Avoiding e-commerce problems is a different beast to avoiding commerce problems with a bricks-and-mortar shop.

That’s pretty obvious, but for the inexperienced it can be a problem to think through exactly what the problems are mixing trade and consumer sales in an online, e-commerce shop.

In a nutshell, you risk poor presentation, complex coding, and disappointed or annoyed customers.

The first risk is that your trade customers may object to you competing against them.

You could try to keep your trade customers happy by only selling a limited range of products to consumers. But then is it worth it for a limited number of consumer sales?

It might be worth it if you want to try a few experimental lines on the end-consumers directly.

But will your trade customers realise that you are only selling a few experimental lines to consumers? They might think you are offering the full range and get annoyed that you are competing against them.

Imagine A Shop On The High Street

Imagine a shop on the high street where anyone can look around at all the products. And imagine there are tags on some of the products marked ‘Trade Customers Only’.

Or imagine there’s a limited number of products for sale in the front of the shop. And you keep your trade products in a different room where only trade customers can see them.

An E-commerce Shop

Now think about this same scenario in an e-commerce shop. How do you present your products? When a visitor comes to your site, you don’t know whether they are a consumer or a trade customer.

So what do you do? Are you going to put a sign on some products saying they are only available to trade customers?

Are you going to put most products in a separate ‘Trade’ section but let all visitors see them? Or are you going to hide them from visitors until they prove they are a trade customer?

If you put everything on show, you risk disappointed customers who see some products that they can’t buy.

If you hide products from visitors until they prove they are a trade customer, the home page is going to look bare. Trade customers might look at the bare home page and not stick around long enough to see the ‘Trade’ section.

As any usability test will show, people miss the most obvious messages.

Also, you are asking trade customers to register before they know what’s inside. You are asking them to register before they know whether it is worth registering.

Where Would We Be Without Categories

There’s another problem. Your products will almost certainly be arranged in categories and they will look pretty empty if there are only a few products that consumers can buy.

If you are selling a limited range or a few experimental products to consumers, there might only be one or two products in each category.

You could, of course, create one or two special categories for consumers. But then it would be the tail wagging the dog. You may struggle to shoehorn your products into categories they are not suited to.

You could create two sets of categories – one for trade customers and one for consumers. And if you do that you risk confusing trade customers when they first come to your site.

Give Me The Code

If you have two sets of categories, then you need two sets of coding logic running in parallel.

You also need different postage rates for trade customers and consumers. And you need different returns policies and terms of business.

You want consumers to see the information that’s relevant only to them. And you want trade customers to see the information relevant only to them. All this makes the coding more complicated.

Is It Worth It

Is it worth mixing trade and consumer sales in an e-commerce Shop? Is it worth the extra coding? Is it worth confusing or alienating customers? Is it simply easier to run two shops – perhaps under different names or one of them on a subdomain such as trade.mydomain.com? There are lots of possibilities.

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