Experience is the best teacher. There’s just one problem: experience hurts.
In the world of B2B ecommerce — where $7.7 trillion is on the line annually — finding a way to short circuit the path to hard-won experience is invaluable.
As a quote often attributed to Warren Buffett puts it: “It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” Better still is learning from other people’s successes.
This isn’t a round-up post, and it’s not a beauty contest.
Instead, this is a detailed examination ranging from international tech conglomerates to chocolates, baby carriers to model trains of …
9 of the Best B2B Ecommerce Examples:
- General Electric: B2B Goes Direct to Consumer
- Polycom: Start with What They Need
- Nicotine River: Customers Are Your Best Sales Reps
- V-Belt Guys: Onsite Search for Faster Results
- EDYOO: Segment Your Buyers to Reach Their Buyers
- eJuices: Help Resellers Sell “Direct”
- Baby Tula: Take Your Wholesale Global
- ScaleTrains: Tell Them When It’s Coming
- Chocomize: On-Page SEO Is a Secret Weapon
1. General Electric: B2B Goes Direct to Consumer
Founded in 1892, General Electric is the very definition of an international B2B conglomerate. In 2017, they were ranked as the thirteenth-largest enterprise in the United States on the Fortune 500 list. That kind of history and size is not without its difficulties.
“The challenge for a lot of big companies is that it’s hard to simplify complex stories. GE is doing some very big, very important and very hard things to help make the world work, and we want to show that in a fun, smart way.”
One of the ways GE does that is through creative storytelling like their “Ideas Are Scary” campaign.
But where branding rubber meets the ecommerce road is in GE’s direct-to-consumer (D2C) sites like C by GE. Beautifully designed and interactive, C by GE opens a door for consumers to experience the future of light.
By creating direct-to-consumer access points, large B2B companies can test products and omnichannel marketing initiatives with the same agility of newly funded startups.
2. Polycom: Start with What They Need
There’s hardly a conference room in the world that isn’t graced by Polycom’s iconic three-point phone. For 25 years, the teams at Polycom have been innovating audio, video, and collaborative technology.
Over the last decade, a host of low-cost alternatives have flooded the communication market. Against this onslaught, Polycom has remained staunchly committed to offering best-in-class solutions rather than enter the downward spiral of competition on price.
Through a relentless focus on meeting their audience’s needs through educational content.
It’s a focus that shows …
Alongside traditional navigation — like solutions, services, and product offerings — Polycom’s very first clickable option puts visitors front and center with a simple phrase: “I need to.”
Likewise, on their homepage, each product category follows suit:
Behind each of those needs lies a repository of media-rich content that goes far beyond text on a screen. Videos, original research, guides and whitepapers, webinars, in-person events, detailed spec sheets, and even presentation assets all cater to B2B’s love of self-service.
The lesson is one that any B2B organization can learn from: customers’ needs come first. Products, second.
3. Nicotine River: Customers Are Your Best Sales Reps
Nicotine River is primarily a B2B liquid nicotine and laboratory equipment wholesaler. Needless to say, much like communication technology, the vapor nicotine market has exploded over the last ten years.
Unlike Polycom, rather than invest in content as their primary driver for product differentiation, Nicotine River has gone all in on trust.
Through a savvy combination of apps like Yotpo (for customer reviews), FOMO (for real-time social proof), and McAfee SECURE (for safty concerns), every page breathes credibility. And at each step, Nicotine River relies on third-party validation to prove it.
Why this emphasis on trust?
First, because people are people, even in B2B. The same biases that trigger compliance — i.e., persuasion and purchases — are just as present in wholesale transactions as they are in B2C. Second, because user-generated content — namely, reviews — is one of the most powerful triggers you can leverage online. As Yotpo’s exhaustive study found: visitors who experience UGC are 166% more likely to convert than those who don’t.
