Entering the B2B e-commerce arena for the first time? Be it selling software or stuffed toys for kids — it is essential that you have a plan in mind. Especially when it comes to choosing the right platform for your business model.
Even if you come with prior experience with traditional models, B2B is an absolutely different ball game . And if you are thinking about a 'one size fits all' kind of platform, there really isn't one!
Factually speaking, e-commerce has witnessed a steady growth over the last decade. figures from the previous year show that there has been a 15% jump across the board.
With the forecasts predicting an upwards growth, you need to have a presence that stands out amidst the wholesale shopping industry. This in turn, means that businesses need to make wiser investments in terms of the B2B e-commerce platform they choose.
When it comes to business models, we know that it tends to differ across various customer base (ranging from the consumers to the distributors/wholesalers). Similar is the case with your platform in terms of its features as well as its capabilities. Recent trends show that customers are now inclining more and more towards an online experience as opposed to offline shopping.
The key to success lies in finding the right fit for your business. To help you do that, here is a 5-point checklist that your B2B platform must tick-out. This checklist will help you in the identification of all the prerequisites before you go ahead and create your store and also ensure that you start off on the right foot:
1) Considerations of the Complexities Involved
A lot of enterprise e-commerce solutions, that have been designed originally for much simpler B2C transactions are also catering to business to business e-commerce market. As a result of this, trying to customize platforms has become an arduous task - which in some cases might even have resulted in complete failure.
The reason for this is that there is little to none understanding of the complexities involved in B2B services. Thus, for anyone who is considering moving to this e-commerce platform, it is necessary that you look past the fancy CMS. What you really need to do, is to ensure that the platform can deftly take care of all your requirements, right out of the box. This means that the minimum criteria that you need to be looking at, include things like:
- Ease of handling complex as well as simple promotions
- Looking into dynamic product catalogues which can come with pricing that is customer-specific
- Capabilities of advanced search, that can be customized to the needs of each unique user
- Multi-site support, which must be able to account for multiple locations for delivery
- Keeping a stock of inventory levels in real-time on the basis of the delivery locations provided
- Reportage that is done effectively at a rep or customer level
Of course, different businesses have different needs from an enterprise e-commerce platform. Having a well-defined set of use cases can actually help you in identifying customization your business needs. However, it is imperative that your platform meets the most common business to business requirements on an out of the box basis. If you do not stick to this right from the start, your system will never be able to meet your business goals and revenue plans.
2) Assessing the Critical Integration Requirements
A lot of times e-commerce initiatives fail, due to not considering integration needs. —You would be surprised to know how often an 'easy-plugin' that is promised, ends up failing to deliver. Your enterprise e-commerce platform needs to have a synchronous integration strategy for systems on the back-end like ERP, CRM, payment gateways, etc. This is essential, so that your business can get the benefits of real-time data. The fact of the matter is that data such as inventory levels, history of customer orders, etc. are valuable information for the system,as well as the person using it.
Even though B2B purchasing may be gravitating towards self-service, it will always in actuality be a hybrid commerce setup. Even low-value tasks like re-orders, promotional campaigns, automated lists may face snags, irrespective of how smooth the process has been set up as. To this end, it is imperative that your customer service representatives have access to all the customer records. This will help them to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. all this information helps in understanding consumer behavior which can further be used to provide high-value services for business development. So before you narrow down to any enterprise e-commerce platform, you need to make sure that it has proof that it can integrate seamlessly with the back-end systems.
3) Talking About Scalability and Customization
It's a fact that every business has hopes of growing in the future. To realise these goals, you need to be looking at a platform that can scale along with your business. This will ensure that your platform will keep up with the increasing demands as your business takes off. An additional consideration would be that it remain economically viable as well!
Scalability and customisation are two important considerations that you will always have to keep in mind. This will help you in making sure that your B2B online platform meets your business needs in the short and long term. If you talk about ideal conditions, then your platform needs to be built on a scalable architecture that has enough provisions for customisation. Why is this essential you ask? Well, this is important so that you do not have to be on a constant lookout for other platforms or developers . Don’t you want the same platform should support your business a couple of years from now? You definitely don't want the migration hassle.
