The business-to-business (B2B) landscape is quickly shifting away from the more traditional offline territory, with more companies hopping on the ecommerce bandwagon.
In order to provide the right things to your customers—while also tailoring their experience to your brand—you need to find the ecommerce platform that’s right for your B2B company.
While each of the ecommerce platforms we’ll be discussing differ in many ways, they also have a lot in common, as well. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important features of B2B ecommerce platforms.
Let’s face it: B2B businesses are a bit more complex than B2C businesses. Due to the nuances and rules often associated with selling to other businesses, you need to be able to manipulate your ecommerce platform to solve for differing buyer experiences, depending on the user.
Because of this, your ecommerce platform of choice should give you the option to allow or restrict access to certain parts of your site on an individual basis.
For example, you may want to:
The decision as to how to use these options is up to you, and involves taking a look at your buyer experience as well as your variety in customers and products. You just need to make sure the B2B ecommerce platform you choose allows you to make these choices in the first place — otherwise, you’ll run into issues while trying to build out these pathways in the future.
B2B businesses are often comprised of a lot of moving parts.
Between customer management tools, fulfillment centers, and punchout catalogs, there are a lot of different systems that need to work together to create a unified order management and customization system.
You need to ensure your B2B ecommerce platform allows for transactional options in one unified solution.
Having several tools that don’t work together will result in disorganization, confusion, and potential problems with inventory management and order fulfillment.
This is particularly relevant if you are a hybrid business offering both B2C and wholesale channels — as reducing channel conflict and management are pivotal to all aspects of your business.
Additionally, you might want to provide your best clients different delivery options, again depending on their tier, location, or some other factor.
It’s best to think through any possible ecommerce features you may need to be available before you dive into implementing an ecommerce platform into your storefront.
Whenever brands look to create an ecommerce website, one thing is the most important (aside from sales), and that’s the experience users get when they visit your website.
You want your brand to resonate with customers, andthe user experience and user interface (UX/UI) of your site needs to make your customers’ experience with your brand more satisfying and enjoyable.
As more and more B2B businesses move towards an enhanced UX/UI with optimization options, your best bet is to identify a platform that has all the personalization options you need for now AND in the future.
That said, you want to find a platform that enables you to create an ecommerce site that’s:
In addition to the customer-facing aspects we mentioned above, you also need to consider how your choice of B2B ecommerce platform will impact your company.
And we mean that in two different ways.
First of all, your team’s ability to use your chosen platform hinges on a few things:
As we’ll see in a moment, each platform is tailored to users with a specific level of coding and developer knowledge.
And, of course, each platform’s interface differs in a variety of ways.
The point is, most platforms aren’t meant for everyone; they’re not supposed to be.
That’s why it’s important to pick not “the best” platform, but the platform that your team will be able to utilize best.
Of course, we can’t overlook the fact that your choice of B2B ecommerce platform will have a major impact on your overall business.
Your first order of business, here, should be to answer the following question:
Why do you need an ecommerce site?
Are you looking to acquire new customers? Trying to strengthen your relationship with your current clients? Do both? Do more?
Whatever the case may be, keep your goals in the front of your mind, and find the platform that will best allow you to accomplish them. In addition, look two, five, and ten years into the future.
What tools do you anticipate needing as you continue to grow?
You want an ecommerce platform that will cover the goals of your business now and your business as it evolves.
By “cost,” here, we not only mean the monetary cost (although that is, of course, pretty important), but also the internal cost of getting the site up and running, maintaining it, etc.
One large differentiator here is SaaS (software-as-a-service) platforms like BigCommerce compared to on-premise platforms.
While on-premise platforms allow for an extraordinary amount of customization, they also require full-time developers to work through the complex nuances of the buildout.
In addition, an on-premise solution carries the weight of security and compliance, which can get expensive as well.
While putting together “just any” ecommerce site isn’t all that difficult, managing a fully-functional one requires a ton of dedication from your team, especially if you select a platform that requires a large amount of custom development.