In other words, your best sales rep isn’t you, it’s your customer
4. V-Belt Guys: Onsite Search for Faster Results
Compared to the B2B examples we’ve looked at so far, V-Belt Guys isn’t as visually rich, content heavy, nor anywhere as sexy. Then again, they don’t have to be.
V-Belt Guys sells one thing: v-belts.
Sure, if you scroll down their catalog far enough, you’ll also find variable speed belts and timing belts. But just in case you’re tempted to think they’re an engine supply company, the about page removes all doubt:
“V-Belt Guys was created to supply the demand of replacement belts in reference to part numbers. Let us help you find the right belt!”
“Help you find” is exactly where they shine.
Using the Shopify app Live Search, V-Belt Guys has placed robust search at the heart of their online experience. This includes three separate invitations on their homepage along with auto-completion as well as the ability to preview both images and prices while typing:
And that’s not all. Clicking “See all results” delivers a full screen experience along with price comparisons, larger images, and brief product descriptions:
To maximize results, V-Belt Guys’ visitors can locate products using the following search elements:
- Part number
- Manufacturer or brand
- Product title (part or full)
- Type (i.e., use cases)
- Product details like width, function, and “number of teeth”
5. EDYOO: Segment Your Buyers to Reach Their Buyers
One of the most complex areas of B2B is the symbiotic nature of success. This is especially true when it comes to wholesale and working with resellers. Offering in-store marketing collateral — like posters and point-of-sale displays — is a great start. But when your success depends on their success, that’s not enough.
EDYOO, which sells school supplies, goes the extra mile by segmenting their three major B2B audiences — sellers, schools, and bulk orders — on their homepage.
Each link directs customers to a segment-specific sign-up page.
However, the real standout lesson from EDYOO lies in how they apply their vision “to give parents the power and convenience to manage the entire lifecycle of their school going children.” To do this, EDYOO partners directly with local schools to create a single online portal for not only purchasing textbooks, uniforms, and other supplies, but also paying school fees.
While your market may not contain such an obvious overlap, our next B2B ecommerce example offers a way forward …
6. eJuices: Help Resellers Sell “Direct”
If Nicotine River is the grown-up incarnation of liquid nicotine, then eJuices is its millennial-focused counterpart. That ethos shines, especially in their onsite visuals.
Still, don’t let eJuices’ B2C vibe fool you. While they excel at customer-facing B2C touches in both their branding and user experience, eJuices is a B2B wholesaler. And that means supporting their retail partners is top priority.
In addition to customer-friendly features like robust search, a rewards program, and “average lead time” for each and every product, eJuices’ Direct option solved what can often be a sale stopper in B2B ecommerce: inventory.
Rather than force retail partners into large, up-front purchases, the company has created a “virtual warehouse”:
What’s more, their explainer video — instead of a densely worded terms of service PDF — details the process beautifully.
The takeaway here isn’t only to know your niche and communicate with them naturally but to invest in tactics that lower the risk for resellers.
7. Baby Tula: Take Your Wholesale Global
A stream of industry awards, major press coverage ranging from The NY Post to US Weekly, and a cult-like following on social media culminated last year when Baby Tula’s founder Ula Tuszewicka sold the company for $73.8 million.
Today, Ula still serves as Baby Tula’s CEO and while the company has retained its family-led feel … the operation is nothing short of a global phenomenon with multiple sites catering to a host of geographies, languages, and currencies.
What’s telling is their equally global approach to wholesale.
Not only does Baby Tula have separate wholesale sites for their North American, European, and United Kingdom customers, they also provide geographic specific price lists and policies to further localize:
Localized price lists can sound like a small touch, but it addresses one of the most critical areas of global success.
As a Penton Research study of 30,000 participants found, 92.2% of online shoppers “prefer” to buy from sites that price in their local currency and 33% are likely to “abandon a purchase” if pricing is listed in USD only.
