With the rapid development of digital technologies, over 80% of common customers do online research before making major purchases. But when it comes to B2B eCommerce, the purchasing cycle gets even longer and more challenging for the vendor. On average, a B2B buyer goes through 12 search sessions before placing an order. This practically means that when sale volumes are larger, so are customer requirements.
That’s why the development of a B2B eCommerce website requires a different approach, budget and even developers team than a typical B2C eCommerce site. As a rule, such websites opt for a straightforward design, pay more attention to stability and security, support third-party integrations and have a pluggable architecture to ensure their growth and scalability together with the customers’ base.
In this article, we’ll break down the process of B2B eCommerce development into several blocks, highlight the essential components of such websites and reveal their specifics depending on the sphere of business, as well as provide practical advice on choosing and setting up a B2B eCommerce portal.
Must-have features your B2B website can’t do without
There are a number of factors to take into account when planning B2B eCommerce website development. The list includes design, layout, navigation, optimization, content, and user experience. However, not every component of a website is equally important. Some elements are rather basic, whereas the others have a bigger impact on your website's performance and quality in both the long and short terms.
Regardless of a type of business-to-business sales (wholesale vs retail; manufacturer vs distributor; healthcare vs industrial), each website in this sector needs to meet essential B2B eCommerce requirements. Here’re vital features to implement in your website:
- User management system. A B2B account is handled by several users and does not belong to a single person but rather the entire company. User roles can be very specific and limited to their immediate duties. The buying process can take long, and involve a number of parties and approval steps. That’s why access control lists are required to grant or revoke different permissions to authorized users. Such permissions cover the management of roles, accounts, orders, price lists, catalogs, inventory, etc.
- Custom B2B catalogs. This method of catalog management limits the viewing rights of some customers and grants them access to only a portion of the entire catalog. Using this approach, you can create customer hierarchies, form numerous product catalogs and block particular products from individuals and user groups. For that, add and categorize products, specify access rules and mark the users with appropriate rights.
- Dynamic pricing. Prices in today's B2B eCommerce are dynamic and adapt to changes in the market. Dynamic pricing helps to understand and forecast when to raise prices in order to capture the upside or drop them to prevent volume losses. Taking into account deal size, customer and product type also facilitates the decision-making process and creates a user-friendly purchasing experience. There are three basic models: cost-plus, competitor-based or value-based pricing that you can use to establish pricing rules on your website. In addition, apply bulk discounts and offer flexible payment options.
- Real-time stock updates. If you offer B2B services, it’s crucial to maintain a supply of the goods that are currently on hand. To attain this end, your website should support inventory tracking and management integrations. The low stock control can also be compatible with the pricing mechanism - the fewer items you have, the higher their price becomes.
- Enhanced mcommerce. Your B2B website needs to have an easy-to-use interface that functions flawlessly on mobile devices given the increasing amount of mobile shoppers. Even if a smartphone isn’t the best tool to make a bulk order for large businesses, it is still helpful for a pre-purchase check and order status update.
There are more B2B eCommerce trends arising each year, but not all of them are capable of re-shaping the industry. Focus on the ones that matter and build a B2B eCommerce site that can be adapted to anything new emerging in the future. How to attain this end in different spheres of business? Keep on reading and find out what specifics to consider.
Why B2B eCommerce is more specific than you think
According to DemandBase, 97% of B2B buyers want to find information directly related to their sphere of business on vendor websites. At the same time, 96% of respondents think it is crucial for B2B websites to specifically address market demands and demonstrate industry knowledge. That’s why the “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t increase your revenue and win the trust of prospective customers when it comes to B2B eCommerce web development.
Business-oriented portals and marketplaces have different design and functionality depending on the target audience (manufacturers, distributors, wholesale suppliers) and, more importantly, products or services they market. Below, we’ll consider a few business spheres and discuss their specifics in terms of website creation and management. The list isn’t exhaustive but will give you a general idea of B2B eCommerce differences and how to meet various demands online.
B2B healthcare eCommerce
Although e-pharmacy and telemedicine are the first things that come to mind in relation to health eCommerce, this sector also focuses on corporate buyers, including hospitals, retail pharmacies, healthcare facilities, research labs, etc. The digitization of their procurement procedures help them offer prompt and continuous medical services.
