This paper compares the potential characteristics of B2B platforms as identified in the information systems literature with those in the general platform literature. Our analysis reveals that these characteristics are not exclusive to B2B platforms and suggests that the differences between B2B and B2C platforms may be more subtle. Moreover, it remains unclear whether these differences serve as success factors for B2B platforms or merely represent the current approaches of the platforms under examination. We identified five potential differences that warrant further investigation. Therefore, this literature-based comparison lays the groundwork for further research on supporting decision-making when building a B2B platform ecosystem or joining a B2B platform ecosystem. Especially important is the fact that building on insights from B2C could lead to wrong decisions and platform failure or unintended outcomes for participants. Thereby the study contributes to understanding of the unique aspects of digital B2B platforms and has implications for B2B platform managers and policymakers because the presence of these ecosystems can considerably influence competitive dynamics in markets.
Business-to-business (B2B) platforms and platform ecosystems have recently gained significant traction. They are much-debated topics in conferences  and in the literature (see, for example, , , , ). However, apart from a few well-known examples, such as Alibaba or Amazon Business, B2B platforms attract less attention from the media and regulators compared with their business-to-consumer (B2C) counterparts. It also seems unclear in the academic literature whether B2B platforms can create the same dynamics as their B2C1 counterparts , . Based on a systematic review of the information systems (IS) literature to capture the characteristics of B2B platforms, the goal of this paper is to compare their characteristics with those of B2C platforms and discuss potential differences.
The term ‘platform’ is used to refer to many different concepts. However, from an economic point of view, platforms are defined as two- or multi-sided markets that connect two groups of users, enable interaction between them, and reduce transaction costs , , , , . According to this definition, network effects are the main difference between a platform and traditional pipeline business models. Participants from different user groups benefit from each other’s presence on the platform ; they exert a positive externality on each other. The platform internalizes the network externalities between the user groups and provides the infrastructure and governance for two parties to find each other and interact securely , . Without this central coordination mechanism, the market would either not exist, the cost of interaction would be (much) higher, or there would be (much) less interaction.
This paper builds on a systematic analysis of the information system literature focusing on market-related factors of B2B platforms. By comparing these factors with the traditional B2C platform literature, we aimed to identify both commonalities and distinctions between the two types of platforms. Our investigation did not reveal any factors that are unique to B2B platforms compared to B2C platforms. Instead, both types of platforms rely on (indirect) network effects, confront the challenge of the chicken-and-egg problem, need to manage interactions, and depend on data for orchestration and scalability. However, our analysis suggests that there are more subtle differences between B2B and B2C platforms, which led us to formulate new research questions. Answering these questions can contribute to a better understanding of the nuanced disparities between the two types of platforms. Therefore, we cannot fully answer the question of whether B2B and B2C platforms are fraternal twins or false friends. In the first case, there is no difference between the two platforms, and the knowledge and principles from studies of B2C platforms can be transferred to B2B platforms. In the second case, the knowledge and principles from B2C platforms being applied to B2B platforms leads to poor results and the notion that platforms cannot work in B2B markets. Our results show that it depends, among other things, on the type of platform, the market, and the owner of the platform. Therefore, our study adds to the literature comparing B2B and B2C platforms and crystalizes the peculiarities of B2B platforms. In this sense, our paper is closest to Anderson et al. , who formed hypotheses about differences and peculiarities in analyzing a dataset of 79 B2B platforms in Germany. The nuanced nature of the differences is also in line with previous work , , . Fig. 4 illustrates this and points out the differences identified between B2B and B2C platforms. The figure also emphasizes how close B2B and B2C platforms are and that paying insufficient attention to the differences may lead to the false analogy fallacy and, therefore, to misguided strategic decisions.