The Complete Guide to B2B E-commerce

B2B e-commerce – great potential for both sales and purchasing

If you’ve ever been involved in business, you have most likely come across the term B2B e-commerce. It is, after all, one of the fastest growing sales models. Regardless if you have heard the term before or not, this article will tell you what B2B e-commerce is, how it works, and what solutions PostNord can offer you and your B2B business.

Increased demand leads to e-commerce efforts in B2B

Historically, the B2B market has been known to be slow in taking in new and innovative sales platforms. But as e-commerce has increased especially in the B2C market, demands on B2B businesses to offer online shopping options have increased too. This means that the B2B market too has opened its eyes to B2B e-commerce. Nowadays, 65% of the Scandinavian B2B companies use digital sales channels (Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021).

The difference between B2B e-commerce and B2C e-commerce

It’s a valid question to ask how B2B e-commerce is different from B2C e-commerce. E-commerce exists to meet the needs of the end consumer – B2C, business-to-customer. It can be seen as a further development of mail order.

With e-commerce for B2B, things are a little different. There has been digital trade between companies for a long time, but it has usually happened behind the scenes via separate and specialized platforms. Often, the platforms are quite expensive. This is changing, as sales and purchasing nowadays can be made available to any company that looks for it. Still, there are several important differences between B2B and B2C e-commerce:

  • The customers – business customers often have more complex requirements compared to private individuals.
  • Payments and cashier – B2B often requires multiple different options like credit limits and pricing models.
  • Products – in B2B, more versions and product bundles are often required compared to B2C.
  • Development – a good B2B e-store must be able to expand against new customer segments in a different way than B2C.
  • Shipping – other considerations must be made regarding shipping options to companies compared to private individuals.

Who is responsible for the B2B e-trade in companies?

In B2B it’s common that the overall responsibility for the company’s digital e-store lies with the management group, more specifically the CEO, CMO and sales manager. In larger corporations, the CMO carries more responsibility, while the CEO typically takes all the responsibility in smaller companies.

The report Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021 shows that only 15% of B2B businesses have an e-store manager responsible for the e-store. In 10% of cases, a digital strategist carries the responsibility. Here too there are differences between large and small companies. In larger companies, odds are greater that there is a dedicated role for e-trade compared to smaller companies. This can mean that there is a greater digital maturity among larger companies.


Who is responsible for the digital trade in companies?

Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

The modern B2B customer

Today’s B2B customer is as digitally experienced as the corresponding B2C customer and expects the same customer experience. B2B customers carry with them their private e-shopping experiences in their role as purchaser. Another important factor is that B2B customers increasingly belong to the generation who grew up with the internet and therefore have other expectations on the online accessibility of B2B companies.

The modern B2B customer expects, among other things:

  • Flexibility – they want to be able to place an order any time of the day, regardless of where they are.
  • Self-service – they want to be able to order the product on their own, without the need to talk to a sales person.
  • Convenience – they want to find the right product and information quickly and efficiently on their own, via both a desktop and a smartphone.
  • Control – they want to maintain control of their purchase after the order has been made, for example via automated delivery updates.

Stapeldiagram som visar fördelningen av typ av plattform för B2B e-handel.

On what platform does B2B e-trade take place? Web store with login is the most common option.

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2020.

Four misconceptions about B2B e-commerce and its customers

1. B2B customers don’t want to buy products and services online

Today, more of generation Y (millennials) are in relevant purchasing roles in many industries. This new generation is very familiar with web stores and e-commerce. In many cases, online shopping is even the preferred method of making purchases. While the older generation rely on the salespeople of the B2B companies for guidance, the new generation of B2B customers do extensive research on their own. Millennials also trust the opinions of friends and external experts more than salespeople. In fact, they don’t want to work with salespeople until they’re ready to make a decision. This purchasing behaviour is in many ways similar to B2C behaviour, which requires the B2B companies to be able to inform and build trust online.

