Mixing E-Commerce Trade and Consumer Sales

Mixing trade and consumer sales in e-commerce can cause all kinds of problems. It is different to running a bricks-and-mortar shop. In a nutshell, you risk poor presentation, complex coding, and disappointed or annoyed customers.

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 have access to see them. You have probably been in a builder’s merchants where they have a different door or a different counter for trade customers. Or maybe you have been to a shop like that and they ask whether you have a trade account.

Think Of An E-commerce Shop

trade and consumer sales in e-commerce illustrated by a door with a curtain drawn across and a notice 'Trade Customers Only'

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? That is going to be a slap in the face for your non-trade customers. They can see them but they can’t buy them.

Or try a different approach. Hide your trade-only products from visitors until they prove they are a trade customer by logging in or registering.

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

You could put a notice up telling potential trade customers that there is a lot more inside once they log in or register. But as any usability test will show, people miss the most obvious messages.

Also, you are asking trade customers to register before they know what products are available for them ‘inside’ once they have registered. You are asking them to register before they know whether it is worth registering. In a nutshell, and to repeat – mixing trade and consumer sales in e-commerce can cause all kinds of problems.

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.

Offer The Same Products To Consumers and Trade Customers

Of course, you could have all the same products for sale to consumers and trade customers. But prices are going to be different and probably so is postage. And it’s certain that the terms of business will be different between consumers and trade customers.

If you have two sets of categories, then you need two sets of coding logic running in parallel. You need to think about different postage rates for trade customers and consumers. And you need different returns policies and terms of business. There are rules and regulations (certainly in the UK) about selling to consumers that don’t apply to business-to-business transactions.

Specifically 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 e-commerce in one shop that caters to both? Is it worth the extra coding? Is it worth confusing or alienating customers? Is it simply easier to run two shops – perhaps under different domain names such as mydomainfor tradecustomers dot com or one of them on a subdomain such as trade dot mydomain dot com? There are lots of possibilities.

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