What is a B2B eCommerce Platform?
B2B eCommerce, which is short for business-to-business electronic commerce, is the sale of goods and/or services between businesses using an online sales portal. Generally speaking, B2B eCommerce is used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a company’s sales efforts, and there are many different platforms available on the market, each with different strengths and niche offerings. These platforms are designed to help companies reach a wider audience and sell goods and services more effectively.
As we will see below, having an understanding of the size of the B2B eCommerce market, the different types of platforms that are available, the benefits of different types of deployments, and the various features on offer is key to making the most of your B2B initiatives. It can also be the difference between survival and falling out of the market. We discuss each of these factors in the sections that follow. We also provide a useful checklist for choosing the right platform for your company.
Facts and Statistics
B2B eCommerce transactions are expected to hit $1.2 trillion by 2021. This represents more than 13% of all B2B sales in the United States. Much of this is due to the rapid migration of manufacturers and wholesalers from old legacy systems to open, customizable, and tailor-made online platforms. Large and highly successful companies such as Ali Baba and Amazon are also helping to promote this trend. In fact, Ali Baba’s online sales and profits as far back as 2015 surpassed those of Walmart, Amazon, and eBay combined, which is a strong indication of where things are headed in the future.
Other key facts to keep in mind as companies try to understand and make the most of their B2B eCommerce initiatives are as follows:
- 30% of B2B buyers purchase over 50% of their products online, and 80% of people online use smart devices.
- 50% of B2B buyers also say that improved personalization is a key feature for suppliers they want to work with.
- Mobile phones are expected to generate over 15% of eCommerce sales next year, and tablets will generate 33%. This represents growth of over 90% over the last two years.
- According to B2X Partners, the average B2B buyer performs 12 searches before engaging with a specific brand, and over 70% of global traffic to B2B company sites comes from search engines. Most buyers never go past the first Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
- A healthy proportion (57% of buyers) make up their mind before engaging with the sales teams of B2B eCommerce solution providers. This stresses the importance of tools assisting the buying process.
- Almost three-fourths of B2B purchase decisions are arrived at by at least two decision-makers. Almost one-third of purchase decisions are made by committees of five decision-makers, so B2B sites need to serve multiple roles based on the different audiences that are being engaged with.
Types of B2B eCommerce Platforms
The three most common types of eCommerce deployments are:
- Open Source vs Closed Source (aka Proprietary)
- Out-of-the-Box purposefully built for B2B vs B2C platforms repurposed for B2B with addons
- Cloud-Based vs Self-Hosted
We discuss each of these in turn.
Open Source vs Closed Source (aka Proprietary)
Having an open-source solution provides a number of benefits over closed source solutions, such as the following:
- Customization: Customisations are easy; you just have to tweak the open source code, and you can easily modify and upgrade the code to tailor it to your unique needs.
- Independence: Using a proprietary eCommerce platform locks you into the vendor you choose. Going open-source saves you from vendor restrictions and having to meet specific commitments or satisfy certain requirements.
- Integrations: You can integrate your eCommerce solution with virtually any external system or tool if you opt for an open-source solution. Proprietary platforms are more rigid in this respect, or the financial and time costs of customizing your deployment will be high.
While proprietary solutions provide you with access to a customer help desk and full-stack offerings, you may not need many of the features that are available. In the end, the type of eCommerce platform you choose will depend on your ability to tweak and maintain code repositories yourself, the number and types of integrations you may need with other systems, and how much customization you expect to need over time. If you appreciate the value of flexible and customizable products that can adapt to changing business needs, open-source is the way to go.
Out-of-the-Box Purposefully Built for B2B vs B2C Platforms Repurposed for B2B with Addons
It is not uncommon for businesses looking for an eCommerce solution to deploy a B2C platform that is tweaked for use in the B2B space. This can have a detrimental impact on your business in the long run for several reasons.
Purpose-Built vs Built for Purpose
B2B solutions are built from the ground up to cater to the nuanced and complex environments faced by B2B businesses. Repurposed B2C solutions, on the other hand, can only provide reactive (as opposed to proactive) functionalities based on what the vendor expects the customer to face. If they miss the mark, your bottom line will suffer.
Custom Workflows and Integrations
Purpose-built B2B eCommerce solutions come with highly performant and customizable workflow engines that are tailored to the unique needs of a given merchant. The system architectures needed to do this can only be designed from the ground up. B2C platforms do not offer such customizations in mind and are very often static in terms of workflows and features. For example, a repurposed B2C solution would not allow you to add an extra approval for certain orders, while a custom B2B solution allows you to customize things to accommodate such a requirement with ease. The same goes for integrating with external business solutions such as ERP, PIM, or CRM.
Maintenance and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Ensuring your B2B version of a B2C solution can prove costly because each time the platform provider upgrades their software, you have to check to make sure your version and all extensions and features are in proper working order. Maintaining your application and regularly updating it will also require technical expertise that may be costly, and you will have to pay for new features or functions every time changing business needs demand them, making the arguments in favor of a B2C solution with a B2B module weaker and harder to justify.