So B2B marketplaces for medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and healthcare products should be geared towards medical requirements in terms of both content and technology. Here’s what features facilitate the work with such websites:
- Restricted access to licensed products limits the purchase of particular products by customers from some countries or regions, or without the necessary licenses.
- Blocked combination of products does not let customers buy certain products together to avoid their illegal use (for example, psychoactive substances and their precursors).
- Serialized stock management for medical products with a short shelf-life or drugs that need a thorough recall procedure to facilitate order management toolset.
- Fast bulk order helps consumers place orders more quickly thanks to faster website navigation and product search.
B2B automotive eCommerce
The automobile industry includes more than car dealerships and manufacturers, there are also leasing companies, taxi services, haulage and repair shops. Consequently, automotive eCommerce has different requirements when it comes to selling auto parts or leasing cars for rental services. The general trend, however, is to ensure an end-to-end process online without any offline actions. To attain this end, such websites should be equipped with:
- Complex ERP, WMS, CRM, 3PL, PIM and reference manuals integration. The pluggable architecture of an automotive website helps manage product information, build personalized customer journeys and scale as business grows.
- Management system compatible with hundreds of thousands of SKUs that need to be easily structured and filtered through. This is especially important for selling auto parts and other car accessories that should be selected for a particular car (based on VIN number). There is also the handy “My Garage” function.
- Complex pricing lists. The final price of a car is determined by its model, trim level, wheel size, seasonal offers and even color. The website should feature an online calculator to accurately estimate the full price.
- 360° panorama support. Panoramic photos and VR images are crucial for showcasing luxury and complex products. This presentation gives a chance to look at the desired item from different angles. For the automotive industry, a digital showroom has become a must-have after the COVID-19 pandemic.
B2B food eCommerce
Today there are restaurants, hospitals, schools and other enterprises that require perishable goods on a regular basis. To minimize the time gap between order placement and its processing, food and beverage eCommerce offers grocery manufacturers and suppliers multiple digital sales channels. The main task is to improve customer service and facilitate the re-ordering process (as food is purchased in a quick order life cycle). Here are a few features demanded by food manufacturers and retailers:
- High-level automation & easy re-ordering. In most cases, B2B buyers have an established list of items to purchase on a regular basis. A good website will save their time by highlighting popular products for each customer and enabling re-ordering in one click.
- Flexible delivery settings. Consumers should be able to choose the best day for delivery and have an opportunity to distribute their bulk order to several addresses while placing an order.
- Easy management of complex promotions. Marketing campaigns are an important factor in boosting B2B food sales but they can be notoriously difficult, especially in the wholesale sector. The powerful platform gives you the freedom to launch promotions against pricing, gift products, must-buy items, free POS material, etc. With thorough reports that provide insight and analysis into the effectiveness of promotions, it is easy to keep track of marketing activities.
Indeed, there are more industries providing business-to-business services that require a customized digital presence, but the list above represents hidden pitfalls and urgent needs a business owner or developers team might face during B2B store development. Try keeping them in mind and adapting them to the chosen sphere when building a suitable web design – more on the topic in the next section.
B2B website design: common questions and best solutions
When it comes to making a B2B eCommerce website, is it really so different from a B2C portal? In fact, there are so many differences that it’s easier to count their similarities. Remember the sad statistics that 88% of online users are less likely to come back to a site after a bad experience (it can be poor UX, irrelevant content, slow page load, and so on).
As B2B marketing poses particular difficulties in terms of establishing client relationships and getting a consistent stream of prospects into your marketing funnel to produce quality sales leads, many enterprises see web design as the finest sales tool.
B2B websites need to take into account the requirements and queries of all relevant stakeholders as they often make the final decision in a group. Live discussions might involve several departments, therefore the B2B sales funnel moves much more slowly. The website's content should place an emphasis on offering insights and solutions: case studies, sales calls, networking at events, webinars, white papers, and other tactics.
We’ve gathered frequently asked questions about an ideal structure of B2B eCommerce portals and tried to provide the best answers to them. Is it OK to use a ready-made template or you should always personalize the look of your site? What really influences user experience and what is of little importance? Take a look at the points below and outline your customer-focused resource.
