Having an online presence is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’; it’s become a necessity for all businesses so that they can reach people and expand their brand. This includes B2B or business-to-business companies, many of whom have been busy transitioning to digital over the last few years.
According to a recent report, global B2B eCommerce is soon predicted to be worth £5.2 trillion – that’s twice the increase that’s been forecast for business-to-consumer (B2C) eCommerce.
This huge uptake in online B2B eCommerce has been driven in part by businesses realising the increased efficiencies of having their own online store. All types of sellers, from manufacturers and wholesalers to distributors, are benefiting from being able to conduct business online.
The increasing availability of cloud computing platforms is making it easier for B2B companies to build and manage their online presence. Thereby ensuring B2B buyers get the seamless consumer-like experience they’ve long been demanding and which they get from the likes of Amazon or eBay in their personal lives.
What is B2B Ecommerce Software?
B2B eCommerce software enables B2B merchants to host eCommerce websites and generate transactions online. It’s the technology that helps manage everything from inventory and sales to tax calculation, as well as streamline marketing activities. It’s basically both the initial website builder and the engine behind the scenes of the online business.
B2B eCommerce software differs from B2C software because each has a different set of target customers and therefore requires different strategies to interact with them. B2B businesses aren’t encouraging customers to get out their credit card or enter PayPal details to purchase an item. The motive of a B2B commerce platform is to attract businesses and form a long term alliance with them.
A dedicated B2B platform should help either large or small businesses establish a direct channel with customers, improve conversion rates, and boost brand awareness.
There are two principal types of B2B eCommerce software:
On-premises B2B eCommerce software
This is installed and managed by onsite employees who take care of manual updates, fix issues, and troubleshoot. This type of software may have some appeal to eCommerce retailers because it offers an extra layer of flexibility over hosted solutions.
SaaS hosted eCommerce platforms.
Software as a Service is a hosted solution and is more hands-off from a technical point of view.
Hosted eCommerce solutions have evolved enormously over the past few years, and cloud-based platforms now offer users high degrees of customisation and flexibility.
For this reason, more and more B2B companies are adopting cloud-based and open-source platforms—since it saves time and money on installing or developing in-house software.
9 Key Features When Choosing B2B Ecommerce Software
A robust B2B eCommerce platform should:
1. Have 24/7 availability: A B2B platform should be ‘always on’. The days of clients or customers having to wait for business hours to get a response should be long gone.
2. Be compliant: B2B software should be able to accommodate GDPR and other important privacy guidelines.
3. Make marketing simple: With built-in search engine optimization (SEO) and other features, B2B eCommerce companies can rank higher in search results—especially Google—for increased reach and lower customer acquisition costs. The software should be able to integrate with email marketing platforms, such as Mailchimp, to facilitate customer communications.
4. Have extensive B2B functionality: A good B2B eCommerce platform should have eCommerce features directed at B2B buyers. E.g., bulk ordering/pricing, account management, and multiple shipping and payment options.
5. Have a reliable staging environment: Since humans are by nature error-prone, all B2B eCommerce software should offer a consistent sales solution. So, eCommerce software needs to offer service-level agreements to guarantee uptime, along with simple website management tools and real-time analytics to help you identify optimisation opportunities. Think Google Analytics, but specifically for your eCommerce website.
6. Create sales journey templates: B2B selling can be a complex business, so being able to make use of a digital configurator can make life easier.
7. Improve the customer experience: This happens when clients get an instant response and can quickly and easily choose their desired products from an online store in a few clicks.
8. Have mobile compatibility: More B2B decision-makers than ever are using their smartphones or other mobile devices to search for solutions. The software must be optimised for mobile.
9. Be user friendly: The software must be intuitive and customisable so users can create a user-friendly interface for their eCommerce website or even a mobile app.
Top 10 B2B eCommerce Software
There are hundreds of eCommerce platforms to choose from, making it difficult to identify the one that’s right for your eCommerce store. To make things easier we’ve compiled a list of ten of the best-known solutions—along with the pros and cons of each—to help you make an informed decision.
1. OpenCart B2B Marketplace
OpenCart is a well-known B2C eCommerce platform that also offers B2B functionalities. These include being able to send quotation requests and upload and update multiple products in one go. OpenCart is relatively easy to set up, and unlike some B2B platforms, it doesn’t require a dedicated server.