This goes back to ease of use. The easier it is for you to make improvements to your site, the better the platform is for business.
Okay, now that you know what to look for from the B2B ecommerce platform that will fit your needs, let’s take a look at some of the best in the industry.
BigCommerce is one of the leading open SaaS ecommerce platforms for mid-market and enterprise brands.
Known for its low total cost of ownership and highly flexible APIs, BigCommerce offers a variety of features and options not found in competing softwares.
The BigCommerce platform makes it easy for hybrid businesses with both B2B and B2C customers to offer different price lists or catalogs to customer groups.
In other words, you can provide for both B2B and B2C in one unified solution.
SuiteCommerce is heavily focused on optimizing the B2B experience for both suppliers and consumers.
SuiteCommerce is ideal for companies that operate on a variety of channels—especially those with brick-and-mortar locations.
By providing the ability to engage with customers on multiple channels, SuiteCommerce makes it easy to provide personalized service across the board.
The platform’s onboarding process is optimal for teams with little-to-no background knowledge of ecommerce, coupled with an intuitive UI to get you up and running quickly.
SuiteCommerce also allows for scalability. Once your ecommerce site starts to gain traction, you can start getting even more out of it.
IBM Digital Commerce is another ecommerce platform that’s tailored to the needs of the B2B supplier.
Digital Commerce makes it easy for companies to provide personalized service to individual customers through the use of contracts, payment agreements, and other such documentation.
The platform also allows for streamlined processing and filing of said documents, ensuring all agreements are automatically squared away.
With Digital Commerce, your team can also create a knowledge base of company- and industry-related information.This enables both your organization and your customers to easily find the information they need at any time.
NuOrder is an ecommerce order-entry platform focused on simplifying processes and enhancing customer engagement.
NuOrder’s B2B ecommerce platform is pretty versatile and is considered a useful B2B sales and marketing tool for vendors, retailers, and manufacturers.
This is due to its simplicity, as well as its focus on B2B-related processes, such as reorders, bulk shipping, and more.
For those seeking a WYSIWYG solution, this may be your best option.
TradeGecko’s B2B ecommerce offering is laser-focused on streamlining processes involving inventory, orders, and shipping.
Like with NuOrder, simplicity is at the heart of TradeGecko’s value.
By simplifying and automating your various transactional processes with TradeGecko, you’ll have even more time to improve processes elsewhere.
TradeGecko also provides in-depth reporting and forecasting, allowing you to make adjustments to your processes as necessary.
Magento is typically an on-premise platform tailored to organizations with a dedicated IT or development team.
However, if you are able to use Magento to its fullest extent, you’ll have the ability to build a B2B ecommerce store over which you have complete control.
This means you’ll be able to include all those B2B-focused features we mentioned earlier (and more) into your site and tailor it all to your customers’ needs.
Even if you don’t currently have the need to go “all-in,” Magento is scalable, as well. As long as you have the capacity to get up and running with the platform, you’ll then be able to use it more and more as you grow.
Shopify Plus is focused on catering to the needs of enterprise ecommerce companies — more specifically, on those that do $1M or more in revenues.
For companies that do business on multiple channels, Shopify Plus is yet another option. Featuring an incredibly simple and intuitive user interface, even the most novice user will be able to get moving with the platform in no time.
Additionally, Shopify focuses on simplifying transactional processes while still allowing customers with a variety of options. Going along with this, Shopify easily handles fluctuations in purchases and order amount — perfect for companies that operate in both B2B and B2C realms.
Contalog is an omni-channel ecommerce platform for companies aiming to centralize data regarding inventory, orders, and product information, and to reduce the need for manual touch points throughout transactional processes.
As complicated as that sounds, Contalog is a beginner-friendly B2B ecommerce platform that gives you complete control over your company’s transactional processes. Many users say the platform is ideal for companies with multiple warehouses and locations.
