Storefront template screens including Design Your Store, Social, and Quick Reordering.

B2C Ecommerce: Definition, Types, and Successful Examples

Here’s everything you need to know about B2C commerce and how to do it right.

The prevalence of B2C ecommerce

B2C ecommerce is on the rise with more than 2.6 billion consumersopens in a new window purchased a product online this year. That’s a third of the world’s population. During peak shopping season — just two short months from November to December — global online sales can exceed a trillion dollars. This all adds up to the huge market known as B2C ecommerce (or business-to-consumer ecommerce).

Before B2C ecommerce existed, there was a time when shoppers had to physically visit brick-and-mortar stores to get the items they needed. During the holidays, they had no other choice but to join a sea of people at the mall to find and purchase gifts. When they needed groceries, they had to make a trip to the market. B2C ecommerce changed all that. Cyber Monday, grocery delivery, and all other digital shopping experiences? They’re powered by B2C ecommerce platforms — so consumers can skip the crowd entirely and find what they’re looking for without ever leaving the comfort of their home.

But how does this ubiquitous form of shopping work, and what do businesses need to know to get started? Here are the benefits, challenges, and considerations.

Table of Contents

What is B2C ecommerce?

B2C ecommerce is the selling of goods and services directly to the consumer. It’s a straightforward method of doing business: There’s no middleman involved like there would be if you were selling through a third party, and end consumers are the ones who purchase your products. With B2C ecommerce, your business sells 1-to-1 to shoppers and can focus on individual customer experiences.

B2B ecommerce is a ubiquitous form of shopping. From clothing to food items to health services, it spans a range of industries and products, and can be set up under several different types of business models.

What are the different types of B2C ecommerce models?

When it comes to B2C ecommerce, not all businesses are the same. There are multiple types of business models under the B2C umbrella, including:

  • Direct sellers: Direct sellers, sometimes referred to as direct-to-consumer (DTC) sellers, make up a large portion of B2C business. In this model, customers make online purchases (you guessed it!) directly from the seller. These online retailers may sell products manufactured by their own brand or from other companies.
  • B2C dropshipping: In a dropshipping model, a business sells items on an ecommerce site, but only places orders for those products after a customer’s payment is processed. Since a dropshipping business only fulfills orders as customers place them, this eliminates the need (and the cost) of holding inventory, warehousing, and packaging.
  • Online intermediaries: Online intermediaries serve as the connection between buyers and sellers. They do not own any of the products, services, or brands. Instead, their role is to provide a platform or online marketplace for buyers and sellers, allowing both to conduct transactions with confidence. Some prominent examples of well-known online intermediaries include Etsy, Expedia, and Amazon.
  • Community-based: You can think of community-based commerce as an extension of social commerce. It’s a business model that taps into platforms with large user bases such as social media, digital forums, apps, and other online communities. These communities are often centered around specific interests or hobbies, and selling through these channels offers a way for brands to build deep, meaningful connections with customers. Community-based B2C ecommerce allows retailers to speak and interact with customers in an environment where they feel comfortable. Sellers also get the benefit of social proof, as the community will provide feedback for other members of the community.
  • Fee-based: In a fee-based ecommerce model, a business charges customers a subscription fee to use its products or services. Think: streaming platforms, meal-kit companies, or digital music services. Companies in every industry — from fashion and apparel to health and beauty — are finding success with the fee-based B2C ecommerce model.
  • Advertisement-based: Companies that operate under this business model sell advertising space and services. This can include everything from display and video ads to publishing sponsored content. Many social media platforms and news publications use this model. When you see a sponsored ad as you scroll through your social media feed, or a banner ad when you read a news article with your morning coffee, that’s advertisement-based ecommerce. By purchasing advertising space on different platforms, businesses can boost their brand awareness and generate traffic to their digital storefronts.

Industries leveraging B2C commerce

Retail is most likely the first industry that comes to mind when you think of B2C ecommerce — but other industries and sectors also sell to consumers. For example, many patients purchase healthcare products and services online from providers and pharmacies. Online banking is also considered B2C ecommerce. Food items and groceries were once considered the last bastion of brick-and-mortar stores. Today, customers order food and groceries online regularly.

B2C ecommerce is so prevalent across industries and geographies because it’s a win-win for customers and businesses alike.

What are the benefits of B2C ecommerce?