OpenCart’s intuitive user interface makes it ideal for a B2B company to get started with online selling. While not a complete, all-in-one solution, there are plenty of features on offer, including 30 payment gateways and the ability to integrate with any third party B2B eCommerce solutions.
Pros of OpenCart
- OpenCart is free and extremely customisable
- Gives the option to create highly professional websites
- Is well-suited to companies requiring concrete design, PoS, and shopping cart functionalities
Cons of OpenCart
- Not as easy to install as some other B2B platforms—some tech knowledge is required.
- Has limited marketing tools (e.g. no SEO or other marketing add-ons) and wholesale capabilities not yet as fine-tuned as other eCommerce platforms
2. Shopify Plus
Brands like Tesla, Citizen, Adidas, and L’Oreal are currently using Shopify Plus. So this is a platform that’s definitely worth considering—especially for enterprise-level companies. The software uses cutting-edge technology, including augmented reality, 3D, and product videos to help create a great user experience for customers.
Shopify Plus also allows you to connect your apps and tools via its flexible APIs, and create a completely customised storefront on any screen. The customer experience is elevated via customization of navigation and online search, along with flexible payment options and manual invoicing.
Pros of Shopify Plus
- Streamlines B2B bulk ordering
- Offers tailored educational content, including online courses on e-commerce topics
Cons of Shopify Plus
- Pretty pricey
- Not as customisable as some of the best eCommerce software and B2B e-commerce business platforms
3. Magento commerce
Magento is a popular B2B eCommerce platform that can also be used in tandem with any B2C operations. Integrated B2B capabilities include giving customers the option to manage their own accounts. It’s also possible to set up multiple tiers of buyers, each having their own roles and permissions, where they can track quotes, view order histories, and manage online credit options.
Features include customised catalogues and pricing, payment support on account, smart order and inventory management, quote management, and price negotiation. The customer experience is friction-free with adding new products often as simple as entering SKUs, while the software is optimised on all devices. There’s also support to create ads that run across multiple channels.
Pros of Magento
- A user-friendly interface makes managing the website easy.
- Good customer support
- Is good for creating a frictionless buying experience, limiting the B2B equivalent of the dreaded abandoned cart
Cons of Magento
- Expensive option—not so suitable for smaller companies
- Limited integration capabilities. E.g., not compatible with email
BigCommerce provides B2B companies with a comprehensive set of eCommerce tools. Users can build a site with large catalogues, and view customer and pricing segmentation down to SKU level. There’s the option to create purchase orders and offer net payment terms. BigCommerce integrates with most major customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
A BigCommerce platform can build customised shipping rates for B2B customers via integration with its own ShipperHQ shipping rate rules engine. Other useful features include quote generation, being able to set user permissions and apply quick re-ordering options. The enterprise-grade security keeps a B2B website safe from malicious attacks and bolsters best-in-class (99.99%) uptime.
Pros of BigCommerce
- Ease of use, even with limited technical knowledge.
- Secure shopping cart
- Good functionality
Cons of BigCommerce
- Not as many themes to choose from as other B2B eCommerce platforms
- Extra features can be pricey.
- Customer support can be variable.
WooCommerce is a plugin for WordPress and offers a host of features for B2B sellers. It’s available across any device, offering a mobile-optimised experience. The platform gives users the option to choose from multiple WooCommerce themes, and those with technical knowledge can customise their sites to fit their customers.
Other useful features include being able to hide products and categories based on user roles, as well as hide prices and ‘add to cart’ buttons. Users can add quote dropdown features and enable tax exemption for certain customers. WooCommerce also allows you to set different prices for different customers and limit maximum order quantities.
Pros of WooCommerce
- Simple product listings and lots of payment options
- Easy to use and processes payments efficiently.
Cons of WooCommerce
- Extra plugins can be expensive.
- Shipping options a bit limited.
This is yet another open-source eCommerce platform that comes with a high level of customisation. Users can select from a variety of professional themes, access over 50 payment gateways, and take advantage of integrated customer service tools and easy to install features.