8. ScaleTrains: Tell Them When It’s Coming
Hobbyists are a notoriously manic group. That’s not a dig at enthusiasts. If anything, it’s a testament to their passion. After all, the more time and energy someone invests in an art form, sport, or craft, the stronger their emotions become.
Catering to hobbyists in the B2B realm means one thing: never give them a needless reason to complain. Chief among needless complaints — not matter what business you’re in — is failing to provide a clear schedule for delivery.
In other words, the trains have to run on time. That’s all the more vital when trains are what you sell.
Puns aside, ScaleTrains.com — an “upstart model train manufacturer” — doesn’t just set clear expectations on shipping timelines through their checkout process, they’ve built an entire page dedicated to getting in front of product availability before it becomes an issue.
In this case, two lessons stand out. Number one, your own delivery schedule doesn’t have to be a dry spreadsheet of dates and inventory. Instead, it can and should embrace the aesthetic of your market itself. Number two, never miss an opportunity to add scarcity to your buyer’s journey — e.g., “Extremely Limited.”
9. Chocomize: On-Page SEO Is a Secret Weapon
In B2C ecommerce, search-engine optimization (SEO) is cut-throat. On-page best practices — like featuring each product’s keywords in page titles, H tags, body copy, and alt image tags — are table stakes, but the war over backlinks is what separates page one from all the rest.
Here’s a secret … in B2B, on-page SEO can still be a powerhouse of ranking and revenue.
Take Chocomize as a test case. Makers of personalized chocolates and other corporate gifts, Chocomize’s minimum orders start between 250 and 600 units with significant discounts going to purchases closer to 10,000. With order volumes like that at stake, you’d be tempted to think that Google’s top search results would belong to online goliaths like Godiva, Lindt, and Etsy.
Chocomize’s homepage isn’t just on page one of Google for “personalized chocolate bars,” it’s also the number one result for both “custom chocolate bars” and “custom corporate chocolate.”
As Chocomize’s SEO consultant, Jacob McMillen, told me:
“We focused on a few key improvements. The first thing was getting meta tags for their high priority pages in order. Meta tags need to both target the search engine and the user. Google heavily factors user behavior into their algorithms, so if you can get people clicking on your listing, it will rise in the results.”
“The second thing we did was improve and expand page content. We turned the top pages into in-depth presentations that channeled visitors to specific product categories. Finally, we added internal links to help channel the domain's authority to the top pages we wanted to rank.”
The SERPs speak for themselves.
Learn more: 10 omnichannel examples
B2B Ecommerce Examples or Experience?
It’s true: examples can never fully replace experience. But examples can make us wiser and more successful, with a lot less pain.
Whether you focus on serving your audience’s needs, optimizing your on-site or off-site search, supporting your retail partners, or making wholesale easy … what matters is picking up at least one of the lessons from the 9 B2B ecommerce examples and leveraging their wins for yourself.
Want guidance for B2B ecommerce?
Shopify Plus hosts a large ecosystem for merchant support and award-winning Agency Partners.
Those are just two of the reasons — along with a dedicated Wholesale Channel for B2B sales — our merchants are growing 120% year over year.
Common Questions Related to B2B ecommerce
What is B2B ecommerce?
B2B ecommerce is the marketing, selling, and distribution of products from one business to another through an online or digital portal.
What's the difference between B2B and B2C ecommerce?
While B2B ecommerce involves one business buying from another business, B2C ecommerce involves an individual buying from a business.
What are the characteristics of b2b ecommerce?
Some of the key characteristics that differentiate B2B ecommerce from B2C ecommerce include multiple decision-makers and a longer time-to-purchase.
How do I start a b2b ecommerce company?
To start a B2B ecommerce company, you’ll first need to decide what you want to sell and evaluate whether there’s market demand. You’ll also need to set up an ecommerce website to list the products you’ll be selling.
Which is more profitable b2b or b2c?
B2C sales are only about a third of the size of B2C sales, making B2B ecommerce the most profitable model in terms of global gross merchandise volume.