B opportunity in each market. This takes your business and your product categories as a starting point, from which we identify those B2B eCommerce operators that are genuinely relevant. Our assessment of the size and growth of the market is then based on this select set of operators. Although this creates a smaller universe than a top-down approach, it gives you a much more accurate view of where growth will come from and shows you which operators are the key ones to partner with.

Step three: meet the unique needs of the B2B shopper

Whilst B2B and B2C shoppers have many needs in common, such as a frictionless online experience and rapid delivery solutions, the B2B shopper has different expectations and demands around their buying experience. In general, B2B relationships are highly personal, meaning that a more hands-on approach is required, even when interactions are taking place in the digital sphere.

The most important differences between B2C and B2B shoppers are summarized in the following table.

B2C B2B
Buyers Individual shoppers Business customers
Basket size/value Smaller baskets to fulfil individual/family consumption needs Larger, bulk orders to fulfil business needs
Mission type Unplanned, impulse Planned
Loyalty Relatively disloyal, switching common Loyal, customers tied to long-term subscriptions
Digital platform maturity Sophisticated, convenient, personalized Still developing

As with B2C customers, it’s important to remember that these are generalizations but your eB2B customers aren’t all the same. You still need to segment them based on their shopper profile and unique mission.

The B2B eCommerce digital shelf also requires a targeted approach in areas like content and media—you can't simply use the same assets as for your B2C activities. You should consider the unique requirements of your business customers with bespoke promotions or products specific to the eB2B channel. Based on these requirements, you may need to invest in new assets such as images that highlight different products like bulk packs.

B2B eCommerce: a key growth channel for the future

In a challenging retail landscape, eB2B gives retailers and manufacturers added potential for strong growth—fuelled by advancements in platform technology, increased competition from digital disruptors and rising demand for more convenient and frictionless approaches to business transactions.

For businesses yet to explore this potential, it’s important they lean into the channel now. This starts with assessing the key partners in their markets and categories, and building a dedicated go-to-market plan for Business-to-Business eCommerce. If you'd like to find out how Flywheel Consulting can support you on your eB2B journey, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

FAQ
Nick Everitt
Nick Everitt
Director of Consulting, Flywheel
Nick Everitt
Director of Consulting, Flywheel
As Director of Consulting with over 25 years’ experience in retail, strategy and insight roles at companies like IGD, Tesco and Safeway, Nick delivers strategic projects for our clients, focusing on go-to-market strategies, future retail trends and how to win in an eCommerce-driven world.
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