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How to Compare B2B eCommerce Solutions

Posted by Josh O'Connell April 5, 2018

Topics: eCommerce Tips

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B2B eCommerce solutions are proliferating as technology continues to evolve, bringing capabilities previously unavailable to B2B and wholesale businesses into a more attainable package. But not all solutions were made equal, and making the right decision means doing the proper research.

Today, we look at some important aspects of a B2B eCommerce solution, and how to identify which one best fits your needs.

Before We Begin: Open Source vs. SaaS

Many approaches differ in part based on the model of the solution you’re leveraging. There’s two traditional models for eCommerce software, and understanding how each works will help in this discussion:

  • Open Source: Generally the code is completely accessible to developers to modify in any form. A free version generally exists, although premium versions that include extras or improvements also can exist. You can place the code anywhere where it can run properly (generally a server that fits the requirements stated for the software). You or someone you pay would need to keep the site up, either with implementing new features or installing upgrades or security patches. Licensing can be one-time or ongoing for both the original platform and any add-ons you select to link to the platform.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): In this format, the core platform is hosted and managed by the company you purchase the software from, meaning that you do not have to deal with those issues yourself. The software is only as accessible as the platform allows, and at least some code is generally unavailable to modifications due to how a SaaS platform works. Most platforms have APIs and ways to extend the software to allow for functionality improvements or third-party apps.
Upfront Setup Costs vs. Ongoing

The traditional line of thinking is that open source solutions cost more to setup, but since the platform is “owned” and many times doesn’t require a licensing fee to keep using (although some, like Magento’s Commerce edition, do), SaaS solutions will cost more. However, that’s not always true.

Open Source solutions generally cost more to set up. Since this type of solution is selected in part for its flexibility, customization is generally expected, and with it an upfront cost to get it. When updates and security patches come out for these solutions, it requires more time and testing to ensure that those customizations don’t conflict or break with the upgrade. That means paying developers to regularly update the site, just to keep things up to date and secure.

With SaaS, the monthly subscription fee includes the upgrades and patches. Because the SaaS company is performing updates that goes to its entire customer base, it’s able to cover them within the monthly fee, unlike open source, where each site must be managed individually.

It’s important to therefore confirm what you should expect in terms of upkeep for each type of platform, so you know the true Total Cost of Ownership for the site solution you select.

B2B Solutions vs. Other Solutions with B2B Capabilities

Many eCommerce solutions promise and tout B2B capabilities. However, not all B2B and wholesale solutions are created equal.

Some solutions promise B2B capabilities but cover just a small subset of what many B2B stores need. Others offer the capabilities only as an add-on or with certain editions of their software.

A major difference that can impact the quality of the solution is whether an eCommerce solution mainly positions itself as a B2C solution or a B2B solution. B2B solutions make architectural and design decisions that focus on what B2B customers expect. That means everything from how you merchandise your products, what ways they can purchase them, what sorts of payment options they get, what sorts of pricing structures you can implement, and so on.

B2C solutions will, for instance, strike through a full price of a product to show a consumer a sale. Most B2B platforms will not use the strikethrough design, but may show an MSRP or other data on the screen for comparison. B2C solutions create ways for customers to browse; B2B solutions focus on ways to make a transaction more efficient, given the general size and volume of them.

In other situations, particularly within the SaaS ecosystem, B2B eCommerce solutions are being sold as an added bonus of taking on other software. When the capability is not a core part of the solution you're buying, there's a risk that it may not receive the same attention, or get built out as fully, as a B2B or wholesale solution who is making that their primary goal. This can be doubly challenging if their core service is something you already get elsewhere, and you're forced to decide to adopt the entire suite of capabilities to get their B2B eCommerce solution.

Knowing what your solution is attempting to accomplish, and whether their goals align with yours, should be a key part of the conversation.

Confirm What Features Are Natively Supported

When you build your website, you’re not just building for today, but you’re making a decision on where you’re staking your future for awhile. No one wants to outgrow their website in a few months or a year. So it’s important to know what of the key features you need, whether SaaS or Open Source, you can leverage within the solution you choose natively, and what has to be done with add-ons.

Native support of your core features will mean easier extensibility as you grow. An example could be pricing. If your choice supports all the different ways you handle pricing for your business (tier pricing, group pricing, promotions and discounts, etc.), it may be easier if you later wish to connect your eCommerce to another platform, like an ERP system or a marketplace. If you rely on a third-party add-on to manage some your pricing scenarios, that add-on may or may not properly interact with those other systems, creating more work to tie things together. Over time, as you tack on more and more, it can get increasingly difficult if you have a hodge-podge of add-ons running things.

At the same time, some parts of the process make perfect sense to be an add-on. For instance, connecting to other systems, like accounting or a CRM system, is generally going to be managed by a connector or add-on. Isolated parts of the process, like generating shipping labels in bulk and updating orders, can be managed outside the eCommerce solution without much interference on the rest of the process.

As such, it’s important to do a quick sketch internally of what pieces are supported natively, and what will be added in, and understand what limitations that may introduce later.

Level of Extensibility

Of course, the above becomes a moot point if you can't extend the platform. Knowing how closed or open a platform is will determine if you can easily extend or expand the capabilities to cover your business's needs as you grow. Here are some key questions you can ask a solution to better get a sense of how much room you'll have to grow:

  • Does your solution of choice support add-ons or extensions?
  • Can you tie into APIs to be able to send or receive data?
  • Do you have a healthy ecosystem of partners?
  • What are the limitations that exist for extending the platform? (One major example is the possibilities of checkout modification - can checkout be modified, and/or can an add-on interact with checkout?)

All of these questions can help you understand the level of depth a platform can truly achieve, beyond what you see on a feature list.

See Zoey in Action

A demo is the best way to see the platform in action. Most B2B solutions, like Zoey, will give you a customized walkthrough focusing on the features you will rely on. If you haven’t received a demo of Zoey to see how we can assist your business, contact us today to learn more.

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