Finding the Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions for the Road Ahead

Finding the Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions for the Road Ahead

By the close of last year, B2B ecommerce was expected to eclipse B2C by over 250%. In fact, if trends continue, the industry will easily generate well over $8 trillion in annual sales throughout 2018.

The rise of B2B ecommerce demands finding the best wholesale ecommerce platform to fit your needs

And it’s not just traditional B2B companies reaping the rewards. Savvy B2C enterprises and merchants are also jumping in.

For most, however, there’s a disconnect between two paths …

On one side of the divide are organizations investing in robust B2B websites with all the B2C-features customers now expect. On the other are self-service wholesale ecommerce channels with minimal purchasing options.

The truth is your sales potential is heavily dependent on what kind of B2B wholesale ecommerce platform you select. After all, a customer’s shopping experience can only be as good as the technology supporting it.

To help you navigate the multi-trillion-dollar road ahead, here are the nine critical functions wholesale ecommerce platforms should offer.

Shopify Flow

Wholesale doesn’t have to be hard

If you’re not on Shopify Plus, find out just how simple getting your piece of the $7.7 trillion global B2B ecommerce market can be.

A password-protected storefront, fully customizable price lists, minimum and maximum orders, third-party platform integrations, flexible payment and negotiation options for customers, and more.

Find out more

Already on Shopify Plus? Launch your wholesale ecommerce platform today

1. Multi-Channel Data Syncing

Today, customers don’t walk into a store expecting to buy.

Shoppers bounce from device to device and channel to channel. They exhaustively research products and services before ever picking up a phone or stepping inside. They’re out there … watching, waiting, and listening, before you even know they exist.

What’s true in B2C is also true in B2B.

Thankfully, this evolution in consumer behavior isn’t just high maintenance, it’s also highly profitable. Making your wares available on multiple platforms brings in an average 190% more sales than single-channel retailers.

Sounds great in theory …

The problem is execution. Selling on multiple platforms, marketplaces, and channels is a no-brainer until you start thinking through all of the logistical headaches.

That’s where selecting the best wholesale ecommerce platform comes into play.

Yes, you want to sell on mobile, social channels, and different marketplaces — like Amazon Business — in addition to your online store. But behind the scenes, singularity has to rule.

You want a platform that acts as a hub; managing inventory levels and sales demand from a single point, so management’s data is both accurate and adjusted in real-time.

Chad Rubin, the founder of Think Crucial and Skubana, points out that automated data management is one of the most important considerations for wholesalers:

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

“Invest in a smart inventory and operations solution that integrates both B2B and B2C. Wholesale usually has plenty of stock to coordinate, and you can’t afford to lose track of it on using fragmented applications.”

“Once you miss a delivery, oversell stock you don’t have, or otherwise make a client mad, you aren’t just losing the business one-time, you’re losing the continuity of the potential re-orders as well. There is no room for mistakes here.”

This is especially important if you’re a B2C merchant looking to expand into wholesale.

On Shopify Plus, not only is the wholesale channel built directly into a merchant’s existing admin — providing centralized reporting and control over 22 separate sales channels — Launchpad and Live View also provide real-time analytics across these channels.

In addition, apps like Syncee can help you improve how data feeds are sent back-and-forth between each channel by providing full inventory management that also includes product variations.

This way, you’re able to sync supplier fields on each channel or marketplace with your own store fields. That increases data accuracy by limiting duplicate products and missing information.

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

Of course, operating B2B at scale often involves a host of integrations across multiple storefronts, fulfillment providers, and customer relationship management software. That’s where we turn next …

2. Back-End Third-Party Integration

For all its revenue-generating power, your ecommerce platform is just a single point on the customer’s journey.

There are pre-purchase moments: like research, content, and ads. Then there’s the post-purchase experience: onboarding, fulfillment, cross-selling, and upselling.

The best wholesale ecommerce platforms help you consolidate these experiences by integrating with all the other platforms and tools you use to manage each customer touchpoint.

That’s critical when you consider customer behavior …

For instance, 86% of consumers say personalization informs their purchases. And 52% of customers won’t hesitate to switch brands if the company doesn’t personalize communication.

The problem is that force-feeding a merge tag into an email, like “Hey $FNAME,” isn’t personalization. The only way to truly personalize a shopper’s entire experience is to seamlessly integrate with the other tools in your arsenal.

This demands integrations with third-party platforms.

