Why and how B2B companies should invest in an e-commerce platform
What do electronics, clothes, food, cinema tickets and pharmaceuticals have in common? They, along with many other products, are commonly purchased online. That applies equally to the many people working in B2B who, after work, are B2B clients and enjoy using digital solutions.
The number of customers who prefer to buy via e-commerce platforms is continually on the rise. This trend is also likely to gather momentum in the B2B sector – especially when you consider that Millennials will constitute 75% of the active workforce by 2025. For increasing numbers of young employees, being permanently online is the norm.
B2B e-commerce platform benefits
Adjusting your business to accommodate e-commerce requirements is not just a necessity. It’s also an occasion to reap major benefits that may help you streamline operations and create new business opportunities.
Thus, it may be worth remembering that an e-commerce platform means:
- An opportunity to win new clients
An e-commerce platform is a necessary step if an offering is to reach the many prospective clients and business partners that prefer the online channel.
- More personalization – and more effective sales
Thanks to e-commerce platforms’ built-in personalization options, visitors can receive tailored recommendations. By presenting the customer with products that offer better specifications than (or are related/complementary to) some other product boosts cross-selling and drives higher value deals.
- Lower business costs
An e-commerce platform can lead to significant savings. By automating processes like invoicing, order processing, and stock management, we can speed up many tasks and reduce the number of people involved in their delivery.
- Fast access to the complete range of products
In brick-and-mortar outlets, customers frequently only get to know a limited range of products. An e-commerce platform with the right browser offers a unique opportunity to see the complete product range and obtain useful information.
- Better analysis and reporting
The ability to track and precisely analyze the outcomes of e-commerce activities is paramount to achieving outstanding sales results. Thus, an e-commerce platform allows for the detailed analysis and calculation of indicators, which impacts marketing efficiency and boosts conversion rates.
- Tapping into the “Research Online, Purchase Offline” (ROPO) effect
An e-commerce platform addresses the needs of customers who search out product information online and follow it up with a purchase in a traditional store.
- Efficiently supporting partners’ marketing activities
The platform's additional functions can provide distributors and middlemen with materials that can be later used for their own marketing activities.
Choosing the best B2B platform
Although there are many e-commerce platforms available, only a fraction can accommodate the needs of B2B companies. They require the following:
- Advanced account management features
Business partners should have dedicated company accounts that provide more complex information about them and allow them to assign individual sales representatives.
- One company account for many purchasers
A single company account may be used by many purchasers, which helps companies manage the roles and powers of those involved in the purchasing process.
- Separate catalogues for particular client groups
Various catalogues for particular client groups may be used simultaneously, which is crucial to a B2B2C model.
Users of company accounts may send enquiries, including requests for quotes, directly from their cart.
- Analytical tools
The platform allows the use of client behavior data and purchase records, which encourages offer personalization and the application of individual promotional policies.
Clients can place orders for goods, not currently in stock, which will be available in the future.
- Placing orders via Excel files
Clients can place orders using CSV files, which reduces order processing times.
- Re-order option
Clients can complete orders faster by re-ordering products from their previous purchases.
- Credit transactions
B2B clients can make purchases on credit. Customized credit option configuration helps us manage trade terms, set minimum and maximum purchase limits, and implement credit restrictions on selected countries. Thanks to this, we can monitor client credit data and specify limits for individual accounts.
- Automated dispatch processes
The platform allows us to automate the basic dispatch processes via loading and dispatch management tools and by applying unique rules of allocation.
- Supports expansion into new markets
The platform can simultaneously process many languages and currencies, which can improve international operations.
The platform adjusts to fluctuating amounts of data and users.
Considering the above features, it makes sense to choose an out-of-the-box solution which – after configuration and with appropriate extensions – will provide these functionalities. Magento Commerce, SAP Commerce, and Broadleaf are three platforms that meet these requirements.
Should you pick an open source e-commerce platform?
While choosing a B2B e-commerce platform, you should take into consideration its future growth and find something with the flexibility to support such growth. If you opt for an open source platform, you will be able to customize it for a specific group of users or even add/modify features. This will ensure full control of the platform and prevent the risk of excessive dependence on one IT provider.
Apart from the ability to modify the existing code, the solution should also grant access to extensions and allow integration with other software, including analytical solutions (e.g. Google Analytics) or databases (e.g. MySQL and Hadoop).
The possibility of integration was particularly important to French clothing brand Rossignol. The ski apparel manufacturer implemented Magento Commerce, which replaced both their existing e-commerce solution and their CMS system. It also unified the company's brand management, which previously had been using various tools. As a result, the new platform became the main integrator and the heart of the ecosystem, cooperating with the ERP, Product Information Management, and warehousing systems. It allows every employee to use the same solution.
Shifting to the new platform, which started by serving eight countries, only took Rossignol four months. It quickly produced tangible results:
- 180% increase in online sales
- 70% rise in conversion rates
Mobile users are important to e-commerce success
It is equally important for the platform to accommodate mobile users’ growing expectations. Mobile devices are becoming key e-commerce drivers, so the platform should utilize the full potential of HTML, use responsive design, and offer features such as gesture control.
A user-friendly mobile interface optimizes all items on the screen for mobile experience. Thanks to responsive design, clients can easily make purchases on various devices, from smartphones and tablets to laptops and desktop computers.
To address the needs of customers who prefer mobile solutions, the Volkswagen-owned Spanish automobile manufacturer SEAT launched a store designed with mobile devices in mind. As a result, their website boasts faster load times and users spend more time on it. How much time did SEAT need to implement these changes? Just 6 weeks!
Know your B2B e-commerce platform options
There are many platforms on the market that combine the advantages of out-of-the-box solutions with a flexibility which, until recently, has been characteristic only of tailor-made solutions. This allows B2B companies to reduce time to market while adapting the solution to each particular activity.
Moreover, an e-commerce platform can be a great tool for probing new markets. Launching online sales allows us to probe a potential new location before a planned expansion. This considerably slashes the cost of probing market potential, as the company no longer needs to set up local subsidiaries, which in turn may boost margin levels.