B2B Ecommerce Solutions
Selling products online can be extremely lucrative for some B2B companies. According to research from Frost & Sullivan, the B2B ecommerce market is expected to grow to $6.7 trillion in gross merchandise value by 2020 – double that of the B2C online market. Tweet This This surprising figure should encourage reluctant business owners to look into ecommerce to see if it makes sense for their business.
Enabling online transactions can attract buyers who don’t want or need to talk to a salesperson. Many professionals are increasingly comfortable with making large purchases online, which can only benefit B2B sellers with a digital storefront. Luckily, launching an ecommerce site is more convenient and affordable than ever.
What is an Ecommerce Platform?
An ecommerce platform is a combination of a shopping cart and content management system (CMS). Together, they are sometimes referred to as a framework.
There are many different ecommerce platforms available, so it’s important to understand their basic functions and what sets each apart. The one thing they all have in common (and that your business can’t live without) is a shopping cart. A shopping cart can be as simple as the PayPal “buy” button you can place pretty much anywhere on your website. Or it can be a much more complex system integrated with the rest of your site.
With most shopping carts, the “buy” or “add to cart” button works by adding a product to the list of items your customer wants to buy. When your customer is ready to check out, the cart then collects your customer’s shipping, billing, and payment information. An integrated payment gateway within the cart verifies the transaction and charges it to a credit card.
The second critical component of an ecommerce platform, especially if you have a larger product catalog, is the CMS. This is where you upload your product images, names, descriptions, price, inventory, and anything else you may want to include on your product pages. A good CMS will make it very easy to create categories and subcategories to enter and organize all the products you want to sell on your site.
Choosing an Ecommerce Platform
When it comes to actually putting together your ecommerce store, there are essentially three types of platforms:
1. Hosted Solution
With a hosted ecommerce platform, your products and all their information are stored by a third-party company. These are software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms that charge monthly fees ranging from about $30 a month up to $180 a month. Some of the most popular hosted solutions are Bigcommerce, Shopify, and Volusion. Other players include 3dcart, Lemonstand, and Nexternal.
2. Open Source and Source Code
Open source and source code platforms are downloadable software you can install on your own server. Open source software is free, while other forms of source code must be purchased before you can download and install them. The main advantage of these platforms is that you can customize them any way you want. However, it’s very important that you don’t modify the main source code files as this can make it difficult to install future updates from the publisher. Common open source shopping carts include Magento and the WordPress plugin, WooCommerce.
3. Custom-Built Solution
Hiring a developer to build your platform may allow for some needed functionality not available in either the open source or hosted solutions. If you need something very specific and custom, this can be the best solution.
Whatever ecommerce platform you choose, it’s a good idea to consider how easy it is to find developers and designers who are familiar with the framework. Make sure the solution you choose has an established developer community, as the upkeep and customizations will be more economical. The best ecommerce platforms allow developers to sell plugins and apps to integrate with the software, much like the apps on a smartphone.
Building Your Ecommerce Site
Given the potential financial benefits ecommerce can bring, it’s important to consider all aspects of online sales. These can be summed up with the 4 W’s of ecommerce:
Who is Making the Purchase?
Professionals are making larger, more expensive, and increasingly complex purchasing decisions, meaning they aren’t signing on with the first vendor they encounter. Not only are buyers more discerning, but they also have higher expectations when it comes to the customer experience—which brings us to the next point.
What Do Purchasers Expect?
What exactly do B2B buyers expect from today’s vendors? Most importantly, they want a seamless customer experience across all marketing channels, and a smooth purchasing process. They are also on the hunt for useful content that’s going to help them make better purchasing decisions. This often includes a demonstration of a product in action and easy-to-find peer reviews.
Where are They Browsing?
Everywhere. From social media to mobile, today’s B2B buyers are gathering content from a variety of online communications channels. Businesses must provide helpful and engaging content while offering a uniform experience across all mediums. For example, buyers might want to be able to start the purchasing process on their mobile phones and end it on their desktop computers. Because of this, being able to log in and save products to a cart is crucial.
When Should You Launch an Ecommerce Option?
For many companies, the time is now. Businesses can no longer ignore the changing B2B ecommerce landscape. If you have yet to start thinking about your ecommerce strategy, you might want to consider setting aside time to look at your competitors and see what else is working in the marketplace. Companies that ignore B2B ecommerce can risk lost revenue, disgruntled customers, and slow growth.
Mobile Ecommerce for B2B Businesses
There’s a high likelihood that you’re reading this on a smartphone or tablet. A 2016 report from Hitwise found that about 58% of all searches in the U.S. were done on a mobile device. Mobile buyers represent an increasing percentage of mobile shoppers, meaning that people aren’t just browsing online anymore, but actually buying from phones and tablets. Even if your customers prefer to make their purchase on a desktop computer or by phone, chances are that they’re researching the product on a mobile device.
A mobile-friendly website is essential to meeting your customers where they’re shopping. Google recommends incorporating responsive design into all sites. This allows a web page to adjust its layout based upon the screen size of the visitor’s device. There’s one page that serves all visitors, but it renders differently for phones, tablets, and desktop computers. Many ecommerce solutions support responsive design, and it’s become a must-have feature when evaluating platforms.
Photo Credit: justin_02, Twenty20