B2B eCommerce Platform: What It Is and How to Choose One

Online selling is not a new phenomenon, as some of the first things purchased online date back as far as 1994 (it was a Sting CD, in case you’re wondering). Since then, online commerce has evolved to make it easy for anyone to find and purchase virtually anything they want. Global eCommerce sales have reached $4.2 trillion dollars and are predicted to continue their trend upward. It can also take a variety of forms, such as business to consumer (B2C), business to business (B2B), direct-to-customer (D2C) and more. In this post, we’ll focus on B2B eCommerce and how you can select the right platform for selling to other businesses.

What is a B2B eCommerce platform?

B2B eCommerce is short for business-to-business electronic commerce, meaning the sale of goods and services to businesses. This includes manufacturers, wholesalers and business-focused retailers as opposed to consumers of the general public. B2B eCommerce platforms power companies around the world by supplying them with products they need to operate and grow successfully. In other words, these platforms enable transactions that help supply chains furnish materials, goods and services to manufacture and deliver the finished product.

There are many B2B eCommerce platforms on offer, ranging from on-premise, to SaaS to proprietary to open-source. Having an understanding of the B2B eCommerce market and the types of platforms that are available to you is crucial to making the most of your selection. As we discuss the different types and features of B2B eCommerce platforms, we’ll also list the benefits businesses can hope to realize with their investment and what steps to take in selecting the most appropriate solution.

B2B eCommerce facts and statistics

Driven by the popularity of B2C, B2B buyers are used to convenient self-service portals and are looking for similar online experiences. Forrester predicts that US B2B eCommerce sales are expected to hit $1.8 trillion by 2023, mirroring the growth of all online transactions. According to the same report, the majority (67%) of B2B buyers prefer not to interact with a salesperson when researching a product. Others are mixed in their preferences, indicating that B2B buyers tend to move freely between channels of their choice such as self-service, full-service or hybrid eCommerce experiences.

Here are some other statistics to keep in mind when deciding on your b2B eCommerce platform and customer-facing strategy:

– 61% of B2B customers head online to start the buying process (Accenture)
– B2Bs spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers, preferring to engage online (Gartner)
– 51% of B2B customers explore social media sites as a first step in the buying process (Accenture)
– 90% of B2B buyers don’t have a linear journey, looping back and repeating at least one or more actions in their business. (CMO)
– 62% of buyers say they can make a business decision based on online content alone. (BlueCorona)
– The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6 to 10 decision makers (Gartner)

Types of B2B eCommerce Platforms

The three most common types of eCommerce deployments are:

– 1.Cloud-based
A cloud-based B2B eCommerce platform is the perfect choice for companies that do not have the resources to manage hosting, security, and compliance of their applications. There’s no need to maintain, upgrade or worry about data security of the servers where their data is stored. By using a cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure, companies can lower their costs, which removes headaches when it comes to maintaining their infrastructure.

Many B2B eCommerce platforms are also offered as a SaaS solution, in which the software is licensed to the user. These types of solutions are licensed on a subscription basis, with the monthly costs ranging from the number of users to the features you demand out of your eCommerce system.

– 2. On-premise
With an on-premise or a self-hosted solution, the responsibility for running and maintaining the service of your eCommerce backend system is on you. This can be costlier than going with a cloud-based solution but is more appropriate for those who have the money and time to keep backend and frontend hardware specifications up to date. With a fully on-premise system, you have maximum control not only with the management and customization of the application, but of the hosting infrastructure as well.

– 3. Open-source
Choosing an open-source B2B eCommerce system offers a number of benefits:1) Independence. Using a proprietary, whether a SaaS or on-premise system, ties you up with your vendor, whereas an open-source solution removes these restrictions. 2) Customization. With an open-source system, you are free to modify the code according to your needs. 3) Integration. Open-source opens you up to an array of integrations, independent developers or solution providers that can realize any business need.