Hence, the right questions you need to ask in this scenario would be:
- Is the enterprise e-commerce platform fast as well as flexible?
- Does the platform come with a back-end admin module that is power-packed?
- Is your platform equipped with maintaining extensions, that end up giving additional functionality that may not be available out of the box?
- If the above criteria is not met, does it have the capacity to custom build one suited to your needs?
Another important thing that you need to keep in mind is if the platform has been checked for its load time and responsiveness on different devices?
Why we are saying this, is because the responsiveness of enterprise e-commerce platform is an important factor. It has far reaching impact not only when it comes to focusing on consumers, it has additional marketing implications for SEO as well.
4) Looking into Customer Service and Security
Customer service is one of the key considerations for any business to be successful. In a traditional brick and mortar store, probably you'd have much more control over ironing out any issues. however, when you talk about e-commerce, you enter a completely different arena. From software outages to server downtimes - the impact on your revenue and brand image is quite sizeable. Hence, ensuring that your enterprise e-commerce platform has a stellar customer service to help you pick up things and get them running again is so important. Factors that you need to consider here can be - If they are available 24/7? How easy is it to reach customer support? What are the levels of support that are offered? And lastly of course, what are the costs incurred.
Considering all these questions before you make a choice will help you avoid any major snags, that might end up costing you a fortune.
Coming to the second point at hand, consumers will never want to enter their card details on a website that seems to be sketchy and without any security certifications. Today's consumer is well aware of the risks posed by internet scams. While most software today, do focus on robust security as a standard operating procedure - make sure that your platform of choice supports HTTPS/SSL for secure checkout.
Apart from this do check if your B2B e-commerce platform is Payment Card Industry or PCI compliant.
5) Availability of Integrated Shipping Solutions
When it comes to wholesale businesses, a fragmented supply chain leads to logistical nightmares! Let's face it- bad logistics has far-reaching negative impacts on your customer base and reputation. Thus, getting your hands on a streamlined integrated logistics service, would actually lay the foundation for successful business operations.
Before you roll out your online shop, make sure that your platform of choice is offering you easy integration with shipping partners. This, in turn, will help you in exploring new business territories with the aid of their wide outreach. Trust us when we say that it is quite a painful task to be handling logistics on your own while running an online store. So, always look into the following criteria before settling down for an enterprise e-commerce platform for your business. Make sure you ask the following questions;
- Does the platform lets you integrate with multiple domestic as well as international carriers?
- Will there be any additional costs for choosing additional shipping partners?
- can it offer you rate-comparisons to optimise shipping costs.
- Does the platform offer your real-time updates regarding the shipment from dispatch to delivery?
If you get a “yes” for your queries on these, then you can put your mind at ease. Having a growth-oriented partner as your enterprise e-commerce platform provider is one of the most essential things for your business to thrive.
Embarking on a new business journey is always a challenge. Topping it with making a transition from a traditional storefront to an online platform can be extra daunting. With so many options available, it is increasingly difficult for businesses to choose one that is perfect for their business needs. Yes, it will be a little time consuming and often confusing when it comes to figuring out what your business will need.
As you business continues to grow, you will also need to keep up with trends of the industry. Having said that, it is really worth to set up processes that work and will also scale along with your business. The fact of the matter is that you need to enter the search with a clear vision. Knowing what you need to search for, ahead of time, will help you in finding the right fit. Make a checklist with the above pointers and go for the B2B solution that scores most on this scale.
While finalizing the platform make sure that you carefully consider all the features and services that are needed for the growth of an enterprise business. Look for a platform that offers you scalability, flexibility, a gamut of tools and services along with integrated shipping. An additional concern should be ensuring that the platform is affordable for wholesale businesses of every size.
Have more questions that need to be addressed? Check out if the platform offers a FREE trial. Explore the free version before taking the final plunge and deciding upon you enterprise e-commerce platform.