Q: What is the homepage role in delivering a strong user experience?
A:The homepage is the most important part of B2B eCommerce website design and will probably come up quite a bit during the design process. The homepage design is so challenging because:
- It’s likely the first page new visitors see on your website, however there can also be recurring visitors at any stage of the buying process
- The traditional "blink test" allows visitors to decide in a matter of seconds whether to stay or to end their session
- The header area is the only part that new visitors will read before making a decision. Your value proposition should clearly state what you do and who you do it for in order to encourage the right visitors to proceed.
Did you know that sliders, or carousels, can reduce the effectiveness of the homepage? According to recent research, they are harmful to user experience and search engine optimization. Why? Sliders often offer different versions of the website's value proposition, business updates, or new product releases, and change the focus of attention. It’s recommended to use other pages for that.
Instead of excessive elements, your homepage should include:
- Points of differentiation - After a visitor passes the blink test, explain why they should choose you
- Social proof helps to build preference and trust. To prove your credentials, include client logos, reviews, or case studies
- Strong calls to action (CTAs) direct visitors to the next stage of the purchasing process.
Q: Is easy site navigation your path to success?
A:Every time a person visits a website, they want to find the necessary information as quickly as possible. When a website is B2B-targeted, some of the key individuals may visit it, but they might not have much time to look around. In addition, the majority of decision-makers will continue to visit your website to learn more about your company. You may be able to foresee the effects of your failure to provide systematic navigation.
Build your website’s navigation system using these tools:
- Sitemap gives a thorough list of all the pages you wish to create and where they will be located on your website. These are pages that are in line with the chosen keyword strategy and the buyer’s decision-making process. Visitors to your website aren't looking to spend hours reading about every little detail of what you do. Make it simple for them to accomplish their specific goal since they have one. Your sitemap should include terms and conditions/privacy, landing pages, blog posts, thank you or welcome pages.
- Horizontal navigation is the most typical method. The menu is set up as the website header and lists all of your most crucial pages side by side. This works well for websites with a limited number of major pages. Otherwise, you'll have to fit several pages into a narrow horizontal space.
- Drop-down menu is the greatest option if you want to integrate a lot of pages in your navigation system. It lists all the pages under a general category. To find the page that is most pertinent to them, the user can hover, expand the menu, and search there.
- Hamburger navigation condenses navigation options into an icon and is designed to be mobile-friendly. In comparison to desktop, the user can click the icon to display their navigation options, which lessens clutter on small screens.
- Vertical navigation is located to the side of your website rather than at the top. Links are stacked on top of one another to include more options.
Q: Can the right design increase conversion?
A:A highly effective website must convert anonymous visitors into leads, opportunities, or customers. Multiple conversion points are the means to achieve this goal. Each conversion point needs to be clear about what the customer will receive in exchange for providing their contact information. For example, it’s better to use phrases like "request a quote", "book a demo," and "start a free trial" than rather generic "contact us."
Be careful where you position your conversion points. Every stage of the buyer's journey should contain some visible point. A call to action that directs users to a landing page or an embedded form are examples of conversion points. The trick is to balance the “content” and “action” sections – too early on the page and you would seem too pushy without providing any real proof of authority, too late and the user would end up idly scrolling the page without a clear intent.
Note: a professional website design (whatever good it is) won’t work without proper SEO. UX helps to navigate those users that have already come across the website, but they must be brought there in the first place. To increase conversion, it’s necessary to consider multiple factors.
Q: Custom vs. ready-made - what works better for B2B?
A:Many new businesses develop their first website in-house and use popular page builders that come with ready-made B2B eCommerce templates. To create a website design around a built-in theme is OK if you're on a tight budget. The best choice, though, comes with a custom solution meeting specific business needs and tailored to the target market.
It is a common thing when business owners focus on growing their enterprise and once they reach a new level of brand recognition and start earning more money customize their B2B website to reflect their distinct brand image.
While developing a custom website, one needs to carefully consider the desired color scheme among many other important things. If users in some industries are open to experiments and don’t mind if a seemingly serious resource looks a little bit frisky, it might be unacceptable for such spheres as medical care or construction. Also, don’t forget that colors mean different things in different cultures - for example, red stands for good luck in Chinese and implies danger in British - so it’s better to hire a team of professionals once you decide to raise the stakes with a more sophisticated digital presence.