When compared to traditional commerce, B2C ecommerce has a few clear advantages:

  • Global reach: With B2C ecommerce, your potential customers aren’t limited to foot traffic walking past a physical storefront. You can reach a global audience of shoppers at virtually any time, anywhere. With a dedicated B2C strategy, you can find new potential customers anywhere in the world and create experiences that will keep them invested in your brand.
  • A deep understanding of your customers: With a digital storefront, an ecommerce platform, and your customers’ consent, you can collect data that you would be unable to with traditional commerce. B2C ecommerce allows you to track your customer’s click paths, product searches, preferences, and behaviors over time. In turn, this allows you to create personalized, tailored shopping experiences that lead to better satisfaction and more sales. Eighty percent of customers say the experience a company provides is just as important as the products and services it sells.
  • Personalization: With digital commerce, shoppers can opt in to share their data with you so you can learn from it and continually improve their experiences on your site. This allows you to offer better personalization — like offers tailored to specific customers and relevant product recommendations. A vast majority of customers (73%) expect better personalization from brands as technology advances.
  • A storefront that’s “always on”: With a physical store, you likely operate during regular business hours. With an online store, your products are available for purchase at any time to customers around the world. Customers have the liberty of shopping for items they want without leaving the comfort of their own home.
  • Better control over your branding: When you open your business to a B2C commerce channel, you gain control over how your brand is presented to consumers. If you rely on selling your products through external retailers, your brand’s presentation depends on the retailer’s marketing approach and sales strategies. Creating your own B2C commerce channel allows your brand to stand out on its own and leave an impression through branding and customer experience.

What’s the difference between B2B and B2C ecommerce?

In one word: scale. B2B ecommerce often includes thousands of products that can be worth millions of dollars. B2B transactions often require negotiated, account-specific pricing and terms that are usually determined by a sales rep on behalf of the customer. With B2C ecommerce, orders and pricing are typically much more straightforward. Since the average consumer doesn’t require large-scale volumes shipping to multiple locations across different geographies, B2C ecommerce is often much less complex.

B2C challenges and strategies

While B2C ecommerce has some clear advantages, its digital elements do require a few considerations that aren’t necessary when selling from a physical store.

Changing customer behaviors and rising demands: As technology evolves, so do customer expectations. Shoppers are looking for increasingly fast, convenient, and personalized transactions. You’ll need to surprise, delight, and over-deliver to keep up. Refine your ecommerce merchandising so that shoppers can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. Set up a self-service system that allows buyers to track their orders from the time the product leaves your warehouse until it’s delivered. Offer a simplified returns process.

  • Seventy-four percent of customers expect to be able to do anything online that they normally can do either in person or over the phone, and 61% of customers prefer to use a self-service tool when they have a simple issue to resolve. Give your customers the features they need for an enjoyable, memorable shopping experience.

Create a smooth transition between all your digital and physical channels: The line between physical and digital experiences is becoming increasingly blurry. Rather than treating all of your shopping channels (physical stores, your website, social media, shopping apps, and more) as separate entities, they should be a cohesive ecosystem.

  • Seventy-one percent of shoppers prefer using different channels when they shop, depending on their situation, so it’s critical to create a smooth omni-channel experience as customers switch between them. To do this, you need to connect all the systems that make B2C ecommerce possible. Make sure your order management, customer relationship management, payment, and ERP systems all work together — and that no data sits in silos.
  • Maintain your site and keep it functioning at all times: The beauty of ecommerce is ‌you can sell while you sleep. That also means your website can’t be asleep at the wheel. To avoid website downtime and keep your storefront running smoothly, perform regular maintenance and load testing to make sure it can stand up to heavy traffic. If you need to test or implement new features, do so at times when there is little traffic and let users know in advance.

An example of B2C ecommerce success: Sonos

Sonos is a wireless home audio product manufacturer, and until the pandemic hit in 2020, it relied on brick-and-mortar stores to sell its products. When in-store shopping came to a screeching halt and Sonos lost its traditional sales method, company leaders knew it was time to pivot and focus more on B2C ecommerce. The main priority: Improve the Sonos website and connect with customers directly.

Sonos was able to increase its B2C ecommerce share of the business by using a connected platform that allowed teams to connect with shoppers at any time from anywhere and scale service to meet changing customer needs. The company also increased productivity among its customer support team by using ecommerce AI tools that automated redundant tasks. Sonos has continued to build a customer- and employee-centric business, which has allowed it to merge its new B2C ecommerce model into its existing brick-and-mortar retailer network.

The result: 84% year-over-year ecommerce growth and the ability to build relationships with customers like never before.

Ready to get started with B2C ecommerce — or optimize your current experience?

As technology continues to improve, B2C ecommerce will evolve and customer expectations will grow. The right ecommerce platform will help your brand stay flexible so you can adapt with whatever comes next and grow as new technologies emerge.