E-commerce is one of the hottest trends in B2B marketing. Inspired by their favorite B2C e-commerce sites, buyers and procurers are demanding that their B2B suppliers deliver buying experiences that are comparable to those of leading online retailers.
To facilitate online expansion, providers (including AmazonSupply) have sprung up, offering B2B firms a shared, turnkey Web presence to address their e-commerce needs.
But as more and more brands dip their toes in the e-commerce space, serious questions are arising about these cookie-cutter site offerings and how they compare with online B2B sellers who build their own custom and branded sites using an available e-commerce platform.
The Value of E-Commerce Ownership
According to a Mashable article, some B2C sellers who have chosen to migrate away from Amazon's online store framework are finding it very difficult to completely cut the ties from the Web presence they created on Amazon.
The problem that many online retailers are seeing is that their products still remain listed on Amazon as "out-of-stock" items, even though the retailer has stopped making its products available via Amazon. Instead, visitors are redirected to a competing merchant who is listing its products on Amazon—an all too frequent occurrence, considering Amazon's high search rankings.
Though the Mashable story discusses this impact only as it relates to B2C sellers, it raises the question whether B2B brands will face similar challenges if they choose to move to their branded site and e-commerce platform after having started up with a "marketplace" presence such as that offered by AmazonSupply.
Brands that implement their own branded sites and own their e-commerce platform gain a higher level of control over their brand, customer connections, and sales approach in their digital marketing agendas. And though there are several ways brands can build their own platforms, such as through marketplaces, in nearly every case, B2B companies achieve greater flexibility and differentiation by bringing a best-of-breed e-commerce platform in-house.
Building a More Robust E-Commerce Platform
Some B2B companies hesitate to implement their own e-commerce platforms because they assume the process will be complex and time-consuming, or it will result in higher maintenance costs. But, in fact, a robust commerce platform suitable for B2B can be deployed rapidly, with a favorable total cost of ownership.
Establishing a successful, differentiated e-commerce presence with your own B2B platform requires an understanding of the issues and opportunities that accompany choosing and implementing that platform:
1. Deployment model selection. Today's e-commerce technology platforms offer B2B brands a choice of deployment models, including on-demand, hosted, and on-premise. From the outset of the process, it's critical to make sure that the selection of your basic deployment model is driven by business needs in support of your brand objectives. By aligning business growth and requirements with the costs of ownership for each model (e.g., CapEx vs. OpEx, implementation team vs. support team), it is possible to create a highly tailored and effective e-commerce system.
2. Speed-to-market. Turnkey, shared e-commerce sites are certainly convenient in getting an e-commerce presence off the ground for B2B sellers. However, the differentiation potential offered by your own platform is high, even though it may require greater executive engagement to tailor the platform and content to your customers. All three e-commerce platform models (on-demand, hosted, and on-premise) can be implemented.
3. Integration with existing systems. The best B2B e-commerce platforms can be integrated with your company's warehouse fulfillment software or other existing systems. Depending on the deployment model and your speed-to-market requirements, integration may need to be performed at some point after the initial installation—but it should be achievable and capable of helping you create a seamless IT environment across your organization.
4. Features and functionality. The trend in B2B commerce is toward the inclusion of features and functions that originated in the online retail space. With more and more procurers expecting suppliers to provide the same high-quality experience as their favorite B2C sites, it is important to consider how your e-ecommerce platform will deliver advanced search capabilities, mobile optimization, personalization, channel integration, and other features that define world-class B2C e-commerce sites.
5. Future scalability. Scalability is a key issue in B2B e-commerce. Too often, firms build e-commerce platforms that are limited to current capacity rather than allowing for future technology requirements, even if they have an aggressive business growth agenda. By working with a technology vendor capable of implementing multiple deployment models, your platform can grow with your company and provide calibrated e-commerce functionality for each stage of growth.
Many turnkey e-commerce sites are inherently flawed because they take a "one-size fits all" approach. The truth is no single "out of the box" e-commerce solution is capable of meeting the needs of all B2B brands.
With the right B2B e-commerce strategy, you can easily build your own branded website and e-commerce platform and give your brand the tools and functionality to customize your e-commerce technology, while avoiding the potential pitfalls of a shared presence or marketplace approach.
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