How to choose the best B2B eCommerce platform?
Summing up the above-mentioned tips and requirements, you inevitably end up with a task of choosing a suitable platform to launch a full-fledged website or even marketplace. The selection of an eСommerce platform requires a rather thorough search procedure. A business will consider what it can achieve using a specific platform and how its capabilities can satisfy its requirements.
Higher GMV (gross merchandise volume) merchants often need specific configurations, thus they seek a highly customizable platform. Lower GMV merchants will be satisfied with an eCommerce solution offering standard services at a reasonable price because this is what they’re looking for at the current stage.
There is no universal solution that can satisfy every customer's needs and meet any kind of business task. The basic platform may not be able to do everything, but the best it can do is to integrate with other services like content management systems (CMS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. A better option is to choose an extensible platform that can be customized with plugins and add-ons, but it requires more investments.
A recent survey has shown that an eCommerce platform and further B2B eCommerce website development are among the largest investments considered by business owners. And it’s quite logical since such a platform can meet the other business needs like payment, shipping and customer service options.
Here are the key factors for picking a B2B eCommerce platform:
- The complexity of the products on sale. The formula is quite simple: “the more complex products you sell, the more complex eCommerce system you should have.” There is no need to build an all-in-one platform with many built-in features when you really require just a few to create a successful customer’s journey.
- Back-end integration. The toolset you choose and the amount of money you invest will depend on whether you want to connect with your CRM and/or ERP. If this is your first eCommerce website, you can limit the number of integrations. An integration-friendly strategy works best if you want to differentiate your business.
- The required level of control. With some platforms, you get almost limitless customization possibilities over design or functionality thanks to the open-source nature. This level of control can not be attained with any hosted platforms, which are easy-to-use and cheaper to deploy but turn these advantages into constraints for growing businesses.
Have worked out clear requirements for a future B2B website? Have a well-formed image of the final result? Then it’s time to pick a powerful toolkit that will help realize your project. Basically, you have three possible options - open source, cloud-based or custom solution. Below we’ve compared them and emphasized their pros and cons to keep in mind.
Open-source eCommerce software makes the original source code available for free viewing, modification, and contribution by anybody with enough coding skills and technical knowledge. Therefore, it is the most flexible solution when it comes to creating a robust eCommerce store in line with business goals.
Choosing an open-source eCommerce platform, you’re always in charge of every part of your online store, including servers, storage, networking, and virtualization. You have complete control over each component of your B2B eCommerce website - product catalogs, pricing, shipping, taxation, etc. - in comparison to other softwares that allow you to adjust the default settings without changing the overall structure. In case of such changes required, you won't have to wait for the platform provider to respond to your queries. However, self-management comes at the cost of considerable time and resources.
- Open-source platforms work best for complex projects with multiple integrations and custom settings
- Cost effective for start-ups and small-sized businesses but can still grow together with the scale of operations
- Merchants can select their own hosting option, and ensure the security of information, stable performance and fraudulent protection
- No hidden fees, subscription payments or transaction fees, i.e. all built-in functionality is available from the start.
- In contrast to SaaS, it is more difficult and time-consuming to upgrade
- To maintain an open-source eCommerce platform, one will need an in-house developers team and/or a third party.
This group features cloud-based or hosted systems accessible through a web browser. A SaaS, which is typically provided through a subscription, is excellent for small businesses who are just entering the eCommerce market. These B2B eCommerce website builders provide all the essentials you need to launch an online store. SaaS systems make it reasonably simple to get started and keep your software updated even without an in-house development team.
However, using an online eCommerce platform means that you give up flexibility and control in favor of user-friendliness and tons of pre-configured B2B features. It is also important to realize that you never really own your website if you build it on a SaaS platform, and major changes cannot be made to a plug-and-use solution without the provider’s consent.
- SaaS software is already installed and configured, which drastically cuts down on the deployment time
- New releases and upgrades are implemented automatically with the latest SaaS versions
- Try-before-buy: these service providers give free trials of their products to evaluate the solution's viability and compatibility.
