25 Jun

Introduction / Meaning of E-Commerce / Role of E-Commerce in the B2B Sector / Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) / Application Programming Interface (API) / Blockchain / Smart Contracts / Email E-Commerce / Website E-Commerce / M-Commerce / Online Platforms / E-Commerce Platforms / Holding Stock or Drop Shipping / Outsourcing / International E-Commerce / Advantages of E-Commerce / Risks of E-Commerce / Commercial and Technological Trends


In today's digital age, e-commerce has revolutionized the way businesses operate.  

While most people are familiar with business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce, the business-to-business (B2B) sector is equally significant, if not more so.  

This article looks into the world of B2B e-commerce arrangements, exploring its meaning, role, advantages, risks, and emerging trends.  

Meaning of E-Commerce:  

E-commerce, or electronic commerce, refers to the sale or purchase of goods and services conducted over computer networks.  

It involves using specific methods designed for receiving or placing orders, such as websites, email, or electronic data interchange (EDI).  

Unlike traditional commerce, e-commerce transactions do not necessarily require online payment or delivery.  They can occur between enterprises, households, individuals, governments, and other organizations.  

Role of E-Commerce in the B2B Sector:  

The B2B e-commerce sector is a powerhouse, surpassing the B2C e-commerce market in terms of value.  

In the UK, nearly three-quarters of all e-commerce sales by value occur in the B2B sector.  

B2B e-commerce plays a crucial role in various stages of business operations, including procurement, sales, logistics, and back-office processes.  

It enables businesses to automate interactions with suppliers, streamline order fulfillment, and establish deeper relationships with buyers.  B2B e-commerce often involves bespoke pricing, larger order volumes, recurring purchases, and negotiated contract terms.  

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI):  

EDI is a traditional method of e-commerce that emerged in the 1960s.  

It involves the exchange of structured data in an electronic format between trading parties over a closed system.  EDI allows for the automatic processing of data without human intervention.  

While EDI is more complex and expensive to set up compared to website e-commerce, it remains a major player in the e-commerce sector.  It is commonly used in stock re-ordering systems operated by large retailers, manufacturers, and financial institutions.  

Application Programming Interface (API):  

APIs are sets of standardized rules that enable data communication between different software applications.  In the e-commerce market, APIs have gained popularity in recent years.  

They facilitate improved data sharing and connectivity between applications, enhancing the end-to-end ordering process.  

APIs allow e-commerce solutions to integrate functionality provided by platforms like Stripe, Salesforce, and Twilio, enabling seamless payment processing, order acceptance, and stock management.  


Blockchain, also known as distributed ledger technology, has garnered significant attention for its potential to reduce errors, fraud, and costs in various industries.  

It is the underlying technology behind virtual currencies like Bitcoin.  

Blockchain creates a shared database where information is recorded in blocks and linked through encryption.  This decentralized system ensures the validity of transactions and eliminates the need for a trusted third party. 

While blockchain has promising applications in B2B e-commerce, its greatest potential lies in transforming financial services, payments, and trading and settlement processes.  

Smart Contracts:  

Smart contracts utilize blockchain technology to automate and enforce agreements.  

These software codes represent agreements that can be verified and executed automatically based on predefined conditions. 

Smart contracts have the potential to disrupt intermediary internet platforms by enabling secure, accurate, and efficient business transactions.  

B2B sectors such as clearing and settlement, foreign exchange, and commodities trading may be impacted by smart contracts.  

Email E-Commerce

Emails play a vital role in B2B e-commerce communications.  

They are used as part of website e-commerce transactions and can also be used for contracting or varying the terms of existing arrangements.  

While the informality of emails may raise questions about contract formation and compliance with formalities, they are widely used for commercial activity.  Businesses should consider the legal implications of using emails in e-commerce, including contract formation and formalities.  

Website E-Commerce

With the advent of the internet, businesses have increasingly embraced B2B e-commerce through websites. 

B2B e-commerce websites can take various forms, including direct sales/portals, marketplaces, and online auctions. Traders often contract with customers based on standard terms set out on the website.  

It is crucial for businesses to have comprehensive terms of use, acceptable use policies, and terms of sale/supply on their websites.  

Online ordering processes typically involve click-wrap agreements, where users actively signify their consent to the terms.  


Mobile apps have become popular in B2B e-commerce, either as standalone platforms or complementary to websites. 

M-commerce presents similar legal issues to traditional website e-commerce, with additional considerations for smaller screens, app market structures, and data protection.  

Businesses should ensure compliance with information requirements, app development agreements, and end-user license agreements. 

Online Platforms

Online platforms serve as intermediaries, connecting different groups of users over the internet.  

They facilitate trade between buyers and sellers, offering transparency, choice, and efficiency. B2B e-commerce may occur through online platforms, or businesses may contract with platforms for intermediary services. 

Online platforms raise legal issues related to agency or distribution arrangements, terms of service, and the dominance of large platforms.  

E-Commerce Platforms

E-commerce platforms are software applications that provide online stores for businesses.  

They offer features like website design, shopping carts, ordering, and customer accounts.  Traders can choose between open-source platforms or contract with third-party providers for software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms.  