Time to Market
It can take time to repurpose a B2C platform with customized B2B functionalities. Locking yourself into a system that provides you with limited functionalities once it is developed simply does not make sense. True B2B companies should look into B2B-focused platforms that will minimize the need for customizations, thereby resulting in a faster time to market.
Cloud-Based vs Self-Hosted
Cloud-based solutions allow companies to launch enterprise-grade B2B solutions without making any costly investments in the technology stacks needed to run the solution. Such a solution is perfect for companies that do not have the expertise or resources to manage security, compliance, and integrations of the eCommerce solution with their other business applications. With a self-hosted solution, you need to run and maintain the servers running your eCommerce backend yourself. This can prove to be costly, especially for smaller businesses or businesses that are growing and need to expand their backend and hardware capabilities significantly.
Benefits of eCommerce B2B Software
There are many benefits to setting up and running a B2B eCommerce solution. Some of these benefits are as follows:
- You can target a larger number of B2B buyers by simply marketing yourself online. Also, since B2B decision-makers increasingly use mobile devices to search for solutions, you can only reach them if you have an online marketplace that is tailored to their needs.
- You can launch and promote many different sales channels customized to the needs and preferences of your target markets. More and more online searches are conducted via web and mobile devices, so the right platform can help you create awareness about you and your offerings where they are needed most.
- You can dynamically set prices for specific clients and update/edit them with ease.
- You can provide digital customer service, reduce customer rep overheads, and directly integrate order management, finance, procurement, fulfillment, orders, and more into one, comprehensive solution.
- With the right solution, you can add or remove B2B functionality as and when needed. For example, you can upgrade to high-end features such as bulk ordering, advanced pricing, account management, and multi shipping or payment capabilities whenever you hit enough online revenue or generate enough user traction to justify such an upgrade.
- The best B2B eCommerce solutions allow you to optimize user experiences by offering you the ability to choose custom marketplace templates to help you create an intuitive and user-friendly experience. eCommerce solutions are also open 24/7, allowing you to respond more quickly and interact around the clock with your client-base.
Features of B2B eCommerce Solutions
Depending on the kind of store you want to run, the size of your business, the nature of your goods and services, and the budget you have allocated for your eCommerce solution, there are many different B2B features and vendors from which you can choose. Some of the most popular features include the following:
- Product information management (PIM solutions) and digital catalogs: You should be able to automate and update product offerings, prices, and other information quickly and with ease.
- Inventory and order management: At the end of the day, eCommerce solutions exist to help you sell more. You need to be able to manage backend functions such as procurement, inventory management, and accepting, tracking, and fulfilling orders using a seamless eCommerce solution.
- Mobile Commerce and sales apps. Some vendors allow you to perform advanced order approvals, routing and processing of orders, and execute single-click quote to orders from within the platform itself. Additional features include instant order modifications, support for multiple payment channels, bulk order printing, and a centralized inventory and order management plugin.
- If you are a large seller, you may want to opt for advanced shipping integration with delivery companies such as UPS, USPS, or FedEx.
- Doing all of the above should be easy for you as well, so the top vendors also offer a single point Content Management System (CMS) that allows you to manage multiple eCommerce websites from a single dashboard.
Top Five Crucial Factors to Consider Before Choosing the Right Platform for B2B eCommerce
Here are five key factors you should keep in mind before choosing a B2B eCommerce platform for your business.
The platform you choose should support the activities you need to perform. For example, purchase approvals, budgets, order management, and dynamic pricing options should be implementable customizable with no more than a few clicks.
2. Responsive Design
Because B2B buyers shop using different devices, your content should render properly across all of them.
Your chosen solution should help users find the information they need when they need it, and where they expect to find it, such as shipping information, order statuses, prices, quotes, and other account or product-related information.
4. Custom Pricing
The best B2B eCommerce platforms offer customer-specific pricing and product catalogs.
5. Payment Options
B2B sales usually involve larger orders than B2C sales. They also recur more frequently. Your platform should offer flexible payment options such as paying one or several invoices at once or paying partial payments when the need arises.
Comparing different platforms and obtaining quotes from individual providers via RFPs that are made from scratch can be challenging and time-consuming. To assist you in your decision, we have collected the most important business and technical questions that any company should ask when researching different B2B eCommerce vendors. Learn more here.
The B2B eCommerce solution you choose will depend on the features you need, the budget you have, the tech expertise of your team, and the business case for which you need it. Your aim is to generate a positive return on your investment in the B2B solution that you chose, so you need to know your goals, how to implement and integrate the new system with your existing infrastructure and processes, and how to manage data flows between your customers, suppliers, and in-house workers. The process itself can be somewhat challenging, but the results are well worth the effort.