You need to be able to instantly pass data back-and-forth with an email service provider like Klaviyo to create deep segments and authentic personalization.

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

It means you need to able to see when visitors browse your products but stop short before buying. That way, they’re automatically added to something like AdRoll for retargeting campaigns on Google and Facebook, where more and more B2B buyers are turning.

AdRoll on Shopfiy Plus

To monitor and manage incoming leads — as well as the broader customer lifecycle — it calls for native integration with CRM platforms like Hubspot:

For wholesale customer management, Shopify and Hubspot now integrate directly

For wholesale, integrations demand robust webhooks and API call limits ready to handle …

Depending on your organization’s size, maturity, and geography, all those integrations may not be necessary at first. But as you grow, wholesale ecommerce platforms lacking this flexibility will only allow you to get a fraction of the sales you deserve.

3. Content Marketing Capabilities

For all its buzz, content marketing is really nothing new.

Coca-Cola has been using it for decades in both customer-facing and business-facing campaigns. John Deere used it back in 1895 with a magazine called “The Furrow.” And Michelin Tires used it over a century ago to create the Michelin Guide, awarding stars to the best restaurants in the country to get people to drive more.

Today, content still plays largely the same role. It increases brand awareness and recognition while nurturing leads along the sales process.

Take search engines as a test case. When potential customers turn to Google to find products, which search results do they click?

Search Engine Land and Survey Monkey set out to answer that with an experiment. And the number one answer — before location convenience, price, free shipping, or reviews — was the brand themselves: “Known retailer.”

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

In other words, people look for names they recognize when deciding where to go.

What’s more, the ranking of those results is determined by the popularity of blog posts, case studies, landing pages, infographics, videos, and even social media shares.

All of which comes back to content marketing. And plenty of rigorous data backs this up in B2B.

most effective B2B sales content

What does B2B content — the kind that fuels wholesale revenue — look like?

B2B enterprise Polycom uses short video episodes to grab attention and explore customer’s pain points.

Polycom short video episodes

A little digging brings you to a survey report that bolsters Polycom’s credibility (enhancing the value of their solutions, which justifies the pricing you’re about to view).

Polycom solutions for CEOs

And on-demand video webinars help you understand the business case and ROI behind a decision to move forward.

Polycom on demand video webinars

The point is, content marketing isn’t just blog posts. Nor does it merely drive pageviews.

Content marketing can and should stand-in for sales or support. It can hold the prospect’s hand as they move from one stage in the buying cycle to the next until they’re ready to convert.

When looking for the right wholesale ecommerce platform, it’s critical that it contains the proper toolsets that enable content creation.

That could be anything from video-based hosting to more in-depth content tools like loyalty programs and catalogs.

Custom price catalogs for individuals, customers, or groups are their own form of content marketing:

V Belt Guys catalog options

V-Belt Guys uses custom catalog options to entice potential leads and replace the traditional step of the sales process.

In the infographic we covered above, product details were rated the most effective B2B sales content. V-Belt Guys capitalizes on this perfectly by creating comprehensive catalogs of their products that can be customized for specific user groups on their portal.

Content marketing manifests in many forms: catalogs, videos, demos, and educational content. Make sure that your wholesale ecommerce platform enables you to create it.

4. Client Support Integration

What’s the one thing standing between you and a sale? Turns out — despite what the Rolling Stones may have said — time is not on your side.

A few years back, Harvard Business Review ran a study to see how delays in communicating with prospects affected the ultimate close.

You’re probably not going to like the answer they found.

Waiting five minutes to get back to a prospect can drop your chances of qualifying them by as much as 400%. And unfortunately, the vast majority of companies they surveyed did not follow up within five minutes.

company response times to prospects

Responding within five minutes over email or the phone is tough. Each option doesn’t scale well. There are material constraints to both forms.

This constraint explains why messaging is becoming more popular with customers.

92% of people prefer live chat over the phone or email because they can get answers ASAP.

survey people prefer live chat over phone or email

Savvy merchants like Maykke use live chat solutions like Drift to expedite client communication at scale.

Maykke uses Drift for live chat

Drift uses chatbots, for instance, that can automatically respond to queries or route issues to the right person in the right department at the right time.

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

Messaging sees 15x greater customer engagement than email because it’s the most efficient way to solve visitor’s problems. And that’s good for companies because one study showed that 63% of people who start chatting will end up talking to a sales rep.

It’s tempting to think all this support only applies to B2C markets. However, while 64% of B2C customers expect companies to respond and interact in real time, 80% of B2B expect the same.

