The Challenges of B2B eCommerce
To many who are not familiar with eCommerce would be surprised that B2B eCommerce is actually a larger market than B2C eCommerce. B2B eCommerce sales surpassed 780 billion in the US as opposed to only 304.9 billion for B2C eCommerce US sales. The market for B2B eCommerce is massive, however the complexity behind achieving success in such a large market is not to be underestimated. Some of the challenges are as follows:
1) You have different pricing for different customers
Most business-to-business eCommerce companies have different pricing for different volumes of products purchased per year. There are several ways to do this. One is to have volume discounts on the product level so that when you purchase large quantities of that product it will have certain discounts.
Clear Bags is a great example of a website who executes this well. They use the Magento platform, which has this functionality built into the core software. If you need this functionality make sure you choose a platform that has this feature out of the box rather than installing a plugin or custom building the feature because there are platforms that have this built in.
The other option is to have different pricing per customer or to create customer groups in which each customer group has different percentage discounts. For instance bronze gets 10%, silver gets 20%, and gold gets 30% off all produts. This allows you to set your higher volume customers at higher discounts across all your products. Platforms like Magento and other enterprise eCommerce platforms have this functionality built in.
2) Your orders are generally very large
Your customers may be ordering as small as $20 dollars one time but $40,000 the next time. Businesses can make large purchases and the convenience of buying online is appealing because it saves time, which is money for any business paying their employees to make these purchases. Therefore your website must be able to accommodate large purchases and make the user, in this case a business, feel confident that they will get their large order on time.
Ensure that it easy for your customers to find what they are looking for quickly. Having strong product descriptions and product detail pages, as well as a strong layered navigation and attribute filtering model will help. Additionally, utilize a search technology like Easy Ask, SLI Systems, or many of the other search technologies that can enhance an eCommerce search functionality.
3) Your customers need credit lines and different payment options
Many B2B customers will buy large quantities of product from a supplier and pay the invoice later, maybe net 30, after they have received it. Therefore your eCommerce site needs to accommodate the flexible payment methods that a B2B customer is accustom to.
Make sure your eCommerce site can handle multiple payment options and has the flexibility to make payment easy for your customers.
4) Freight shipping
When you are selling large pallets of products or large quantities far beyond what a normal B2C website might sell, you will need freight shipping to fulfill such large orders. Additionally, it will be important to have complex shipping rules associated with your site so that the shipping estimates are accurate based on when you can actually ship your product. Perhaps you can only ship Monday through Friday. If your website is calculating delivery dates as if you can ship Monday through Sunday those estimates will not be accurate.
Utilize shipping technology like Shipperhq or Shiphawk which can be integrated into platforms like Magento and other B2B eCommerce platforms. There are shipping and fulfillment technologies that can be integrated into certain eCommerce platforms that can allow you to streamline and automate freight shipping as well as other complex shipping rules.
5) Large amounts of skus & data
When you are a B2B company you could easily have 10,000 or even well over 100,000 skus. That means you will have potentially thousands of attributes for data such as size, color, height, and many other types of complex data that could be essential to a customer who might want to purchase one of your products.
You must ensure that your website can handle large amounts of skus, attributes, and organize those attributes in a efficient manner. You may also want to be able to integrate with PIM system or find a way to automate your product data coming into your website. Make sure your eCommerce platform is proven to handle large amounts of skus and can handle complex data needs. Also check to see if it has or can handle the necessary data integrations you may need.
6) Integrations are key
Connecting to your ERP, CRM, email marketing platform, and any other technology that helps run your business is essential to keeping your operations in check. If your systems are not all communicating and passing data to each other the data entry work will either become to costly and cumbersome or the lack of consistency among different technologies being used will make it impossible to run an efficient B2B eCommerce website.
Look for a an eCommerce platform that is proven to have successful integrations with the systems you have in place or will need in the future to run your B2B operations. Ideally it will have prebuilt solutions because custom integrations are far more costly than a prebuilt integration.
7) Testing all this complexity is not easy
Now that you have achieved this amazing B2B eCommerce functionality that serves all of your needs, it is time to start thinking about how you are going to manage it as well as it improve it over time. This means you have to have a strong development operations system in place as well as strong testing mechanism to ensure that none of this complexity fails.
What platforms work well for B2B eCommerce
Here are some proven platforms that do very well in the B2B eCommerce space. All of them have different pricing and licensing models so it is important to think about the total cost of ownership of development, maintenance, and licensing when choosing a platform.