As you prepare to set up a business-to-business ecommerce store, you’re generally looking for a sophisticated, flexible, and scalable ecommerce platform. When your customer is another business, needs like bulk ordering, customizable price tiers, and advanced logistics management come into play. To deal with all of this, you need a B2B ecommerce platform that can handle the complexity and volume of your operations while aligning with your business objectives.
So, how do you choose the right platform for your business? That depends on your requirements, budget constraints, and long-term growth strategies.
What is a B2B ecommerce platform?
A business-to-business (B2B) ecommerce platform is a digital system that facilitates online sales transactions between businesses. Unlike a business-to-consumer (B2C) ecommerce platform—geared toward direct sales to consumers—a B2B platform is designed to handle a range of complex requirements. B2B companies generally offer wholesale pricing and handle bulk orders. They may have to deal with multi-currency transactions and intricate shipping logistics.
Essential features in a B2B ecommerce platform
- Self-service options
- Unified B2B and B2C selling
- Flexible payment options
- Personalization capabilities
- Varied pricing options
- Multi-currency and multi-language support
- Responsive web design
- Advanced analytics and reporting
While there are general must-have features common to most B2B platforms, what is “must-have” varies based on your unique operational requirements, customer experience goals, and bottom-line considerations. Here are a few features you may want to prioritize:
1. Self-service options
Self-service options on a B2B ecommerce platform empower customers to conveniently manage their orders themselves, reducing the need for constant communication with customer service representatives and salespeople. This autonomy speeds up purchasing and enhances customer satisfaction by offering flexibility and 24/7 service access. It also allows you to free staff to focus on more pressing tasks for your online store.
2. Unified B2B and B2C selling
If you sell products to both businesses and individual consumers, a combined B2B and B2C platform simplifies operations by providing a single interface for managing customer relationships. Rather than using two separate ecommerce platforms, this feature enhances efficiency by maintaining consistent data across both customer groups on the same platform and will increase ROI by operating one platform instead of two.
3. Flexible payment options
Flexible payment options help you prioritize customer convenience, accommodate diverse business needs, and streamline the transaction process. Here are specific payment features to look for:
- Multiple payment options. By offering an array of payment options, such as credit cards, bank transfers, and PayPal, you can cater to different customer requirements.
- Invoicing capabilities. An integrated invoicing workflow with automated billing reduces manual workload and can help keep your cash flow consistent.
- Payment gateway integration. Payment gateways—virtual points of sale (POS) for online payments—allow for secure and prompt transactions for a frictionless purchasing experience. Use credit card vaulting to securely save credit card information so that charges can be made without entering the card information again.
4. Personalization capabilities
Personalization features for B2B ecommerce platforms, such as curated product selection and tailored branding, allow you to create distinct storefronts tailored to individual customers. Customized storefronts can create a deeper, more personal connection with each business client, enhancing their online shopping experience on your ecommerce store and boosting brand loyalty.
5. Varied pricing options
Varied pricing options are essential for business-to-business ecommerce retailers to accommodate a broad spectrum of customer needs and drive higher sales. Look for these pricing options when choosing the ecommerce solution for your online store:
- Customer-specific pricing. Look for a platform that can offer customer-specific pricing and personalized pricing structures that reflect each client's unique relationship and agreements.
- Custom discounts. Offering discounts allows sellers to reward loyal customers, accurately price complex or large-scale orders for their business customers, and incentivize big orders. (Note: Custom discounts can be set up for B2B on Shopify with Shopify Functions)
- Minimum order pricing. Implementing minimum order pricing encourages larger order volumes, balancing operational costs and revenue.
6. Multi-currency and multi-language support
Global retailers can offer a localized shopping experience by catering to different languages and currencies. This customer-centric approach can foster stronger international relationships and broaden market reach, driving higher engagement and sales in different regions.
7. Responsive web design
A B2B ecommerce platform’s user interface should be easy for visitors to use—from wholesale customers to manufacturers. As customers increasingly use mobile devices for business transactions, mobile-friendly and responsive design is especially important for your B2B ecommerce platform. A platform with responsive design helps provide a seamless user experience across multiple devices.
8. Advanced analytics and reporting
Analytics and reporting provide valuable insights into customer behavior, sales trends, and overall business performance across your online stores. These insights can empower you to make data-driven decisions and identify growth opportunities.