With Shopify’s Facebook Messenger integration, you can respond instantly. Likewise, buyers can get direct notifications of shipment updates in Messenger, providing further transparency:

Shopify Facebook Messenger integration notification of shipment updates

B2B and B2C buyers crave fast, direct messaging outlets to communicate with the companies they purchase from. Don’t fall behind the trend, make sure that your platform allows for diverse client support integrations.

The faster and more painless client service is, the more profitable it can become.

5. Catalog Browsing and Search Functionality

How often do you use the endless drop-down menus on Amazon to find what you’re looking for?

Probably never. It’s cumbersome when there are so many products available. Everything comes back to time. Searching for products by name, even if that name isn’t 100% accurate, typically provides a faster result than going from menu to submenu to submenu.

Consider International Military Antiques. After migrating from Magento, IMA used Shopify Plus Partner InstantSearch+ to create detailed search rules that fit their shoppers’ behavior and requirements.

Much like B2B or wholesale organizations, IMA had a large collection of offerings — over 7,500 products many with unique attributes such as type, time period, and nationality, and some needing to be listed under multiple names and descriptions.

The impact of InstantSearch+ speaks volumes: conversion rates from visitors who use IMA’s custom search engine are 7 times higher than from those who browse:

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

Grainger takes a page out of this B2C ecommerce playbook to put a large search bar front and center.

Grainger search bar is front and center

Most wholesale buyers aren’t coming to browse. They know what product they want before they arrive. This is why 74% of B2B buyers find website purchasing more convenient.

B2B buyers find website purchasing more convenient

Image via TradeGecko

V-Belt Guys helps customers sort through different products by combining a catalog-based approach with a strong emphasis on onsite search:

V Belt Guys catalog based approach

Instead of having to struggle for pricing updates, their transparent catalog helps buyers adjust costs based on order sizes.

Using the Shopify Plus wholesale ecommerce channel, The Elephant Pants does something similar, prominently featuring their search bar, along with full order visibility and a contact option:

Shopfiy wholesale ecommerce platform featuring search bar

6. Mobile Optimization

More people browse the internet, search, and visit websites on mobile devices than desktops. Having a mobile-friendly site is a no-brainer. Most do.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always a responsive website, optimized to help customers making more mobile purchasing decisions.

For example, imagine staring at this on your 2x4-inch screen:

website not optimized for mobile

Image via Fastspot

Unless your thumbs resemble toothpicks, there’s no other way you’re going to be able to browse a few pages (let alone, go through a multi-step checkout process).

Fortunately, Google’s own Mobile-Friendly Test can help you quickly diagnose any potential issues that are already plaguing your ecommerce site.

Google Mobile Friendly Test

The key is to think through what the purchase experience on your wholesale ecommerce platform should be in an ideal world.

For starters, the checkout process should be simplified. Long, multi-step forms need to be condensed or removed entirely. Even processing payments should be streamlined as much as possible.

That means your ecommerce platform should integrate with credit card payments as well as mobile gateways like PayPal, Amazon Pay, or Apple Pay so customers can purchase within just a few taps.

A single button will replace all of those form fields to collect buyer information, shipping details, or sensitive credit card numbers.

mobile wholesale ecommerce platform should integrate PayPal or Stripe

Instead of scrolling, zooming in-and-out, and typing out hundreds of characters, a truly mobile-optimized purchase should take no more than one or two simple steps to confirm pre-loaded information.

mobile wholesale ecommerce platform should purchase in two simple steps

7. Flexible Pricing

Wholesale buyers come in all shapes and sizes. Emphasis on sizes. And this is where most B2C ecommerce platforms fail. While first-time customers may receive special coupons and returning customers may earn ecommerce loyalty program rewards, merchants are still stuck with a single pricing list behind the scenes.

Dynamic pricing offers a solution. It provides a simple way to automate pricing across a broad range of variables. That way, you’re not losing out on potential purchases because pricing is too high for one customer. You’re also not leaving money on the table because it’s too low for another.

What role should pricing play in the selection of a wholesale ecommerce platform?

Look for the ability to …

  • Create multiple price lists for fixed, percentage off, or volume discounts
  • Apply those lists to individual customers or groups
  • Set minimum, maximum, and quantity increments per product
  • Establish minimum purchase amounts storewide or per customer
  • Review draft orders before invoicing for negotiated deals
  • Integrate loyalty and reward programs automatically

The central theme in those ingredients is personalization: the flexibility to allow different customers to see and select different pricing.

