Consumers are using the web to search and compare product brands, pricing, service, delivery and availability before making purchase decisions. They are doing that from the office, home, on the bus -- where ever. Over 85% of all retail sales are now influenced by the web. Businesses are working in exactly the same way using the web to get the best deal and improve the business process.
Businesses have been using the web B2B for a long time in comparison to consumer facing sites. It probably all started with EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) and the earliest examples go back to the '70's.
Today's B2B solutions are very different from those of the '70's and '80's. In today's B2B world content management, marketing and connectivity are key areas. Whereas once the B2B website might have looked a little like the "blue screen of death" today user experience and design are as important as in B2C.
So what makes up a B2B eCommerce website and what are the essential functions that are needed?
There are many similarities and common features between B2B and B2C websites. Most of the expected B2C capabilities are used for B2B such as faceted and filtered product search, cross sell and upsell. But there are some unique features that may not normally be used in a B2C website.
Businesses need generally to pay based on invoice (although use of credit cards is rising). The user accessing the B2B site to place an order needs to have their credentials verified via a user name and password. This will allow changes in the user experience and information available to access.
Every user that has access to the B2B website needs to be assigned certain capabilities like payment methods or special pricing. Customer Groups allow the site owner to assign criteria to each user that can control their actions in the website. Customer Groups are also used for marketing and promotional purposes. A Customer Group might be one company (and employees) or a groups of companies.
In some cases the business will want the site closed to anyone who does not have credentials to log in to the website. In this case no content except a home page marketing message is seen by the general visitor who might try to access the site.
B2B customers rarely use the recommended retail price (RRP). Most B2B systems will have multiple prices for each product with a specific price, discount or markup assigned to a specific customer group. Most people understand the concept of RRP and discounts but some B2B sites don't deal with RRP at all. The base price is the manufacturers wholesale price and the price to each customer is based on a "mark-up" or a percentage increase to the base price. B2B systems have to be flexible to handle many different pricing scenarios with both bulk or value based discounting at a product level.
Many businesses sell internationally and need to be able to present their products in different currencies and languages. Internationally eCommerce is booming with huge growth markets like China looking for products. What better time to think international than after the recently signed Free Trade Agreements with China and Japan.
Most businesses need to get quotes and issue Purchase Orders (POs) before buying a product. A B2B solution needs to reflect the business processes that most companies use. Once the correct product (or products) have been selected the customer should be able to request a quote online and if acceptable return with a PO and complete the checkout process.
The solution has to be able to handle negotiation electronically and the merchant needs to be able to update and reissue a quote in real time.
Many businesses and distributors have the products that they sell shipped directly from the manufacturer or distributor warehouse. Stock and price might change daily and there may be many different warehouse locations. Accuracy in price and available is essential as often margins can be slim. The data feeds need to be automated to update when changes occur.
The ability to automatically accept data feeds which are files that contain inventory information is essential for modern B2B. However it is also important to be able to create those data feed files from a B2B system that are sent to the businesses that might resell your products.
There may be some content on the online store that is not open to just anyone accessing the site.This might be access to specific product information or assets or it could be marketing information that is confidential to business partners. B2B sites need to ability to restrict access to content by Customer or Customer Group.
Businesses sell products that might come from many different suppliers but when a company is ordering those online from a B2B website they expect the total order to be fulfilled. In B2B the system needs to differentiate products from different supply points that are in the same order. When the order is confirmed the system then creates multiple sub-orders and purchase orders to go to each supplier or warehouse.
If the business running the B2B website is substantial and handling 1000's of orders and maybe 100,000's of products then integration is a key factor of success. Most larger businesses will rely on back office systems like ERP, CRM or accounting systems to manage the business overall. The ability for the B2B website to integrate seamlessly is essential to ensure efficient operations.
Of course no two businesses ever want exactly the same solution!
The ability to build custom functionality and to modify the existing functionality and user experience is essential.
B2B is a major growth area and will be a core eCommerce focus in 2015. Delivering a B2B website is not rocket science but does need the right solution with the necessary functionality built-in.
eCorner can deliver a B2B website starting from just $110 per month. If there is a need to integrate to third party systems we can provide a fully cloud hosted and customised solution starting at $700 per month. We have delivered hundreds of B2B eCommerce websites to our customers in Asia Pacific.
eCorner has built entire B2B industry based solutions for our partners, as an example eCommerce Connections who provide an eCommerce solution for IT Resellers.
But we can deliver any integration required as part of a Business to Business eCommerce project.