Key considerations when choosing a B2B ecommerce platform
- Cloud-based vs. on-premise
- Open source vs. out-of-the-box
- Support for the entire purchase cycle
- Strong customer service and technical support
- Integration with existing systems
- Pricing structure
- Business scalability
- Compliance with security and data protection regulations
In addition to key features and technical specifications, there are other factors worth considering to ensure your B2B ecommerce platform meets your basic requirements. These recommendations can help you select a platform that not only aligns with but also enhances your business goals:
Cloud-based vs. on-premise
A cloud-based B2B ecommerce platform is hosted on the service provider’s servers and accessed by you, the user, via the internet. Cloud-based platforms like Shopify offer advantages such as scalability and lower upfront costs—since you’re typically not required to purchase and maintain hardware or software. These platforms provide remote accessibility, ease of use, and reduced IT maintenance for B2B ecommerce businesses.
On the other hand, an on-premise platform is installed and runs on a company’s local servers. This setup gives you complete control over the system, allowing for greater customization. However, it comes with higher initial investment costs for hardware and software. Ongoing maintenance costs are also higher than other hosted solutions, as you need an in-house IT team or outsourced service to manage serve upkeep, software updates, and security measures
Open source vs. out-of-the-box
An open-source ecommerce platform is a system with publicly available source code, allowing for extensive customization and modification. This offers endless creative freedom for tailored functionality and design. However, it requires dedicated support and expertise from software developers because you’re responsible for implementing updates, security patches, and any customer features you need, as opposed to relying on a pre-built solution.
An out-of-the-box platform, such as Shopify Plus, provides immediate usability with predefined features but slightly less flexibility for customization. This type of service offers a wealth of built-in features, including customizable one-click checkout, built-in security, compliance, data encryption, and fraud and bot protection, plus app integrations that can help you save time on development and ensure a smooth launch.
Support for the entire purchase cycle
Opt for a platform that can streamline buying processes and make the purchasing journey easy for the customer—from product discovery to order fulfillment. Moreover, ensure your platform provides robust after-sales service features like easy reordering, simple returns, and efficient customer support to enhance the customer experience and promote repeat business.
Strong customer service and technical support
High-quality customer service allows you to promptly resolve issues and minimize downtime. Look for a B2B ecommerce solution with round-the-clock support, extensive self-help resources, and dedicated account managers who provide email or phone support.
Integration with existing systems
Choose a B2B ecommerce platform that integrates with systems like your enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and inventory management software. Shopify Plus, for instance, offers powerful API capabilities and a wide range of plug-and-play integrations.
To make an informed decision, scrutinize the pricing structure of the B2B ecommerce solutions you’re comparing. Look beyond the base fee to include development, maintenance, and transaction fees. A transparent and value-based pricing structure is well-suited for businesses scaling rapidly.
Scalability is key for retailers planning for future growth. Ensure that your new platform can handle increased traffic to your ecommerce website, more products, and higher transaction volumes over time. Shopify Plus is a scalable ecommerce platform designed with high-volume merchants in mind, offering features like ecommerce automation to support your business as it grows.
Compliance with security and data protection regulations
Compliance with industry security and data protection standards is critical to protect your business and build customer trust. Platforms like Shopify Plus are PCI compliant, offering robust security measures to safeguard sensitive customer payment card information, ensuring you can operate your B2B ecommerce business safely.
How to choose a B2B ecommerce platform FAQ
What is the difference between B2B ecommerce and marketplace?
B2B ecommerce refers to transactions between businesses conducted online via a company’s ecommerce site. A marketplace is a third-party site where multiple sellers can list and sell their products to businesses.
What are the largest B2B ecommerce platforms?
Some of the largest B2B ecommerce platforms include Shopify Plus, Adobe Commerce, and SAP Commerce Cloud.
What security measures should a B2B ecommerce platform have to protect sensitive customer data?
A B2B ecommerce platform should have robust security measures, including data encryption, secure payment processing, regular updates and patches, and compliance with standards like the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) to protect sensitive customer data.
Can a B2B ecommerce platform integrate with existing business systems, such as ERP or CRM?
Yes. A B2B ecommerce platform can integrate with existing business systems like ERP, CRM, and inventory management, natively or through APIs, to create a unified and efficient business operation.