The B2B eCommerce market is worth $12.2 trillion, growing at a staggering rate of 10% per year. That makes it six times larger than the B2C eCommerce market and an opportunity no B2B supplier can afford to ignore.
Such growth has coincided with the advent of new B2B eCommerce platforms that offer greater accessibility and functionality at a fraction of the cost. But with a ton of B2B eCommerce solutions on the market, it’s hard to know which way to turn.
Fortunately, we’re here to guide you through this complicated selection process. We’ll take a deep dive into the three primary flavors of the B2B eCommerce platform – traditional, SaaS, and headless – weighing up the pros and cons of each to find the perfect fit for your organization.
How to Deliver a B2B eCommerce Experience
Executives shouldn’t think of eCommerce as "just another sales channel". Learn how this massive shift in B2B buying is shaping how companies win or lose.
Traditional B2B eCommerce Platforms
Key Players: Magento
With a traditional B2B eCommerce platform, you purchase a license fee, and your dev team builds a solution on top. You maintain complete control over your code, and the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can create. Sounds great. But developing your solution is a supremely technical endeavor. You’ll need a skilled IT team to build and maintain the solution which is a significant drawback compared to modern alternatives.
A traditional B2B eCommerce platform is not the easy way to go. You have to do it all: hosting (although many traditional platforms have started to offer this service), PCI compliance, patches and updates, integrations, and new features. It’s not a cheap option, either. Even if you go open-source (no license fees), you’ll still pay six times more than you would for a SaaS solution. So why do so many firms go down this traditional route?
One of the biggest (perceived) benefits of traditional B2B eCommerce platforms is security. People think: “If we keep our sensitive data in-house, then nobody can touch it.” This makes sense in theory, but not in practice, for the same reason you wouldn’t keep your life savings in a shoebox under your bed. As Leo Reiter, CTO at Nimblix recently surmised: “Cloud providers live, eat, and breathe network security while most other organizations don’t list it as one of their core competencies.”
Perhaps the biggest drawback to traditional B2B eCommerce platforms is their lack of agility. Making changes to your website is slow, technically demanding, and risks causing downtime. Scaling your solution and experimenting with new features is far more complicated than it would be on a SaaS or headless platform.
What’s GOOD about traditional B2B eCommerce platforms?
- You get total freedom over how your website looks and runs.
- You own and control your code.
- You can decide how and where you want to host your site.
- You have a higher number of security options if you have unusual requirements.
- You get a complete eCommerce solution with its back end and front end combined.
What’s BAD about traditional B2B eCommerce platforms?
- They lack the inherent scalability of modern alternatives.
- Making changes is slow, technical, and risky. One mistake can bring the whole thing crashing down.
- They’re monolithic – built as one massive program – which makes them complicated and unwieldy.
- Like a big ball of mud, no one person understands the platform in its entirety, and DIY workarounds only make matters more confusing.
- The TCO (total cost of ownership) is, on average, six times higher than that of SaaS platforms.
SaaS B2B eCommerce Platforms
Key Players: Shopify Plus, BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud
SaaS B2B eCommerce platforms are the go-to choice for mid-sized enterprises because they’re cost-effective and easy to use. Most people can get to grips with the various dashboards and drag and drop tools in minutes and even tackle custom coding tasks with a bit of practice. With SaaS, you can launch your eCommerce store in a matter of weeks and instantly generate revenue. A traditional B2B eCommerce platform, on the other hand, takes months or even years to develop.
With SaaS, you’re effectively “renting” an eCommerce solution that’s already been developed by the SaaS vendor. All you have to do is personalize the platform. In return for a monthly fee, you gain full access to the software via your web browser as well as maintenance, hosting, security, updates, and upgrades. You’re not tied into a long term contract, and costs aren’t front-loaded, so you have the freedom to switch to another SaaS vendor if prices skyrocket or a better alternative enters the market.
The significant downside to SaaS is that you don’t own your website or control your code. And every company that shares the platform is running the same technology as you. Therefore, there are concerns over a lack of customizability, but these fears are primarily averted with APIs. With a few clicks, you can integrate a vast array of third-party specialist tools and technologies. And with so much competition among SaaS vendors, new built-in features come thick and fast and often exceed expectations.
KBMax is one such tool that can be integrated into your SaaS B2B eCommerce platform. It provides a visual product configurator that customers can use to customize products to their exact requirements, with the rest of the transaction handled seamlessly by the eCommerce platform. It’s a fully immersive shopping experience that gives customers a clear understanding of what they’re buying and boosts conversion rates by an average of 60%.
What’s GOOD about SaaS B2B eCommerce platforms?
- They’re built and managed for you, vastly reducing the complexity of running your business online.
- Their costs are not front-loaded, which reduces financial risk, making them ideal for new ventures.
- They’re fast and easy to design and configure so you can go-to-market in a matter of weeks.
- Most vendors offer 24/7 customer support.
What’s BAD about SaaS B2B eCommerce platforms?
- You don’t own your website, you only ever “rent” it from the vendor.
- The platform is accessed via your web browser, so you need a stable internet connection to use it.
- You’re heavily reliant on your SaaS vendor. If it goes out of business – you’re screwed.
- You lack control over security and compliance.
Headless B2B eCommerce Platforms
Key players: Elastic Path, Reaction Commerce, Four51 OrderCloud
With headless commerce, the front and back ends of your B2B eCommerce platform are “decoupled.” They each have their codebase, and they’re developed, deployed, and maintained separately.
Your back end handles the nuts and bolts of your eCommerce operation, such as logins and accounts, payment processing, inventory management, and fulfillment. And you have complete freedom to use any front end (or front ends) you wish to display your content across your different channels.
An API layer manages the flow of information between your back-end services and front end touchpoints, giving your customers a consistent omnichannel experience wherever they interact with your brand, through any device.
This API-first approach means you can add a new channel at any time with minimal impact on your underlying back end systems. You can start new customer conversations, adopt the latest technologies, and react to ever-changing market conditions efficiently.
What’s GOOD about headless B2B eCommerce platforms?
- You can create and experiment with new customer experiences without risking the stability of existing ones.
- You can make use of the latest front end technologies.
- You can provide a consistent, omnichannel customer experience across all of your touchpoints.
- You never have to replatform. You can rearrange and add to the building blocks that make up your solution. It’s future-proof.
- You can tailor your platform to suit your business. If you’re more content than commerce, for example, you can use a CMS like WordPress or Drupal to power your commerce layer.
What’s BAD about headless B2B eCommerce platforms?
- They’re more technically demanding than SaaS platforms, requiring significant input from front-end developers.
- You have to pay for both back end and front end services, which makes them more expensive than SaaS.
- They lack the rapid go-to-market speed of SaaS.
- They’re unnecessarily complicated for B2B firms that require a stand-alone eCommerce site.