These features include ways to manage products and customer relationships and track statistics. PrestaShop enables users to share content on social networks and blogs to attract more customers and sell globally—as well as letting companies present their store in different languages and currencies.
Users can find answers to questions in the PrestaShop forum and request help from the platform’s experts to help facilitate the transition to online.
Pros of PrestaShop
- Good value for money
- Good functionality
Cons of PrestaShop
- Support can be variable
- Installation and maintenance require some technical knowledge.
Episerver (formerly InsiteCommerce) offers users an ‘out-of-the-box’ experience with multiple features and functionalities to help build exceptional experiences for B2B customers.
The cloud-based platform features a powerful rules engine and dynamic cart and checkout experiences, including guest order, order management, list management, payments, fulfilment, and quote capabilities. Users can highlight product categories and brands whilst personalising the catalogue for specific customers. Customers are also offered efficient ways to order and reorder common items.
Episerver integrates with a wide number of third party software, and users can browse Episerver’s app store marketplace to find new applications and connectors.
Pros of Episerver
- Is easy to install and update, even for the less technically-minded
- Offers content management capabilities
- Is customisable
Cons of Episerver
- Support can be slow
- Analytics features could be improved.
Pepperi is a B2B eCommerce platform that enables self-service buying for B2B customers. Available 24/7, the software delivers customers a personalised buying experience so they can see their own catalogue, pricing, discounts, and order history. The platform enables users to consolidate multi-channel or omnichannel sales on one platform and see what’s happening across online and in-person channels.
Users can also view buying trends, sell-throughs, promotions, and performance. Pepperi offers the opportunity to carry out eCommerce via numerous payment gateways and accept payments of any type. There’s also the option to sell globally and localise taxes, currencies, and languages—along with shipping methods in overseas markets.
Pros of Pepperi
- Pepperi is optimised for mobile use and includes offline support.
- Good integration capabilities
Cons of Pepperi
- Quite expensive
- Customer support can be slow.
- Not so suitable for enterprise-level companies
9. Red Technology
Red Technology is a highly evolved B2B eCommerce platform and works with leading brands to implement robust and scalable B2B solutions. The software can handle any number of SKUs, unlimited product categories, and multiple price variations, making it ideal for high volume manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers.
Red Technology features a comprehensive set of invoicing tools, including enabling credits as well as allowing customers to maintain agreed inventories at their locations and replenish when stocks are low. Sellers can set prices and apply delivery costs or discounts based on price lists or currency levels. There’s also the option to entice B2B customers with quantity-based discounts.
Pros of Red Technology
- Integrates with most eCommerce software and plug-ins
- Gives users access to a full set of reporting features
Cons of Red Technology
- Not so suitable for smaller companies
- Requires some tech knowledge—perhaps knowledge of coding, HTML, etc.
3dcart is a B2B eCommerce platform that’s cloud-based and enables you to sell products quickly and easily. Features include
- Built-in SEO tools
- Third-party support
- Social media integration
- Mobile eCommerce tools
If you’re looking to build a fully customised website that can handle payment processing in minutes, then this could be the software for you. Users can choose from hundreds of templates that can be optimised for mobile buyers.
Sites can be customised using the software’s drag and drop tools, and 3Dcart is fully optimised for social. Giving you the chance t sell directly on the likes of Facebook and other social sales channels. The platform offers a wide range of tools for managing inventory, marketing, customer service, and more. You can sell an unlimited number of products, and there are options for bulk data import and export.
Pros of 3Dcart
- Site design is straightforward
- The built-in blog and Mailchimp integration are useful marketing features.
- Secure shopping cart
Cons of 3Dcart
- Customer support could be improved.
- May not be customisable enough for some businesses.
At the end of the day, there’s no ‘one-size fit’s all’ solution when it comes to choosing a B2B eCommerce solution. It all depends on your requirements, technical expertise, and budget—as well as the level of customisation you’re looking for. The above should give you some ideas, but there are also more B2C-based platforms, like Wix and Squarespace, that could also work for B2B.
Take some time to identify the right B2B eCommerce platform for your organisation and try testing out various solutions (many offer a free trial) before you sign up. Once you’ve made the right decision, your eCommerce platform will certainly take your business to the next level.
Originally published Jan 21, 2021, updated May 07, 2021