2. B2B e-commerce affects relationship building negatively

One of the best ways to make sure a potential customer doesn’t turn to a competitor is to build a long-term and personal relationship with them. Some who oppose e-trade claim that you can’t build such relationships through B2B e-commerce. But that’s not the case. By communicating with your customer in a personal manner via the e-commerce platform, e-mail, chat and phone there are great possibilities to build relationships that last. The key factor is that the approach, no matter the channel, is professional, friendly and accommodating.

3. E-commerce prevents custom orders

The option to tailor orders is actually great in online shopping. Using various offer tools, integrations and the will to meet the customer’s requests, there’s nothing stopping the customer from placing a custom order. You can even create custom order options for regular buyers who often order the same thing. That way they don’t need to enter the same details again and again.

4. Customers don’t want to make big purchases online

The previously sceptical view of e-commerce is long gone. Many private individuals now buy everything from groceries to cars online. This liberal approach to online shopping follows the customer into their role as purchaser, which means that companies too are more willing to make larger purchases online. Many are still cautious, but as long as the B2B company has a clean history and shows it in clear ways, there isn’t much preventing a B2B customer from placing a large order online.

What does the customer journey look like in B2B e-commerce?

The customer journey in B2B has long involved complex sales processes with multiple parties and decision makers. Because of the complexity of the process and the number of parties involved, the B2B customer journey has been subject to numerous meetings, phone calls and discussions. Even if some B2B remain this complex today, the process has changed, in part thanks to the increased digitalization and generational shift that is taking place. This means that the historically time consuming B2B purchasing journey has become more efficient..

B2B customers still go through the same main steps of the purchasing journey – establishing of needs, exploring solutions, evaluating options, and decision making. The difference is that today’s customer collects information on their own online, which makes the research cycle shorter and more efficient. Because more B2B customers rely on their own research, B2B companies must have an online presence and offer efficient e-shopping alternatives.

To meet the expectations of B2B customers in the best possible way, it’s important to understand what the customer journey looks like. According to Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021, around half of the Scandinavian B2B companies have mapped out the customer’s journey. The main reason for doing this is that the B2B companies want to understand the purchasing process for the purpose of adapting their own processes to the needs of the customer.


Has your company mapped out the customer journey, meaning where, when and how new and existing customers interact with your company?

Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

What’s your purpose for mapping the customer journey?

Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Interesting B2B e-commerce statistics

Online shopping is, in other words, much more than just sales to private individuals. Did you know that seven of ten companies do their shopping online? The number includes the purchasing of products and services from other companies – B2B.

What do companies buy online?

Travel: The number one thing is travel. Companies book flights and other modes of transport online.

Hardware: Many companies see it as a must to buy computers and other electronics online.

Consumables: In third place, consumables like hygiene products, printer ink, cleaning products and coffee are bought online.

There’s a big difference between selling services and products. The B2B report ’Digital Försäljning till Företag’ (Digital Sales to Companies) shows this exciting insight:

  • 58% of B2B companies with physical products say that they either sell online or are considering doing so.
  • Among service businesses, the corresponding number is 32% - almost half.

There’s also a big difference between large and small companies. According to the report Scandinavian B2B Commerce a 59% of large companies have digital sales channels. Among small companies, only 26% do.

There are certain industries that stand out as especially traditional. In those industries, most purchases are still done in stores. This includes construction, workshop and installation. This can of course change in a not-too-distant future.

The percentage of purchases that are made via e-commerce varies heavily. According to the
e-commerce report Collector Convert är det ungefär around one fifth of companies buy more than 75% of their products and services online. Another one fifth say that they buy 5 percent or less online.

Percentage of purchases (number, not value) made online:

Stapeldiagram som visar hur stor andel (i antal) av undersökta företags inköp som sker online.

The chart shows the size (in number) of purchases made online among the companies that were surveyed.

Source: Collector Convert 2019

The e-commerce platform plays and important role in B2B trade

To live up to the expectations of the B2B customers, it is important to have an e-commerce platform adapted to your B2B e-store. A great e-commerce platform should be easy to use for both your team and your customers. It should be made for the purpose and help your company reach its goals. The platform should work with the integrations and plugins you want and need to use to run your business as efficiently as possible – from order to delivery.

