B2B eCommerce is complex. But when you match the right B2B eCommerce platform with your company needs, technology makes the complex much simpler. Technology not only has the power to simplify, but it also has the power to keep a company focused squarely on the customer, where focus belongs. But the wrong technology takes the complex and elevates it to the excruciatingly complex to the dismay of customers and employees alike. Don’t make that mistake. Here are four particularly important things you need to understand to help you match the right B2B eCommerce platform to your needs.
Open Source versus Proprietary Software
There are two approaches to the code that runs every B2B eCommerce platform. Open source or proprietary software (SaaS). It’s important to understand the differences between the two.
Open source means that anyone can view and change the code. So, if there is a functionality that you need that isn’t included, you can either develop it yourself or possibly find it already built by another user or member of the community. In that instance, you install the function as an add-on or widget.
With open source code, you are responsible for either hosting the application on your own server or paying another company to host the application and the data. If you opt to host on your own servers, you’ll need to take care of the data security and physical security of the server. When it comes to security, open source code does have an advantage. Because the code is open to anyone, any flaw is detected and corrected quickly.
The cost for an open source B2B eCommerce platform varies. On the low end, it’s free – but don’t expect support at that price. A full-service experience will require payment of a yearly or monthly license fee, but you will own the application.
Open source code is usually easy to integrate with other business solutions through the use of APIs.
Proprietary or SaaS solutions are like renting a B2B eCommerce platform. With these solutions, you pay a licensing fee to use software that resides on the vendor’s servers. You will never own the software or your website. To access the application and data, you connect via the internet using any popular browser. The licensing company performs all updates to the platform and provides data and server security. This set-up makes maintenance care-free. But that freedom comes with a trade-off. SaaS eCommerce platforms limit customization because you don’t have access to the code for editing.
The cost for a SaaS eCommerce platform will vary. It is usually based on variables such as the number of users, the amount of data, and the number of transactions processed each month. You may pay yearly or monthly license fees.
Many SaaS eCommerce platforms are part of a family of business SaaS solutions. Within their own family, they will integrate seamlessly. However, when it comes to integrating with ERPs, PIMs, WMSs, and other business applications, they may not integrate well.
Cloud versus On-Premise
Open source code can be hosted on your own servers or on a cloud. SaaS eCommerce platforms can only be hosted in the cloud. What’s the difference?
Well in an on-premise hosting arrangement the eCommerce platform and the data reside in servers that are physically located at one of your business locations. You run the show from security to set-up, it’s all your responsibility.
With a cloud-based eCommerce platform, the programs and data are located on the vendor’s computers at one of their locations. With cloud solutions, you use the internet and a browser to connect. This set-up is possible for on-premise solutions too. The biggest difference is the server and data location. But that’s a really big difference.
There are benefits for cloud-based eCommerce platforms, whether they are open source or SaaS. Cloud-based solutions make it easy to scale up and down and your computing capacity grows with your needs. These solutions can also save you money as security and regulatory compliance come with your cloud fees. They generally provide your customers a better experience as speed is only limited by data transfer over their ISP. On-premise solutions may slow during peak times.
Core Features Available Out of the Box
Before you start shopping eCommerce platforms, you need to have an idea of the functionality you need to provide the experience your customers want. Then use those functions as a yardstick with which to measure your available options. Every eCommerce platform will require some degree of customization. If a vendor tells you otherwise, they are stretching the truth. To manage implementation costs and the time to ROI, you need to minimize the number of customizations and added functions you need to get up and running.
So, look for core features to be available out of the box. These include:
- Mobile friendly front and back-end. Customers will access your website from smartphones and tablets as well as desktops and laptops. Make sure your eCommerce platform creates sites that render on all platforms and with all browsers. In addition, your employees will want 24/7 access no matter where they are. The back-end needs to be optimized for mobile as well.
- Support for RFP and QTC processes. By digitizing and automating these processes you make sure requests for quotes are responded to quickly, quotes are priced accurately, and your sales force is working efficiently. Manufacturers will want the ability to digitize configure, price, and quote workflows as well.
- Dynamic pricing and the ability to handle complex pricing models to ensure every customer gets every product at the right price. With B2B sales, you may need the ability to handle an unlimited number of price lists. Make sure your B2B eCommerce platform can deliver.
- Multiple website support. You shouldn’t need a separate eCommerce platform for every brand, company, or category you need to support. If you operate multiple websites, look for the solution that supports multiple front-ends with a single back-end for simplified operations and reporting.
Your eCommerce platform will not be a stand-alone solution. Data must flow from the CMS, ERP, WMS, PIM and 3PL solutions. Otherwise you end up with information silos and no single source of truth. That’s a recipe for disaster. Compatibility is essential for data flow and data flow is essential for efficient operations the ability to track and report key business metrics.
Make sure your eCommerce platform will fit your existing architecture. And when it comes time to make changes, it should still be compatible. Open source solutions will always have a leg-up on SaaS solutions in this area. But even if you select a SaaS platform, make sure it operates in an ecosystem that is rich with APIs.
Do Your Research
Make sure you thoroughly research your options. Compare your needs to the platforms offered by different vendors. Keep the four things you just learned here in mind at all times.
Once you have a short-list, look at industry resources such as the most recent IDC MarketScape report to see how the vendors score.
Check case studies and ask for references. Speak to those who are using the solution for an honest assessment from those with boots on the ground.
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