- SaaS softwares operate at slower rates and take away control typical of open-source web applications, this means that you lack customization options
- Some SaaS features are realized through third-party integrations and limit your choice of plugins and additional apps to pre-selected options (whatever good or bad they are)
- SaaS solutions might seem cheaper but they charge a fee of the company’s turnover. If it’s revenue increases, the company will be charged more
- Since SaaS platforms are in charge of the back-end and have full access to all online stores hosted on the cloud, store owners might face possible infringements of their confidential data, which may result in data cloning, data theft, and other major consequences for enterprises.
If the client's requirements don't neatly fit into one of the off-the-shelf solutions, it’s possible to build custom eCommerce platforms that provide all the major functions a B2B business most definitely needs (for example, a request-for-quote flow). However, commercial software has a monolithic structure and a rather standard functional package. Modifying, extending, and replacing some parts of it is long and costly.
So, it’s better to go for B2B platform development when all or most of the functionality is covered by the pre-configured solution and modifications are made on its basis. Otherwise, some businesses have difficulty customizing their products because they either haven't done it enough and aren't satisfying their needs, or they have done it too much and have produced an overly complex product.
- A completely new application adapted to established workflows and tailored to the business type, industry and product
- End-to-end development services with the clean base code for further customization
- The most expensive, labor-intensive and time-consuming option in B2B eCommerce platform development
- Lack of qualified experts in custom eCommerce technologies.
Regardless of an eCommerce platform you choose, eventually it all comes down to resources and money the company has at the moment. So it’s high time to calculate all the costs of developing, launching and maintaining a B2B website.
The costs of B2B website development
The cost of B2B eCommerce website development always depends on many factors: the scope of your business, the level of customization, the number of products you’re going to sell, and visitors you’re going to serve.
Below, we’ve compiled a table with approximate estimations of eCommerce website development for each size of business. Please note that these figures do not mean that you as a business owner will pay the exact amount and they might vary depending on a particular project. However, these estimations will help you get a general idea of resources you will need and evaluate the expediency of digitalization at this moment.
|SMBs and startups||Mid-sized businesses||Large enterprises|
|Basic setup to launch your store (one-time)||~ $500||~ $1,000||> $2,000|
|Web design (one-time)||$0-$350||$5,000-$20,000||> $20,000|
|Custom development (one-time)||$2,000-$5,000||$20,000-$80,000||> $100,000|
|Maintenance: domain, SSL, hosting (annually)||$500-$1,500||$1,500-$5,000||> $5,000|
|Subscription fee (monthly)||$01-$350||$01- $2,000||$01 - > $2,500 + percentage of sales volume for some SaaS|
|Total cost for the 1st year||~ $3,000-$7,700||~ $27,500-$130,000||~ 127,000 - >$157,000+|
1 For example, you can use all built-in features of nopCommerce, enterprise-level eCommerce platform, absolutely free. There are no monthly or transaction fees, as well as subscription upgrades each time your business surpasses certain revenue points.
The price of developing an eCommerce website depends on how complicated your store is and how many developers you’ll need to complete the project. Besides one-time investments for design and setup, the other activities like hosting or maintenance will require payments on a monthly basis.
The cost of the chosen eCommerce platform will define the price for deploying a B2B website powered by its technologies. Even if some option seems to be easier to implement and more affordable at the starting point, it might result in much bigger expenses when it comes to customization (due to its rigidity) and hidden fees that grow together with your business, let alone platform-to-platform migration issues.
At the same time, an enterprise-level eCommerce platform can better adjust to business needs and technological changes without additional expenditures, therefore the initial fuss with development and deployment doesn’t look overwhelming. That’s why each case requires a business and development plan to pinpoint bottlenecks and prevent possible overspending, but it’s always better to look ahead to the future and choose a solution that is here to stay with you in the upcoming years.
Compared to the B2C sphere, B2B eCommerce websites demand more consideration and technological functionality but rest assured that these investments will pay off. Don't let your company stick with the standard B2B website design and disregard modern visual opportunities. Your B2B eCommerce website must be treated as a unique extension of your brand, as well as increase sales and grow the client base. Start with choosing a proper eCommerce platform, and let it bring you money without pumping out your own.