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B2B eCommerce Platform: Benefits, Definition and How to Choose Guide

What is a B2B eCommerce platform?

B2B eCommerce is internet-based commerce, in other words, the act of selling goods and services over the internet exclusively to businesses. While it may not be apparent to many, three are many differences between a B2B eCommerce store and a typical B2C eCommerce website many of us shop on.

The key difference between B2B and B2C is “who” you are selling to, and B2B tends to be more complex in that regard. That’s because businesses are complex by nature: they all have unique needs, decision-making processes, buying cycles and even brand loyalties. B2B eCommerce platforms must accommodate these requirements B2B customers have.

Facts and statistics

According to Meticulous Research, the global eCommerce market is expected to reach $24.26 trillion by 2025 due to rising mobile and internet usage as well as the technology surrounding cloud, shipping, payment methods and so on. This will undoubtedly impact B2B eCommerce, as it is already the lion’s share of the global eCommerce market.

While B2B eCommerce is a trillion-dollar industry, only 22% of US B2B merchants have any sort of online presence. At the same time, 75% of all B2B clients prefer to make orders directly from a website instead of dealing with a real-life sales representative.

Customers of all kinds prefer to do the research themselves, and they would rather make a purchase online once they know what they want. With a growing influx of millennials into the workforce, we can expect the bulk of B2B purchases to be done by them. They don’t place orders by phone or fax – they purchase online and on their phones. 

Types of B2B eCommerce platforms

1) Open source vs closed source (proprietary)

There are many advantages an open-source eCommerce platform provides for businesses and store owners. For example:

  • Customizations according to your needs. It’s easy to modify code or team up with a consultant to guide you with the process of updating the code for your requirements. Proprietary software doesn’t give you this option.
  • Flexibility with your platform. By choosing a proprietary option, you’re restricted to the options that the vendor has built into the platform. With an open-source option, you can utilize resources and a community to implement features anytime that meet your needs.
  • The developer community. A large community means a large number of integrations to open-source solutions. Proprietary software usually has limited integrations due to high development costs.

In the end, whether you pick a proprietary or an open-source platform will largely depend on your needs. This means taking into account the types of integrations you need, and whether you will need to grow the number of customizations over time. With a growing reliance on digital tools and dynamic business landscapes that demand agility to react to changes, open-source solutions may be a value proposition to many brands out there.

2) B2B vs B2C platforms hard-coded for B2B with addons

Many businesses start off with a B2C system and try to adapt this to their B2B marketplace as they expand that area of their business. Still, others start off their B2B operations with a B2C platform that has been modified for use in B2B. Both of these approaches are wrong and can have a detrimental impact on the long-term success of your business. Most of the time, B2C systems don’t have or have limited capabilities for the following:

a) Corporate accounts for corporate needs

Businesses rely on hierarchical corporate structures with many decision-makers with unique roles. B2B eCommerce platforms address this by allowing companies to log in to the store with different role-based accounts, ensuring that users only have the information, order-making or purchasing permissions they need. More customization options like page view permissions and purchasing rules can be set – something that is unheard of in most B2C eCommerce applications.

b) Multiple organizations, stores and accounts

Many businesses are global and operate on different time zones, currencies and regulations. According to OroCommerce, the right B2B E-commerce platform must be able to accommodate multiple stores and their pages from a single admin console.

This is especially true once marketplaces get complex: consider that a single retailer could have B2B, B2C and B2B2C, preferring to keep them separate in order to give their target customers a better experience.

c) A content management system

While B2B customers need to juggle multiple decision-makers and longer buying cycles, they also need more information to make seemingly simple decisions. Things like lengthy descriptions, specifications, certifications are more of a necessity than an optional nice-to-have.

With a CMS system, it becomes easier for store admin, marketing or sales staff to create and maintain content according to the needs of their target customer.

d) Personalized B2B experience

B2B eCommerce solutions are designed with highly sophisticated workflow engines that allow for individual B2B experiences. For example, B2B eCommerce stores may need to have different checkout and ordering procedures that vary from account to account.

Some businesses may require approval for certain orders, others may prefer certain order quantities. To maintain this experience, data may need to be pulled in from ERPs, PIMS or CRM systems – something that’s not always offered by B2C stores.

e) Multiple shopping and price-lists

Unlike for B2C customers, pricing for B2B users can get very complicated. As a merchant, you could have pre-negotiated prices with one buyer while offering another buyer a different type of discount. You may have one product optioned out for different industries and offer it at different prices.