Connect your e-commerce platform with PostNord

In Portal Business – the PostNord business platform – you can manage everything related to the deliveries of your company. For simplicity, the portal allows you to connect your systems and e-commerce platform with PostNord. This is easily done with one of our plugin solutions. That way, you can simplify the order of shipping, manage shipments and efficiently communicate with your B2B customers.

Learn more about our integrations.

On what platform does B2B e-commerce happen today?

Today, B2B e-trade happens via multiple different platforms. Purchases are mainly made on locked web stores that require a login, followed by regular open online stores. In third place, sales take place via EDI, , meaning system integrations between different companies. Next are customer portals. The least common option is external marketplaces. External marketplaces are typically used to increase the exposure of products and to reach new target audiences.

Källa: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021.

On what platforms does B2B e-commerce take place? Web shop with login is the most common option. 

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021


The importance of measuring and evaluating B2B e-commerce

As a B2B business, the collection and evaluation of various types of data is of utmost importance when trying to understand both your company and your customers. Metrics can for example help you discover bottlenecks, maximize sales, tailor offers, improve the customer’s purchase experience, and make company processes more efficient.

Common metrics to measure:

  • Web traffic
  • Conversion rate
  • Average order value
  • Opened e-mails
  • Income
  • Order size
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Delivery time

Measuring various types of data can be crucial to any company who is involved in any type of B2B e-commerce. Still, few B2B companies say that they are data driven in their organization.

How do you use data to develop your offers and digital channels?

Källa: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Most B2B businesses do measure and evaluate their activities in digital channels (62%). The majority of these companies focus on metrics associated with the upper part of the purchase funnel, for example e-store and website traffic, as well as the number of opened e-mails. The further down the funnel a B2B customer is, the fewer metrics are measured.

How do you measure and evaluate your digital interactions with customers?

Källa: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Source: Scandinavian B2B Commerce 2021

Metrics in PostNord Portal Business

Are you planning or need to account for your company’s deliveries, or do you want to get an overview of invoices, returns, pallet balance and the environmental impact of your deliveries? In PostNord Portal Business you can quickly and easily get the information you need related to your deliveries.

Despite seven of ten companies making purchases online, only a third of B2B companies currently offer digital sales channels. Among all wholesale companies only one fourth offer their products or services online. The offer doesn’t match the demand.

Almost one fourth of transactions are also made by private individuals, despite the purchase being on behalf of the company. In this regard, there’s a great opportunity for B2B companies in e-commerce to break new ground.

These shortcomings will probably be addressed over time. Most likely, more B2B suppliers will begin to offer e-shopping options to their customers in the coming years.

  • 25% of B2B companies say that it’s very likely or likely that they will start offering e-shopping in the coming two years.
  • 34% are more cautious but are open to the possibility.

There are many drivers that point to B2B e-commerce being further developed in the coming few years:

  • Great demand that is not yet met with a matching offer
  • The technology is now available to companies of all sizes
  • Significantly reduced costs of digitalization
  • The digital office and work from home has become a reality
  • Increased demand for efficiency
  • Responsibility is moved from the IT department to market and sales staff
  • Globalized trade requires flexible solutions
  • More companies view increased digital sales as an incitement

By how much will B2B e-trade increase?

25% of the companies that offer digital shopping options to their customers today say that their sales from this channel will increase by at least 30% in the coming three years. New technology, but also smarter transport solutions, are believed to drive sales in B2B e-commerce. According to a survey from Svea, companies believe in the following new technologies:

  1. Artificial Intelligence – AI
  2. Virtual Reality – VR
  3. New transport options
  4. Augmented Reality – AG
  5. Voice control

There’s definitely an exciting time ahead!

Five suggestions to get started with B2B e-trade

Below are five important insights for anyone who wants to be more prepared when entering the B2B e-commerce market. More general advice can be found in our guide Get started with e-commerce.

