There are those stores where users purchase products. Then, there are stores where users sell and buy. Further,  there are stores where companies sell and buy. In recent times, I have observed that even the ‘experts’ use e-commerce interchangeably with marketplaces. While I empathize with the context, I find it difficult to digest the ‘ignorance’. For the sake of those of us who are still slightly unsure, here are the different types of e-commerce stores, just to ensure you are referring to the right context:

  1. B2C Store: Most of the e-commerce stores fall in this category. This is a typical store where a business allows consumers access their catalogues and buy online. The product catalogue can include multi-brands from one company, multi-brands from different companies, a single brand from one company or boutique stores. From a business perspective, this involves the addition of product catalogues as per the store standards, taking orders from users, fulfilling them from its warehouses, handling shipment, payment transactions and accepting cancellations as per store policies. Pricing and warehousing are the responsibility of the store. Here the store and seller are the same. Some of the popular stores include Urban Ladder, PepperFry, Parkavenue, Nike, Joy Alukkas. Bigbasket among others.UB
  2. Marketplace: A marketplace is a simulation of  an open market. Here, there are no restrictions on what can be sold (of course, products should be legal) and how it is purchased. A seller can register, create product catalogue and start selling. The packaging is  the responsibility of the seller. The payment, shipment process, cancellations, returns are controlled by the Marketplace site. Pricing and warehousing are taken care by the seller. Some popular marketplaces include eBay, Quikr,OLX, Magicbricks.
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  3. B2B2C Store: The most popular Amazon, Flipkart, Bookmyshow, Redbus fall in this category. Here, the product catalogues are controlled by the store. The seller cannot name/represent his product, but, he has to align with the naming and representation set by the store. Apart from product catalogues, the payment, shipment process, cancellations, returns are controlled by the store. Pricing and warehousing fall under the responsibility of the seller.BN-EX959_AMAZON_G_20141009133500
  4. To explain the different categories better, let us take the example of buying a Samsung 40” TV (Samsung 40JU6770 40″ LED TV). When I shop from Samsung.in or Chroma retail.in, the catalogue and price are set by the stores. The stores also take care of shipment, returns and payment processing. Hence, these stores are B2C. However in eBay, there are multiple vendors selling with different product titles including: ‘Samsung 40JU6770 40″ LED TV with 1 Year dealer warranty’, ‘Used Samsung 40JU6770 40″ LED TV less than one-year-old’. Here, there are a plethora of product titles that match the search. The price is decided by the seller. They have the flexibility to lure buyers with additional warranty, additional accessories, used products. The payment is made to the store and the cancellation/returns policy is decided by the store themselves. The fulfilment part is the responsibility of the seller. Hence, this is an example of marketplace shopping. In a B2B2C store, (like Flipkart), all sellers adhere to the catalogue listed by store. If the store does not list a product (like if Flipkart does not deal with Samsung products) then, the sellers cannot sell those products. Though different sellers have the product, the naming and representation will be uniform. The seller can decide the price and take care of warehousing. The shipping, payment, return and cancellation are decided by the store.The next question would be: How to decide which type of store is right for my company? Should I go with a B2C or Marketplace or B2B2C? The answer lies with the company’s business goals. If the company is a big brand with the responsibility of protecting brand identity and experience (like Nike, Park avenue, Joy Alukkas, Samsung) then, B2C is the right way to go. For boutique shops who want to sell differentiated products (like Urban ladder and Pepperfry), this is again the way to go. Same is the case with companies dealing with multi-brand, have their own warehousing and fulfilment capabilities. (Like Big Basket, Chroma Retail). If your company aspires to create a user base with both selling and buying capabilities, but yet keep operating costs low, then the market place is the way to go. If your company aspires to control the products sold and does have the ability to take higher operating costs, then B2B2C is the way to go.In addition, let me also discuss the last two type of stores:
    1. B2B Stores: These are generally intra-supply chain stores with mostly in a private cloud. All users cannot have access except for registered business users. These businesses, in turn, sell to the consumers in brick and mortar stores. These stores generally have limited users. Users from both businesses speak the same language: Product codes, categories. The payment is generally not part of this system, but is handled by different financial systems (because of the credit period, volume based discounts, differential pricing between buying businesses and other considerations). Both businesses maintain inventory. Some examples are the distributor stores run by Unilever, Decathlon.decathlon-nanshan
    2. B2B Platforms: These are similar to marketplaces with the only difference being that both users are businesses. In here both users need to be registered as business users. The buyer businesses can use it for their in-house needs or for re-sale. Loyalty and volume buying is always encouraged. Some examples being indiamart.com, amazonbusiness.com.screen-shot-2015-04-28-at-8-48-33-am

    What are the e-commerce platforms you are most comfortable with and why? Give us your thoughts as comments.