Lastly, you may want products purchased in bulk to have tiered pricing models. All this demands a dynamic and robust pricing engine that only B2B eCommerce systems can offer.

3) Cloud-based vs self-hosted

Cloud applications are extremely popular and cloud investments are growing in size and complexity exponentially. Furthermore, businesses of all sizes are rapidly embracing cloud technology, particularly those with small IT departments or those that do not have the expertise to maintain an eCommerce system on their service.

With a self-hosted eCommerce solution, however, implementing, maintaining and upgrading the servers fall on the company’s responsibility. This can be costly, and businesses that do not have an advantage with their IT department might not be in a position to implement a self-hosted system.

Benefits of B2B eCommerce solutions

While B2B and B2B eCommerce systems may look similar on the surface, there are many important features that B2B eCommerce systems give you. One is customization. Many B2B eCommerce solutions are designed for demanding requirements of their clients, such as supporting implementation in-house or in a headless fashion. However, that’s not all. A dedicated B2B eCommerce platform can bring many benefits to the table:

1) Reach a wider audience

While many B2B purchases are already done online, the share of offline purchases is still quite large. This means that there is a lot of room to grow for businesses that traditionally rely on word-of-mouth or limited themselves to local markets to find clientele. Those with an eCommerce platform can benefit from upgrading to a B2B system, too. This can uncover different markets such as medium or large businesses with more complex purchasing processes.

2) Customized pricing structures

Merchants that target businesses demand flexible pricing structures that suit their clients. For example, a dynamic pricing engine in a B2B eCommerce system could set a cost-plus pricing method with the ‘plus’ part being set dynamically. Another benefit for the B2B buyer is the ability to request for a quote, or request for proposals and for the seller to approve or deny them. These are just some of the pricing features B2B eCommerce systems can have.

3) Customized buying experiences

When dealing with multiple corporations, divisions, subsidiaries and business types as clients, offering custom experiences becomes a necessity. For example, B2B customers may want to send the bill at one address and maintain their shipping location at another address. Product variations and product descriptions can be tailored to improve the customer experience according to a specific user and boost conversion rates. 

4) Reporting and metrics

With its expanded segmentation and role-based features, B2B eCommerce software tends to excel in reporting features and customer behaviour analytics. Using data from external sources such as ERP and CRM software, it’s possible to get greater insights into customer data.

Features of B2B eCommerce software solutions

Depending on what your product line consists of, your business needs as well as your budget, there can be many B2B-specific features you may want to look in your vendor. Here are some of the more standard ones most B2Bs will appreciate:

  • Mobile front-end and back-end interfaces that allow customers and back-end agents to keep tabs of their accounts on mobile devices.
  • Role-based product catalogues, web catalogues, tiered and custom pricing structures.
  • Order management features such as modifications and payment channels.
  • Inventory management features such as tracking, procurement and order fulfilment.
  • Workflows for the buyer, seller processes, and custom checkout experiences.
  • Integration with other systems such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), product information management and CRM systems to centralize product and customer data.

Choosing the best B2B eCommerce platform

There are many things that might impact your decision on a B2B eCommerce platform. Here are some of the features you should pay attention to. Use this list to decide if they are crucial to operations or are simply nice-to-haves:

  • Open-source vs proprietary
  • SaaS vs on-premise
  • Mobile functionality
  • Multiple sites and self-service portals
  • Custom, tiered and dynamic pricing options
  • Online quotes, negotiations and bargaining
  • Multiple payment and shipping options
  • Security features such as PCI
  • Purchase, communication and activity history
  • Workflows for cross-sells and upsells
  • eCommerce search engine and page SEO visibility
  • High level of scalability and add-ons
  • Integration, add-ons, and plugins
  • Reporting options

Conclusion

No matter what B2B eCommerce solution you choose, the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ultimately, your aim is to generate a positive return on investment with the solution of your choice. In doing so, the features of your chosen B2B eCommerce platform should carefully match your infrastructure, processes and goals.

Just like any investment in the long-term success of your business, the best platform should be above all, a great fit everyone who comes in contact with it: From your staff, suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, to perhaps most importantly, your customers.

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