Selling online has become a must-have for businesses as B2B buyers are increasingly more likely to research and buy on the Internet. Some estimates suggest that B2B buyers are already 57% of the way through the buying process before engaging with sales reps. While realizing the need for B2B eCommerce adoption, many companies still struggle whether to invest in a B2B eCommerce platform or just build from scratch. As a result, the dilemma of a custom eCommerce solution vs eCommerce Platform now becomes a critical business decision. What will be the right option for you?
Build, Buy, or Customize for B2B
Unlike B2C, B2B eCommerce presents a number of inherent complexities and unique requirements for an eCommerce website. For this reason, popular B2C eCommerce platforms fall short in delivering a true B2B user experience and will require heavy customization right from the start. This fact has led many companies to consider building their own B2B eCommerce solutions to cater to needs of corporate clients with personalized pricing, catalog merchandising, enterprise-grade content management, etc.
While building a custom eCommerce solution for B2B may overcome some limitations of B2C platforms, this option bears significant software development challenges. Such a solution will take much longer to build and will require continuous enhancements after the initial roll-out. Time to market is another point of concern. Considering the dazzling growth of B2B eCommerce, which is projected to hit the double of online retail sales by next year, every company will be willing to enter this field as soon as they can and charm B2B online buyers with their own B2B webstore.
An alternative to a custom eCommerce solution for B2B is a B2B eCommerce platform, which specifically addresses common needs of B2B sellers. This type of eCommerce technology has a broader variety of B2B-specific features out of the box, which results in much less customization effort compared to B2C platforms.
Pros and Cons of a Custom eCommerce Solution for B2B
A custom-made eCommerce solution is most recommended for companies who are ready to take ownership of their technological evolution in eCommerce. This includes managing their clients’ growing expectations in reference to personalized customer experience, expanding an ecosystem of useful third-party integrations, and streamlining internal operations via integrations with other enterprise applications.
Cost and time to market
Building a custom eCommerce platform requires a significant upfront investment and takes a much longer time to market compared to off-the-shelf platforms. Apparently, these few months of delay translate into lost opportunities and slower customer acquisition.
Also, an MVP-grade custom eCommerce solution may fail to attract as many customers as an enterprise-grade website built on a B2B eCommerce platform. This means that a minimalistic custom eCommerce solution is not guaranteed to generate as much momentum as you may expect, resulting in slower growth.
On the bright side, in-house eCommerce solution gives you full ownership over the solution and spares you paying licensing fees. However, make sure to compare potential licensing expenses with the cost of your own development effort to acquire the necessary eCommerce capabilities and maintain the pace of innovation.
With a custom eCommerce solution, you can have all the features that you want, exactly how you want them. You also control the time to market for new features and have little dependence on any specific technology vendor. The only problem is that you still need to implement them – collect requirements, find experienced engineers, organize software development process, test for quality assurance, and coordinate change management.
At the same time, you will be recreating a large number of capabilities that are already available in off-the-shelf B2B eCommerce platforms. Importantly, platform vendors possess invaluable expertise accumulated over the years of work with real-life customers, which backs their features with the existing market needs and trends. Moreover, platform vendors are dedicated to creating world-class products that take into account a broad range of potential use cases you may not have considered.
All in all, if eCommerce is the means to an end for your business, you may find that a B2B eCommerce platform may give you all you need for a quick start and allow for continuous optimization. If you need technology ownership and full control over the product roadmap, then you may find building a custom eCommerce solution (from scratch or based on open source) a better approach.
Also, note that leading eCommerce platforms offer a headless implementation that allows you to create custom frontend on the off-the-shelf backend provided by the platform.
When a B2B eCommerce Platform is a Right Choice
Building an initial version of your B2B storefront online is only a tiny part of the effort. Discovering what you need to grow further and staying on top is a different – and typically more difficult – task.
One advantage of B2B eCommerce platforms is that you start ahead of many in your B2B eCommerce segment since a majority of B2B companies are in their early days of adopting B2B eCommerce. Entering the market with a rich solution powered by a B2B-specific eCommerce platform will make an excellent start.
Another key benefit is that you can channel your resources into launching a B2B eCommerce business at scale and not worry about the website implementation challenges. When establishing an eCommerce presence, companies are opening up new avenues for their business – online marketing, delivering omnichannel experience, reorganizing their distribution channels, etc. Freeing up enough resources to take care of these operations will be critical to online success.
Finally, a B2B eCommerce platform will let you keep up with the pace of innovation in the industry and ensure your website meets your customers’ expectations. If you want to stay focused on your core business and deliver top-notch eCommerce experience for your customers at the same time, then having technology maintained by a B2B eCommerce partner would be the most efficient choice.
If you are interested in learning about key capabilities of a true B2B eCommerce platform and discover OroCommerce, contact us for a discovery session or try our free demo.