– 4. Proprietary
Proprietary B2B eCommerce software is also known as closed-source. These give you a peace of mind and a more hands-off approach to your store, particularly if you choose a SaaS solution. On the negative side, proprietary solutions may give you unnecessary features you can’t get out of paying for. You’ll have less flexibility, customization, and less say about the progress and development of the product.

– 5. B2C with B2B add-ons
Some B2B eCommerce systems out there are in fact B2C systems with add-ons, plugins, and integrations that address some – not all – B2B pain points. Vendors essentially pass B2C systems with hard-coded B2B features as B2B solutions, which can cause problems for you down the road. Limited features turn into roadblocks once you decide to grow inventory, expand into new markets, or upgrade parts of your system.

– 6. B2B, purpose-built
Native B2B features bring all the benefits of future-proofed technology to businesses. B2B eCommerce platforms are built from the ground up to cater to the nuanced and complex environments of businesses. They allow you to personalize customer experiences to specific pricing, ordering, payment, and shipping requirements of business customers.

Benefits of eCommerce B2B Software

A purpose-built B2B eCommerce software allows you to accomplish a number of business critical B2B functions:

– Accommodate different user roles your business customers require with custom roles, permissions and access controls.
– Create separate stores for their product lines, target markets, locale, and more with the help of multiple organizations & multi-website capabilities.
– Utilize pricing rules, discounts, or tiers, no matter how complex, according to company, business unit or customer.
– Personalize product catalogs for different audiences such as corporations, divisions, business units, or individual customers.
– Create the ideal checkout experience, order submission or payment process according to your buyer’s needs.

Features of B2B eCommerce Solutions

The features you should look for in your B2B eCommerce solution depends on the type of business you run, the products you sell, what your budget is, and who your customers are. At the same time, there are some common B2B eCommerce capabilities you should keep in mind when you are re-platforming or looking for a solution.

– Product management options and multiple catalogs that allow you to manage your product offerings, descriptions, prices, and more.
– Order management functionality that gives you an understanding of your inventory, procurement, order fulfillment, tracking, and returns.
– Dynamic pricing calculation and the ability to set up multiple price lists. The ability to submit quotes and purchase orders, as well as the ability to sync prices with the ERP.
– Shipping capabilities such as multiple shipping addresses, options, and integration with carriers such as FedEx and DHL.
– Mobile capability for back-office staff and front-office, not to mention a great online experience for customers.

Six Factors to Consider When Choosing the Right Platform for B2B eCommerce

Here are six key factors you should keep in mind before choosing a B2B eCommerce platform for your business:

Functionality: Go over all the features and capabilities of your shortlisted platform and make sure they align with your short-term and long-term goals.
User experience: Pay special attention to UX design options, content management system and the mobile experience. Buyers shop on different devices, and your store should be accessible on all of them.
Self-service: Business customers prefer to purchase without contacting the sales rep. Ensure the self-service experience allows customers to request quotes, place orders and confirm shipping.
Pricing settings: The best B2B eCommerce platforms offer flexible, business and customer-specific pricing and product catalogs for a personalized experience.
Connectivity: B2B platforms integrate with a variety of B2B crucial systems such as ERP, PIM, and CRM software. Powerful APIs give clients the option for headless delivery and the ability to deploy middleware and custom applications.
Payment options: Unlike B2C, B2B sales usually involve larger orders made by various business structures. They also recur more frequently. Offering payment options that match the needs of business customers will get them to come back.

Conclusion

When searching for the ideal solution, you might be overwhelmed by the number of B2B eCommerce platforms out there. To be in the best position to make the right decision, start examining your metrics, goals, resources and prepare some important questions to your shortlisted B2B eCommerce software vendors.

Whatever your industry, budget, or technical skills, there is a solution that matches your desired implementation requirements, feature set, back-office, and user experience. By following the recommendations in this post, you’ll increase the odds that the B2B eCommerce solution you choose will be the right fit for you today and over the long term.