B2B Ecommerce Functionality: One Size Does Not Fit All

While thinking about B2B ecommerce, it became clear to me that the term itself is incredibly broad.

Under the umbrella of B2B, there are actually many different types of B2B companies, each with their own needs, when it comes to ecommerce. They include “consumer-like” companies, distributors, manufacturers, and companies that provide what I’ll call digital “content”.

Understanding what type of business you are and what type of end users will take advantage of your ecommerce channel will help determine what factors are important, when deciding on a B2B ecommerce solution. Keep in mind what I’m about to discuss is not absolute; every company will have some aspects of each of these characteristics and their functional needs will vary according to their specific business situation and target audience.

Consumer-like B2B

These types of companies should focus on defining primary and secondary user personas and creating customer journeys that mirror what is traditionally found in B2C ecommerce. Factors that are important within B2C ecommerce include; search, navigation, rich product information, high resolution imagery, and ease of check out. Making purchasing as easy as possible enables these types of companies to better connect with the people on the other end of the transaction.

Companies that fall into this category include CDW, BookPal, and Amazon Supply.


These are the types of companies most of us are familiar with when we think of B2B. They provide a service between multiple manufacturers in the end-user companies. Distributors will want many of the same features that are present in a B2C website, but they also have some unique requirements. These may include secure portals requiring customers to login upon entry to the site, account-specific pricing or implementing individual spending limits.

Distributor companies may also want to change or limit the product catalog, in which any one customer may be shopping to display only products that are eligible for purchase. Additionally, there may be certain price contracts that have been negotiated and all of that information needs be reflected accurately on the website.

Companies of this type would include Grainger, McMaster Carr, OfficeMax Workplace, and many other industrial distributors.


These types of companies have to appeal to a broad range of site users, including end consumers. After all, if someone is going to buy a new lawnmower, their first stop for research won’t always be Home Depot. They’ll often go directly to the website of Toro or whatever manufacturer they are considering. In many cases, the biggest challenge for manufacturers when building an ecommerce site is channel conflict.

Manufacturers can solve this in a number of ways, such as by funneling users to one of their retail partners to complete the purchase, or by working with channel partners to establish drop ship capabilities. At the same time, they can establish their ecommerce channels as the primary destination for product information, and help play a primary role in guiding the purchase process.

Companies that fall under this category include; Toro, Whirlpool, Sony, Proctor & Gamble, and many others.


Companies that fall into this category are those whose products are less tangible than a manufacturer or traditional distributor. Specifically, these companies sell information or intellectual property. The B2B ecommerce sites these companies operate tend to be deep and require significant amounts of content management in order to keep them up-to-date and operational. Robust Product Information Management (PIM) capabilities may be necessary, and checkout would need to include the ability to download digital versions of the content or intellectual property.

Companies that fall into this category include Thomson Reuters, insurance companies, and certain software vendors.

While no single platform will be a perfect fit for every type of B2B company, understanding what your primary B2B type is, will help drive requirements and needed capabilities. Making final B2B platform selection a bit simpler.