From that day on Aug. 11, 1994, when Dan Kohn sold a CD of Sting's "Ten Summoner’s Tales" for $12.48 plus shipping through his website NetMarket, e-commerce has been a part of consumer's lives.

In comparison, business to business (B2B) e-commerce is a relatively recent development. No B2B equivalent of Amazon has yet emerged, but no doubt several companies (including Amazon) are striving to take that role.  

But there are some subtle differences between B2B and B2C which are worth a quick review.

What Separates B2B from B2C E-Commerce

Different motivators drive the purchase decision in B2B than in B2C. While humans still drive the process, the purchase decision is being made on behalf of an organization to help it fulfill specific objectives — to enable day to day operations, to feed a production process, etc. 

Consumers have much more individual control over their decision making than do people purchasing on behalf of a business. And while businesses do support credit card transactions, the majority of sales between companies are managed through purchase orders (POs) which requires a more established, formal selling/buying relationship with each other.  

Businesses also sell to each other in different ways than they do to consumers. Companies sell directly through their e-commerce websites — which is standard for both B2B and B2C sales to occur online. However, in B2B businesses may also have a procurement relationship established with a supplier whereby they are purchasing from the company with some consistency (unclear if this is electronic data interchange (EDI) oriented, but more on that later).  

In addition, businesses use commercial networks such as those established by companies like Ariba, Covisint, Exostar, etc. And finally, businesses also use marketplaces like Alibaba, Amazon Business, eBay, Staples Advantage, etc. for selling and buying. 

The State of B2B E-Commerce Today

Internet Retailer uses four classifications in its B2B e-Commerce 300 to gauge how businesses are transacting online today: e-commerce platforms, e-procurement, commercial networks and marketplaces/exchanges. 

Let's take a closer look at all four, but first some caveats:

Looking at the top 100 companies in Internet Retailer’s list (as only the top 100 break out the source of revenue) should be representative of the 300, so any conclusions drawn can be applied to the complete list. And it's worth highlighting that both the total online revenue figure as well as the percentage of online revenue from a specific source is merely B2BeCommerceWorld’s best estimate as this qualifier exists for all the companies. 

So take some of these numbers with a grain of salt. 

E-Commerce Platforms

Of the top 100 companies, 50 sell 25 percent or more of their online revenue from their own privately branded e-commerce site. Breaking this down further, 36 percent sell one third or more of their online revenue and 21 percent sell half of their online revenues through their website.  

Just looking at these numbers on the surface, it would suggest that companies have ample room to grow their revenues via their own private branded storefronts.  

However, additional growth is likely because in the listing 17 of the companies selling 25 percent or more of their revenue through their own online store have NA listed as their e-commerce platform. As the list provides no legend, one could assume NA represents Not Applicable, but a company selling online surely must have an e-commerce platform. Eight of the 50 use the categorization "In House," suggesting they developed their e-commerce platforms internally. More clarity is definitely needed from Internet Retailer's B2B eCommerce World on what NA means.  

More detailed fact checking with the companies themselves might also be necessary. Two of the 100 list Microsoft as their e-commerce platform. Microsoft outsourced the development of its Commerce Server e-commerce platform to Cactus Commerce in 2007, which was later acquired by Ascentium in 2011 and then sold off its Commerce Server division to Sitecore in 2013. 

That being said, the overall picture indicates ample opportunity to grow for B2B companies selling from their own e-commerce websites.

E-Procurement

The next area of focus relates to e-procurement. The B2B eCommerce 300 report defines e-procurement as “via web-connected procurement software linked directly to a customer’s enterprise resource system,” which doesn't explain if this is EDI oriented, which has driven e-commerce online predating the emergence of the World Wide Web (WWW) in the early 1990s.  

For 71 of the top 100, e-procurement represented 45 percent or more of their e-commerce revenue — which indicates it is EDI oriented. Clearly this is the primary means by which companies are transacting e-commerce — that number is too large for this to have emerged within the last 15 or so years.  

Another point worth getting clarity on and I have asked B2B eCommerce World and Internet Retailer for more detail.  

Commercial Networks, Marketplaces and Exchanges

The last two categories are commercial networks and marketplaces/exchanges. According to the top 100 the latter is just emerging, as only one company, Apple, is doing 25 percent of its online business via marketplaces/exchanges, which it doesn't specify in its profile. 

Seven companies — the majority made up of automotive or truck manufacturers or their suppliers — conduct 70 percent or more of their revenue on commercial networks, so they clearly have developed a dependency here.  

All interesting numbers which indicate ample room for growth in the B2B e-commerce world.