SaaS platforms eliminate the need for businesses to maintain their own software, support, and hosting.  Traders should consider factors like scalability, security, integration capabilities, and cost-effectiveness when selecting an e-commerce platform. 

Holding Stock or Drop Shipping:  

Businesses selling tangible goods in e-commerce must decide whether to hold their own stock or opt for drop shipping. 

Holding stock requires appropriate warehousing and stock control systems, while drop shipping involves leaving the physical stock holding and supply arrangements to a third party, usually the manufacturer. 

Drop shipping allows businesses to operate without stock holding constraints.  


Due to the technical and operational skills required in e-commerce, many businesses outsource aspects of their e-commerce solutions.  

Outsourcing may involve website development, systems integration, hosting, or other services. 

Businesses should consider outsourcing agreements and ensure they have appropriate contracts in place with third-party providers. 

International E-Commerce

E-commerce has made it easier for businesses to sell to customers worldwide.  However, legal rules and regulations vary across jurisdictions, and businesses should seek appropriate legal advice when engaging in cross-border trade.  

Advantages of E-Commerce:  

Some of the advantages of B2B e-commerce include: 

  1. Reduced Reliance on Paper: B2B e-commerce allows businesses to minimize their reliance on paper records, reducing the cost and effort associated with producing, processing, and managing physical documents.
  2. Automation and Efficiency: E-commerce solutions automate various processes, such as ordering, sales, logistics, and back-office operations. This automation speeds up transactions, reduces costs, and improves overall efficiency.
  3. Faster and Convenient Service: B2B e-commerce enables businesses to offer faster and more convenient services to their customers. Orders can be placed and processed quickly, leading to shorter delivery times and improved customer satisfaction.
  4. Reach New Customers: E-commerce expands the reach of businesses, allowing them to connect with customers worldwide. It opens up opportunities to reach new markets and customers who prefer to conduct business online.
  5. Bespoke Pricing and Negotiated Contracts: B2B e-commerce often involves bespoke pricing for specific customers and negotiated contract terms. This flexibility allows businesses to tailor their offerings to individual customers and establish deeper relationships.
  6. Integration with Business Systems: E-commerce platforms can integrate with other business systems, such as inventory management, marketing, and customer relationship management. This integration streamlines operations and improves overall business efficiency.
  7. Cost Savings: By automating processes and reducing manual intervention, B2B e-commerce helps businesses save costs associated with labor, paperwork, and physical infrastructure.
  8. Improved Customer Experience: B2B e-commerce platforms offer a seamless and user-friendly experience for customers. They can easily browse products, place orders, and track shipments, enhancing overall customer satisfaction.
  9. Competitive Advantage: Embracing B2B e-commerce gives businesses a competitive edge in the market. It allows them to keep up with industry trends, meet customer expectations, and stay ahead of competitors.
  10. Scalability: E-commerce platforms provide scalability, allowing businesses to handle increased order volumes and expand their operations without significant infrastructure investments.

Overall, B2B e-commerce offers numerous advantages that enable businesses to streamline operations, improve customer experiences, and drive growth in the digital marketplace.  

Risks of E-Commerce:  

Some of risks of B2B e-commerce include: 

  1. Contract Formation: There may be questions regarding the formation of contracts and compliance with formalities, especially in electronic transactions.
  2. Data Security: E-commerce systems are vulnerable to data breaches, which can lead to unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information and potential legal consequences.
  3. Technological Errors: System malfunctions, technical faults, lost or corrupted messages, and security errors can disrupt operations and create uncertainties in contract formation.
  4. Reliance on Third Parties: Businesses often rely on third-party providers for hosting, payment processing, and other services. If these providers fail to perform, it can impact the business's operations.
  5. Compliance with Regulations: E-commerce solutions must comply with various regulations, including data protection, consumer protection, and industry-specific laws. Non-compliance can result in fines, legal liabilities, and reputational damage.
  6. Dominance of Large Platforms: Engaging with online platforms or cloud service providers may expose businesses to one-sided terms and potential risks associated with the dominance of these platforms.
  7. Cost and Complexity: Establishing and integrating e-commerce systems can be costly and complex, with potential challenges in project management and unforeseen expenses.

It is crucial for businesses to have strategies and contingency plans in place to mitigate these risks and address them in their contracts and agreements.  Regular monitoring, security measures, and compliance with relevant laws and regulations are essential to ensure the smooth operation of B2B e-commerce.  

Commercial and Technological Trends:  

The B2B e-commerce landscape is constantly evolving, driven by emerging commercial and technological trends.  Some notable trends include the increasing use of integrated e-commerce solutions, growth.

A downloadable Online ('Click-Wrap') Terms for the Supply of Goods template is available on our Templates page.

Let us know if you need some terms and conditions for your business- it is one of our most requested documents.

Also see our related articles on the small print, website development checklist and website terms of Use vs Terms and Conditions

An Outsourcing Agreement Template can be downloaded from our Templates page.

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Note: This publication does not necessarily deal with every important topic nor cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not designed to provide legal or other advice. The information contained in this document is intended to be for informational purposes and general interest only. 


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