How Retail Differs from Wholesale and B2C Differs from B2B

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.

When it comes to e-commerce, sometimes our normal terms become inadequate. Here are some definitions:

retail (from Middle French retaillier, to divide into pieces) to sell in small quantities directly to the ultimate consumer. (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition)
wholesale to sell something in quantity, usually to intermediates for resale.
B2B business-to-business. One business selling to another business.
B2C business-to-consumer. Selling to the end user or consumer of the goods

The definitions seem pretty clear, but the closer you look, the fuzzier they get.

What about sales of office supplies? If they’re sold to an office, an end user, then they’re B2B, B2C, and retail. If they’re sold to a larger company that distributes them to various of their offices in a region, then it’s wholesale, B2B. From this standpoint both and are actually retail operations, even though they sell to businesses.

I think the words “retail” and “wholesale” are more useful for e-commerce than B2B and B2C. The question is: Are the goods divided into small numbers and sold to the ultimate consumer (using a delivery service such as UPS)? Or are they sold in bulk to a company (pallet size loads shipped by truck or rail)? The reason this is important is that most e-commerce software is designed for retail rather than wholesale. Wholesale e-commerce sites typically provide each customer a website on an extranet, with company-specific negotiated prices. All customers are registered, with authorized buyers who must be authenticated before a purchase is made. Customers can check the progress of orders online: unfilled, backordered, partially filled, or shipped orders.

Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
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