When you sell online, you can offer your goods and services directly to your customers, or you can use online sales channels set up by a third party. Both approaches fall under the business-to-consumer (B2C) model, but the former—the direct-to-consumer model (D2C)—allows you unmediated access to your target audience. Each business model has unique traits with respect to customer acquisition and marketing. Here’s a rundown of D2C versus B2C, with the pros and cons of each.
What is B2C?
B2C, or sometimes BTC, stands for “business to consumer.” It describes a business model where companies sell products to consumers. The B2C model is often contrasted with B2B, or the business-to-business model, where one business sells to another business.
B2C businesses may sell to customers directly on their own online stores, or via online marketplaces like Amazon and AliExpress. B2C businesses also sell products in brick-and-mortar retail outlets like grocery, department, electronics, clothing, and hardware stores. For instance, the clothing designer Hugo Boss sells clothing in retail stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s. B2C companies can also sell via smaller, boutique stores that specialize in specific product types—such as Sweetwater for musical instruments. Social media channels also serve as venues for B2C sales. For instance, Instagram has ecommerce functionality that allows companies to showcase products and users to buy without leaving the social media app.
What is D2C?
D2C, or sometimes DTC, is short for “direct to consumer.” D2C businesses fall under the B2C umbrella; they’re companies that sell their goods and services to an end consumer without third-party involvement.
For instance, when you sell products directly from your website’s ecommerce store, you bypass external sales channels and have a direct relationship with shoppers. To sell directly to end consumers, D2C companies may partner with an ecommerce platform like Shopify to create an online store and set up payment processing.
The D2C business model also works in physical stores owned and operated by the company that makes the store’s products. These are in contrast to department stores, big-box stores, and multi-brand stores that feature goods from many different companies. D2C stores give the company the opportunity for direct interaction with individual customers.
B2C vs. D2C
- Distribution channels
- Brand control
- Data and customer insights
- Customization and personalization
- Speed and flexibility
There are several differences between the business-to-consumer model and its subcategory, the direct-to-consumer model. Those differences, which range from the customer experience to operational costs, include:
- B2C: B2C businesses may rely on distribution channels such as retail stores and online marketplaces like Amazon. You can also sell products via social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, which operate their own online marketplaces.
- D2C: The D2C model cuts out intermediaries and sells directly to consumers through ecommerce websites and retail stores, giving sellers more control over the customer experience.
- B2C: Companies in a B2C model often have less direct control over the customer relationship. Typically, customers will interact with the online marketplace or retailer, not the various product makers.
- D2C: This model allows for a stronger, more direct relationship between the brand and consumers. Businesses have more control over their brand messaging, customer interactions, and feedback, fostering a deeper connection.
Data and customer insights
- B2C: B2C data may be collected by intermediaries, often limiting a seller’s access to valuable customer insights.
- D2C: The D2C model gives merchants greater access to consumer data and behavior patterns. This significant difference can yield more customer insights and help with targeted marketing strategies.
Customization and personalization
- B2C: This model may focus on the customer journey from a retailer’s perspective. Interactions may be personalized, but these revolve around the store—not necessarily the maker of the products sold there.
- D2C: The D2C model allows greater product and service customization and personalization based directly on customer preferences. Companies can use D2C insights to create targeted marketing campaigns to increase sales.
Speed and flexibility
- B2C: Decision-making and adapting to market changes might be slower because of the multiple parties in the supply chain.
- D2C: D2C offers greater control and quicker responses to market trends or customer demands. This is due to the streamlined nature of most D2C operations.
Pros and cons of B2C
The B2C sales model comes with notable benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a rundown:
Benefits of B2C
- Broad market reach: B2C models can reach a huge consumer base. With a multiplatform approach across traditional retail outlets, ecommerce platforms, and marketplaces, businesses can tap into a broad audience, potentially increasing sales and brand visibility.
- Established distribution channels: Going with a large platform can allow smaller businesses to tap into shipping, warehousing, and other benefits, which can help contain costs. Online marketplaces such as Amazon also know a lot about their customers’ buying habits, which you can leverage when selling via their platforms.
- Brand loyalty: Successful B2C companies often build strong brand recognition and loyalty among consumers, who make repeat purchases.
Limitations of B2C
- Reduced control over customer relationships: The B2C model often offers only limited direct interaction with end users because relationships are mediated through retailers or online platforms. This makes it harder to control the overall customer experience and ensure customer satisfaction.
- Dependency on intermediaries: B2C businesses rely on intermediaries like retailers or online marketplaces, which can reduce profit margins and brand control. They also are subject to the whims of the marketplaces, whose policy changes can alienate customers.
- Competition and price sensitivity: B2C markets are highly competitive and price-sensitive. Consumers can easily compare prices and often will choose the lowest-priced options, squeezing seller profit margins. Prepare to offer highly competitive prices when selling products in such marketplaces.
Pros and cons of D2C
The D2C approach offers significant advantages in terms of customer relationships and control over branding. It also poses challenges related to initial setup costs, target market penetration, and logistical operations. Here are notable benefits and challenges:
Benefits of D2C
- Direct customer relationships: The D2C model offers businesses a direct and intimate relationship with consumers. This enables better understanding of customer needs, preferences, and feedback. This can boost brand value and customer loyalty.
- Greater control over branding and messaging: Direct-to-consumer brands have almost complete control over their branding, marketing, and messaging. With more control comes stronger brand identity and more opportunities to provide personalized service to end users.
- Data collection and insights: D2C models lend themselves to better customer insights because you can study customer behavior on your own website, rather than rely on a third-party marketplace for user data. This valuable data can give you a competitive edge in everything from pricing to digital marketing because you gain firsthand knowledge about what effectively sells products on your website or in your stores.
Limitations of D2C
- Infrastructure and overhead costs: Setting up a D2C sales channel requires robust infrastructure, from website development to logistics. Establishing and maintaining these resources is costly and time-consuming, especially for startups and small businesses.
- Market reach and competition: D2C brands may face challenges reaching a wide audience compared to businesses leveraging established retail or ecommerce platforms. Depending on market conditions, customers may flock to discount retailers in search of lower prices,making it tough for your D2C brand to get noticed.
- Logistical complexities: Managing logistics, including inventory, shipping, and customer service, is complex and challenging for smaller D2C brands, especially when scaling up. You’ll likely need a third-party logistics provider to handle your order fulfillment.
B2C vs. D2C FAQ
What is the role of 3PLs for D2C businesses?
Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) support direct-to-consumer (D2C) businesses by handling various aspects of supply chain and logistics operations. They bring expertise on topics like the wholesale buying process and order fulfillment.
What is an example of B2C and D2C?
An example of a B2C sales model is a company selling goods via established marketplaces as part of an omnichannel distribution strategy. The fashion house Ralph Lauren has taken this approach to clothing sales. An example of the D2C approach would be selling products straight to the customer using an online store. Dollar Shave Club successfully built and scaled a business based on the D2C model.
What is the difference between B2B, B2C, and D2C?
B2B stands for “business to business”—for instance, a software company selling its products to a computer manufacturer. B2C stands for “business to consumer,” such as Nordstrom selling clothing made by an outside manufacturer. D2C stands for “direct to consumer,” where companies sell to end customers without an intermediary (such as TULA selling its skin care products on its own website).