People interact with B2B and B2C user portals every day. They could be bulk-ordering essential items for a business or buying a new pair of trainers for themselves. However, despite these tasks being conceptually similar (they both involve placing an order with a supplier), how the user wants to interact with the system can be very different.
So, what sets a B2B portal apart from a B2C portal?
1. Multiple vs single users
In a B2B environment there will generally be more than one employee using the portal on behalf of the business. Whereas with B2C, it is more common for customers to be private individuals who do not need to share their access with others.
B2B portals also need to take into account that these users may change over time. For example, an employee may change roles, or leave and be replaced by a new starter.
To handle this situation, some B2B portals simply provide one account, assuming the business will share the password between users. However for security and audit control reasons this approach is not recommended.
As a security best practice, each individual user should have a separate, named account on any systems that they need to access. This enables individual user actions to be logged, monitored, and audited.
When creating a B2B portal, this requirement will impact the data schema, the user interface, and the onboarding process.
A well-designed B2B portal will also allow business users to set specific permissions or access roles for individuals using the services. Often these are split into Admin, Operator and Billing roles, but depending on the application, a finer-grained permissions system may be needed.
2. Interaction with other systems
Given the standalone nature of providing B2C services, it's rare that a B2C transaction will require importing data into a different system. Generally, following a transaction, a B2C user will receive a receipt or order confirmation which they would simply keep for their own personal use.
On the other hand, B2B activities are often part of wider business processes, which require data to be available in multiple systems.
For example, data from a supplier order to re-stock a retail store would also be needed in the POS and warehouse system for sales and stock control, and in the accounting system to create a self-billing invoice.
These data exports should be provided in open, structured, machine-readable formats, so that they can be easily imported without needing manipulation or conversion first. This could be a CSV or Excel file for tabular data, or JSON or XML for more complex datasets.
3. Data volume
With a B2C portal, it's unlikely that large quantities of products (100s of SKUs) are going to be ordered, therefore most B2C portals don't need to factor in opportunities for bulk buying. Purchases are normally for personal use only, so it's generally a case of adding items into their basket and going through the checkout.
On the flip side, B2B services often deal with bulk buying and repeat custom, so a portal needs to make this as easy as possible for the user.
Retailers ordering stock from a wholesaler, for example, aren't going to want to individually select hundreds, if not thousands of items to add to their basket, particularly as they often deal with variations of products such as different sizes or colours. When stock needs replenishing, their inventory system will alert them with a breakdown of exactly what they need.
A more appropriate interface for this type of operation could be a downloadable order form template, where they simply state what product they want and the various quantities for respective aspects like size and colour, then upload it to the portal to create an order.
Equally, should their inventory reporting service notify them to order the same products for the next month, they can re-upload the same template back into the system. Or, they can re-use the template for different products. So, whatever they need to order is just a couple of clicks away, which makes for a highly-efficient user experience.
4. The cost of being a customer
A B2B user accessing a self-service portal for work, is by definition being paid by their employer to use the service.
Time is money for businesses and if employees are having to spend a significant proportion of their working day navigating a portal, then it's going to be costly. Equally, companies also have to factor in the costs associated with actually using B2B services, so there's an expectation to ensure a B2B portal provides value-for-money.
In general, but especially if their portal is crucial to a company's day-to-day operations, B2B suppliers should offer the optimum user experience (UX) to ensure they maintain a competitive advantage.
A B2C customer, on the other hand, uses a portal in their own time. So, whilst a time-consuming user experience would undoubtedly be frustrating from their perspective, it won't have a direct financial consequence like it would for a business.
5. Payment flow
When making purchases through B2C portals, it's common practice that customers will make payment in advance before the goods are shipped. This means a B2C portal will have a standard checkout flow, where you add an item to basket, enter your respective details for billing and delivery and the transaction is completed there and then.
From a B2B perspective, it's the norm that purchases will be made on credit (unless you're a new customer, where you'll first be subject to an initial credit check and approval process).
So, rather than offering a checkout flow like a B2C portal, a B2B customer will be sent an invoice for the goods when they are supplied.
Payments will then be made offline (e.g. via BACS), which could come in over 30 days after the original order was placed or the goods shipped. This results in a very different accounting and credit control process, reconciling the orders with payments received, as opposed to the immediacy of accounting for B2C transactions.
6. Direct integration support
Connecting a B2B portal to a business's own systems, either through bespoke APIs or open standards such as XBRL and PEPPOL, allows staff to use the service without accessing the portal directly themselves.
An example would be direct courier integration to book shipments and generate barcode labels directly from the order fulfilment system, as opposed to manually creating labels using the courier's portal.
With this fully-integrated approach, manual intervention is minimised, enabling usage to scale up without the associated admin costs.
There are many differnces between the needs of B2B and B2C users.
Getting this right can reduce costs, mistakes, and also unlock growth and profitatbilty, increasing satisfaction of your staff and customers.