GoECart is hailed as an all-in-one, omnichannel solution for B2B companies looking to dive into the world of ecommerce.
GoECart, which is technically a suite of different mini-solutions, aims to help you streamline every aspect of your B2B ecommerce site, from customer relationship management and content management to backend transactional processes.
GoECart also stores important data and information in a centralized base, ensuring everyone remains in the know at all times.
Now that you know a little bit more about the types of ecommerce platforms to choose from, let's take a look at some ecommerce sites in action.
ResMed is a world-leading connected health company with more than 9 million cloud-connected devices for daily remote patient monitoring that helps treat and manage sleep apnea.
Before utilizing an ecommerce site, customers placed all B2B orders via email or phone calls and were logged in spreadsheets. There was very little visibility in the order process and the sales operations team in the region had difficulty keeping track of order fulfillment status. There were also significant communication issues between the logistics team, sales team, and management team approving and processing orders.
ResMed launched its B2B business using the BigCommerce platform, and the store implementation was accomplished within three months. ResMed utilized BigCommerce’s out-of-the-box features, simple integration with its ERP, Sage 300, for orders and credit limits, and data migration of product catalog and distributor accounts. The configuration ability of BigCommerce enabled them to set up very complex tax rules in India for their products.
“The launch of our B2B online store brought relief to our team, eradicating chaos from the end of the month, and providing support to our order management activities,” said Rajiv Shanmungananthan, Customer Facing Applications Lead at ResMed Asia.
Atlanta Light Bulbs began selling online in 1999. Adopting ecommerce early gave the brand an edge for nearly two decades, but 3 or 4 years ago, the ecommerce tides began to change and more people were heading online.
That's when Atlanta Light Bulbs started using the BigCommerce platform. The team wanted to focus on what they do best: selling lights. So, they launched their site out of the box, and quickly customized it to make their own and begin selling product almost immediately.
Atlanta Light Bulbs CEO, Doug Root, estimates that the use of BigCommerce apps has lead to a 25% growth in revenue.
Since opening in 1938, Berlin Packaging has been a family-run operation. Today, they serve almost all industries that need containers, and they fulfill B2B orders for a wide variety of businesses.
But with that shift comes new challenges: Like finding the right ecommerce platform. They use a proprietary ERP that sits on top of an IBM I-Series I-Mainframe, and were able to get an integration built to better leverage data across systems.
One way we do this is in regard to customer service. We can pass cart details over to our ERP, and if a customer calls our customer service line and references their PO number, we can locate the record right away.
Being able to push things from their ERP into their BigCommerce store also allows Berlin Packaging to help customers see things like their credit limits, balances, and past due balances. It’s empowering to customers to have that data.
Since switching to BigCommerce, Berlin Packaging has already seen a substantial lift in year-over-year conversions — as much as a 27% increase. They’ve also seen an increase in orders and demand revenue as well.
Noel Kegg opened up his own shop selling hardware, hand tools, and consumables in 1965, and grew his customer base by approaching them one at a time.
In 1990, Noel’s son Calum joined the business — and then became managing director when Noel retired in 2000. A few years into his new career, Calum began listing company products on eBay. This was Calum's first taste of ecommerce and he knew the businesses needed a digital solution.
Thus, Toolstop was launched in 2007 on Joomla and quickly grew in the UK market and then overseas. At that same time, Toolstop had customers reselling its products, not to mention strong relationships with many of the main power tool suppliers.
To appeal to those audiences, Toolstop launched the wholesale side of its business, which ended up growing at a faster rate than the original B2C site. The team then created a new brand, Toolsaver, to support its growing B2B audience.
At the time, B2B orders were being processed over the phone or by email, which was very manual and tedious. The small team knew of another business that used BigCommerce and saw success, so they gave it a try and started exporting Toolstop products onto it. In a matter of days, they had a website that could easily begin transacting.
