Imagine your customer plans to change his e-commerce sales channel. First of all, it is essential to prepare a solid, well-defined plan with the most important goals. This blog will give an overview of all the necessary steps of such a project and outline all the technical questions that need to be asked. We will focus on e-commerce selling goods and not providing services. However, we won’t go too much into detail, but we will rather introduce the key features of a B2B e-commerce implementation.
We assume you already have your business up and running …
Are you a company operating in B2B market? Is your business up and running? Do you need a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use B2B system?
We assume you are interested in a professional B2B e-commerce able to manage hundreds or thousands of orders;
We assume you have thousands of products and your own catalog;
We assume you already have a high quality ERP system or you plan to change it
- Small e-shop with 10-30 products, managed manually without back-end;
- E-commerce site with hundreds of products which are managed on both sites individually, or synchronized manually;
- E-commerce site with thousands of products and daily transactions where manual synchronization is not an option and therefore automatic synchronization is needed.
What is B2B?
B2B (Business to Business) includes all sorts of business activities taking place between two or more business entities. You can find the term in e-commerce, marketing or information systems. B2B is almost like an e-shop, but there are no individual consumers, just enterprises and companies who sell and buy goods and services. In B2B, there are usually two business partners such as manufacturers and wholesalers, or manufacturers and stores.
When you decide start B2B e-commerce, it is necessary to target several points to reach its full potential. B2B activity requires some careful planning. Each of the following points is important and we recommend that none of them be neglected.
Who can help you?
Since the final product is a web store, you will need the right people who professionals in a number of specific areas. You can choose between freelancers or companies. Their key feature to consider is for them to be true experts in their field. You need someone who understands your strategy, your goals and has all the resources, knowledge and skills set needed to reach your milestones.
ERP vendor – business consultant – their competitive advantage is their understanding of your company and its internal processes. They can adapt their work on your company’s needs.
Freelancer – usually multi-talented, they can be graphic designers, developers, programmers and sometimes even marketers in one. Compared to companies, their services are cheaper, but be ready to make compromises
Marketing agencies – companies which provide professional services. They are ready for big project with great goals and even bigger budget ☺. They usually hire their own freelancers.
Project manager – you can choose someone who already works in your company or hire an external one. Key requirement: they need to live the company values and know it inside out. Responsible for communication with the vendors and the product owners.
1. Good e-commerce system
There are a number of options. E-commerce platforms have been designed and re-designed many times. You can base your decision on your budget, goals, desired functions, references, resources, this list can go on and on.
- DIY – “Do-It-Yourself” – you can create your own platform. It is fairly cost-savvy, but on the other hand, you are spending your precious time needed for other business activities.
- Commercial frameworks – companies with their own licensed frameworks. However, they may have their disadvantages, such as little experience, wrong code, long development, missing concepts.
- Open source system – such as MAGENTO, Prestashop. These systems already have an existing template, bug community, best practices to draw on. Behind communities are companies providing professional support and services.
- ERP e-shop – built in, with back-end having its own e-commerce platform. All the data are available immediately. Unfortunately though, some designers don’t like foreign platforms.
Key aspects: Technology – Functionality – Support Availability – Customization
Special features: standard or individual pricing – prices can be the same for all customers or they can be set individually based on the customer data available in back-end.
2. Web development
When it comes to e-commerce, the first impression of your website really does matter a lot for the internet users. It is therefore not surprising that user-friendly, easy to navigate, cool design and relevant content is a mix that adds up to your marketing tools. You can set up an e-commerce website in various ways. One of the simplest and cheapest options is to choose an e-commerce template for up to 100 USD, choose a theme designed exactly for your platform or buy a generic html template (including html, css, js, psd, eps files). You can as well hire a web designer to adapt it to your platform. More expensive option is to hire a professional who creates a new design customized specifically to your corporate identity. The latter one implies a lot of experience and requires several other tasks such as prototyping, design, slicing, ux design, testing, browser optimization. This most complex approach can cost you thousands and test your patience.
Key aspects (what not to forget):
- Target platforms – web browser, mobile application
- Web browsers you are going to use
- Devices – in case of mobile-friendly e-commerce
- Media coverage
- Browser priorities
3. Front-end and back-end integration
We assume you already have developed a strong back-end (ERP, CRM, WMS) with existing data. You can either choose a ready-to-go integration or develop your own. Today’s modern integration data models are described in the SOAP or JSON structures. The principle is, that most of the business entities must be able to work on both systems or, as much as possible, data should be normalized when sent or received. One of the system is always a master and the other one is slave. The right setup usually depends on technical capabilities of each system and the ability to change behavior.
Standard scenario (synchronous): For example, open-source frameworks offer their – well designed – endpoints (REST or SOAP), suitable for simple implementation. For custom features, generic services are not an option, developers will have to code it.
Advances scenario (asynchronous): There are several options, especially if you need high scalability and asynchronous integration for big data transfers. You can choose technologies such as messaging services (e.g. Cloudempiere using AWS SQS and Messaging Services)
- Can we use generic interfaces? (SOAP, REST)
- What format is best for the project (XML or JSON)?
- Which is a better choice – synchronous or asynchronous communication?
- Which system will be the master and which will be the slave? The master will be decided upon on a case-by-case basis?
- Event-driven push notifications or periodic polling?
Example 1: If there is a change in a product, ERP systems sends a push notification to the e-shop, or ERP system polls periodically for new or changed products.
Example 2: Orders created in e-shop are delivered to ERP system via push notification or ERP system polls periodically for new orders.
Example 3: An e-shop (or e-shop app) is informed with text messages about any changes in products or loading of any new data.
4. High quality master data
For a successful e-commerce project, master data of the highest quality is a must. The data must be well-structured and clear. Entities such as business partners, users, products, images or categories are among the most important data, but there are many more. Although many of them change in B2B sales conditions (for example individual prices, turnover, discount by business partner), we suggest for all customers to manage the main data in back-end – in a well-structured ERP system.
Questions to consider:
- Where will our company manage data? ERP back-end or e-commerce platform?
- Is our data good enough?
- Is our bac-kend system good enough for efficient data management?
Creating and managing products is a complex task and a big challenge. Quality content shared in several canals at the same time must be consistent and exact. Customer complaints are mostly due to inaccurate product information.
The ERP solution for Product Information Management (PIM) helps manage product information and create unified and trusted source of data shared in both bac-kend and front-end.
5.Correct SEO strategy
Based on studies, many potential customers do their own online research before making a purchase. Naturally, they will start with a keyword typed into a search box. Your Search Engine Optimization strategy will therefore be the decisive factor whether there will be any viewer traffic on your site, boosting your sales and turnover. We highly recommend to engage a professional SEO master who understands your company goals and develops SEO strategy tailored to your needs. At the same time, they can provide much needed regular analyses and reports on achieved results.
Unlike a physical store which can attract random visitors or passers-by, your e-commerce will unlikely experience much traffic unless you actively encourage people visit your site. Furthermore, you cannot expect your customers to become regular or even loyal ones after their first purchase. It is therefore of utmost importance to build a brand which is visible on relevant portals, platforms and social media, preferably with tools such as banners, campaigns and e-mail marketing. Your expectations should be proportional to your marketing expenditures.