1. Understand the market dynamic

The first thing you need to do to digitalize sales or purchases is to understand what the market looks like. As a seller, you need to analyse what needs there are, how willing your target audience is to shop online, and what digital solutions are available.
As a buyer you need to explore what’s on offer and maybe even ask current suppliers if it’s possible to make the purchasing process digital.

2. Be selective

A common misconception is that digitalization of purchases means leaving traditional purchasing channels behind for good. That’s rarely the case. In many cases, it’s about moving to online shopping for a carefully selected number of segments.

The same applies if you’re thinking about offering B2B e-commerce options for services or products. Analyse the customer needs and evaluate which of your products and services can be offered online. The entire supply does not need to be digitalized!

3. Consider payments

Invoice dominates as a payment method among companies, followed by payment by card. If you want to offer products or services to other companies online, having payment by invoice as an option is a must – and card payment should be an available option in your online store.

If you make your purchases online, the advice is to ensure that the purchases are made via the company rather than by a private individual. This makes things much easier for accounting purposes. Other than payment by invoice, paying using a company card might be an option.

4. Think outside the box

If you’re digitalizing your B2B sales through e-commerce you will probably discover new opportunities. Perhaps the company is reaching new target groups. This is your chance to think a little outside the box. Can the company product or service line be adjusted and modified? E-commerce can give you options that aren’t available in physical stores.

5. Adapt the organization

With digital purchases or sales come new demands regarding organization and routines. Make a plan and make sure that everyone understands what is happening. Digitalization and e-commerce does not need to come at a cost of current business contacts. Personal contact is still valuable, but the digital transactions can significantly reduce daily labour.

Learn more about e-commerce

To learn more, check out our page for e-commerce för e-handel. On it, you will find all our e-commerce articles in one place.

B2B e-commerce – shipping and logistics with PostNord

As online shopping becomes more popular also in B2B, there are more demands for fast and reliable deliveries.

According to Collector Convert, 34% of companies list fast shipping as the most important aspect of shopping online. 27% believe that the most import aspect is knowing exactly when the products will be delivered.

In third place, companies list the cost of shipping as a crucial factor. And 17% believe that updates regarding shipping status, the option for environmentally friendly shipping, and the option to pick your shipping supplier or other aspects are the most important ones.

Regardless if you’re a buyer or seller in a B2B deal, we at PostNord understand the importance of fast and specific transportation. Sending packages should be easy, and it should be easy to follow the goods on its journey.

That’s why we’ve done all we can to make B2B trade online easier through simple booking, collection and delivery of company packages. Via
PostNord Skicka Direkt Business you can quickly schedule shipping online. Integrating with a web store or business system is easy thanks to our API. Via PostNord Portal Business all your deliveries can be viewed and managed in one place.

Of course, we also consider the environment!

Pie chart showing the aspects B2B companies consider most important when shopping online.

Källa: Collector Convert 2019

Source: Collector Convert 2019

Frequently asked questions about B2B e-commerce

What is B2B?

B2B (business-to-business) means that a company sells its products or services to other companies. B2B sales can also be called business sales.

What is B2B e-commerce?

B2B e-commerce is when a company sells products or services to another company online, via an e-commerce platform.

What are the advantages of B2B e-commerce?

B2B e-commerce gives plenty of business opportunities, more sales options, reduced costs and a better overview.

Are there any disadvantages to B2B e-commerce?

One disadvantage can be the lack of human interaction. A B2B system that is not sufficiently adapted can perhaps not always give the customer all the necessary options, or it might lack support for complex purchase processes.

What’s the difference between B2B and B2C?

B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-customer) are different sales models. What makes them different from each other is the customer the company is selling to. B2B companies sell their products and services to other companies, while B2C companies sell their products or services to private individuals.

What e-commerce solutions in B2B does PostNord offer?

As a B2B company with PostNord Portal Business you can, among other things, schedule deliveries or collection, track and manage your shipments, create detailed reports, manage claims and returns, send notifications to customers, and many other things.