“We decided that BigCommerce was the best platform for both the Toolstop and Toolsaver sites; it’s very user-friendly, easy to navigate within the admin panel, and — one of my favorite things about it — you can’t touch the core,” said Neil Bruce, Toolsaver Ecommerce Manager. “On BigCommerce, you're working with scripts, plug-ins, and APIs, so you can't really break anything. That flexibility and security was one of the big factors that made us decide to build the Toolsaver site on BigCommerce.”
Now that you know what you should be looking for in a B2B ecommerce platform, and you've reviewed the best options, it’s time to narrow your choices.
If you have a bit of analysis paralysis, that’s okay. Remember, this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
That said, we’ll leave you with three questions to ponder that should help guide you toward the platform that’s right for your company:
If you can answer these questions, you should be able to find the right solution with no problem.
With a SaaS solution, all of the technical aspects of running a B2B ecommerce website (hosting, security, maintenance, etc.) are taken care of by the service provider.
This means you don’t have to worry about breaches or bugs causing downtime for your site — and it also means you can spend more time focused on improving your website and your business.
Also, most SaaS ecommerce platforms are continually being improved by the developers, with new versions being released quite often.
With Open Source platforms, the user is responsible for the installation, management, and hosting of a store.
While you gain complete control and flexibility of the platform, the costs associated with hosting, security, and development can rack up quickly.
No, there are no free ecommerce platforms.
Most open source platforms are technically free in that you aren’t paying a licensing fee, but there is a high cost in terms of hosting and development.
SaaS platforms charge a monthly recurring fee. Costs range from $7 a month to $50,000+ a month.
With a B2B ecommerce platform you are able to achieve the following items:
There is a lot of overlap here, but because distributors are the connection between manufacturers and wholesalers, almost all of their sales tend to be on account and are repeat purchases.
Therefore, they need customized pricing, account login, and net terms for basically all of their customers.
Wholesalers buy from distributors and resell — they can sell directly to retailers, where they would need the features above, but they will also need to prepare themselves for one-off purchases.
Here volume pricing and guest checkout would be prevalent.
Depending on the industry, this may vary heavily.
If you are a contract manufacturer, you may need a way for businesses to submit precise dimensions and upload files to get the right product.
This typically leads to offering a lot of options per product instead of a SKU which is more common for a business like a clothing manufacturer.
These manufacturers (unless B2C) will need net terms and account pricing.
If a manufacturer makes a consumer product, but only sells B2B, they will need to hide this pricing to only be viewed by logged-in accounts.
To answer this question, we’d have to unpack it much further than we have room to do here.
That said, the short answer is:
On one hand, selling your products wholesale can lead to a massive spread in brand awareness.
The case may well be that your wholesale customers end up exposing your brand to an audience you would have never thought to market to.
Additionally, selling wholesale also opens the door for other business opportunities, such as dropshipping.
What’s more, your wholesale customers will almost certainly end up becoming long-time customers in a short period of time (that is, as long as you’re able to provide for their needs).
On the other hand, though, there are a couple downsides to going wholesale as a retailer.
The main thing to consider, here, is that you stand to lose part of your brand’s identity throughout the process.
While your products are still your products, your individual customers may come to associate your products (and your brand) with the retailers you do business with. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to think about.
Going along with this, selling wholesale puts a wedge between you and your individual customers.
Since your retail customers are the ones engaging with the actual consumer, you might not get as much direct feedback as you’d like regarding your products.
This varies drastically.
Outdated software will always be tough to integrate.
To make things easy, it is best to be cloud to cloud or on-premise to on-premise.
B2B ecommerce isn’t exclusive anymore. Anything can be sold online, so long as there’s a demand for it and there’s a suitable platform to support it.
You can secure your B2B ecommerce platform by doing three things:
The complexity and size of your business will influence what ecommerce platform is the best fit. You need to make sure your ecommerce platform provider can integrate all digital and physical customer touch-points.
The timeline varies on what your business is trying to achieve and how your data is organized. In most cases, it can take several months before a B2B ecommerce store is launched.