To accommodate this, Shopify Plus’ wholesale channel has three types of pricing lists, which can be used to create as many or as few lists as your business needs:

With Shopify Plus' wholesale ecommerce platform you can create a variety of price lists

Better yet, each list can then be applied either to individual customers or customer groups — e.g., “Gold-level-customer” and other tags:

Shopify Plus' wholesale ecommerce platform lets you apply pricing lists to individual customers or customer groups

In the case of fully transparent pricing — i.e., the prices you list publically as opposed to a password-protected channel like wholesale — tools like Shopify Scripts can be used to build dynamic pricing rules or purchase thresholds for discounts.

The need for flexibility doesn’t end with pricing, but extends into …

8. Payment Versatility

Invoices are tried-and-true. They’re industry-standard in almost every single B2B transaction. But that doesn’t mean they’re the best option.

Invoices often slow down the purchasing process. They also slow down when you can collect payment.

And there are signs that invoice ubiquity might be waning. 69% of business buyers prefer direct payment methods today.

business buyers prefer direct payment methods

Customers prefer direct payments because of all the reasons above. They’re faster, easier, more convenient, and transparent. As Ed Leake, the managing director of Midas Media, mentions:

“Limiting payment options to either immediate or invoice only can hurt sales.”

“Offering a finance option (where you outsource the risk) is an effective way of increasing conversions and perhaps, more importantly, raising average order sizes and repeat business. But offering a variety of options is a must.”

Of course, you can’t ditch invoices entirely. At least, not yet. Some deal sizes or industry regulations will always require formal quotes and invoices.

Instead, you should offer both. Some wholesale buyers will prefer checking out online:

Example of a wholesale ecommerce platform online checkout

Others, particularly those still going through the negotiation process or who exceed preset maximums and are therefore entitled to better pricing, will want to submit their order requests for adjustments and invoicing:

Example of a wholesale ecommerce platform order request for invoicing

Once an order is submitted, processing it should be as easy as modifying products and pricing through drop-down menus and then emailing an invoice or accepting payments through a credit card on record:

Finding The Best Wholesale Ecommerce Platform: Nine Crucial Functions For The Road Ahead

This way, shoppers can get all of the benefits of a B2C, storefront experience. They can browse on their own time and put together a custom order at their convenience.

However, if they like, they can still receive a quote to stick with a more traditional, business-as-usual B2B transaction.

The best wholesale ecommerce platforms need to adapt and respond to each scenario.

9. Automated Tax Adjustment for International Expansion

Manually building order forms offers one giant advantage over almost any other option: customization.

On large, complex orders, you can change each and every line item for individual buyers.

Sure. There are probably some standard pricing tiers you’re starting with, but you’re not just slapping a price tag on it that automatically applies to all.

Taxes are the same. Each country or municipality has their own tax requirements.

Dynamic pricing on a wholesale ecommerce platform is a great start. However, without the ability to factor in local taxes or currency adjustments, you’ll never be able to process orders directly.

Thankfully, Shopify Plus merchants can use Avalara to automate national and international tax compliance. Sales tax will be calculated on the fly. Nobody on your team needs to interfere with research tax requirements in the 200+ countries they operate … or, best of all, file taxes with each agency.

Shopify Plus use Avalara to automate international tax compliance

Coin is another simple app that will help visitors update currency conversions. Visitors can always see what the local currency value comes out to with the flip of a switch.

Coin app update currency conversions

You can also pull in visitor data based on IP address, like Maykke does, to immediately pull in the currency based on their physical browsing location.

Maykke uses IP addresses to determine currency

Your Wholesale Ecommerce Platform

Whether you’re already a B2B organization or a B2C company looking to expand, navigating the road ahead can feel convoluted, complex, and overwhelming.

The good news is … 

Shopify Flow

Wholesale doesn’t have to be hard

If you’re not on Shopify Plus, find out just how simple getting your piece of the $7.7 trillion global B2B ecommerce market can be.

A password-protected storefront, fully customizable price lists, minimum and maximum orders, third-party platform integrations, flexible payment and negotiation options for customers, and more.

Find out more

Already on Shopify Plus? Launch your wholesale ecommerce platform today


About the author

Anthony Kentris

Anthony Kentris is a product marketing manager at Shopify Plus and entrepreneur himself with a few budding brands.

Check out Anthony Kentris’s work