How should B2B wholesalers get into online ecommerce? -

How should B2B wholesalers get into online ecommerce?

Taking your B2B wholesale business online might seem complicated, but in actuality there are really only three main options to choose from. 

You can work with a pre-existing solution, creating a white label ecommerce store for your brand, built on existing technology. Or, you could hire a developer or developers, as freelancers or onto your payroll and develop a bespoke solution in house. Your third option is really a mixture of the two; hire a development company, with developers on their team full time, to create your ecommerce store for you. There is a fourth hybrid option but this is a combination of the three main ones.

There are pros and cons with each approach and, whilst we specialise in providing white label B2B solutions, there are reasons why you may want to consider an alternative route. For each option below we’ve highlighted what we think are the three most important factors to consider when assessing your choices.

White label B2B ecommerce

This is one of the things we offer at The technology behind your ecommerce offering is already developed and updated regularly. We simply create a new version of the platform using your branding and inventory. It’s a fast, low cost process, that will see you selling online quickly and easily. Consider the following when you’re assessing if white label B2B ecommerce is for you.

Not all white label providers are equal

There are multiple white label choices available in the marketplace and it’s important that you assess which one you are best partnering with. The various options have different costs and technology foundations behind the white label offering. Updates come out at varying times and there may be different processes for responding to feature or change requests. Take a careful look for the one that seems most suited to you.

Check this is really B2B ecommerce

Whilst there are plenty of white label ecommerce solutions available, there are actually relatively few made specifically for B2B. Some of the biggest names in white label ecommerce come from a B2C background. Whilst they may promote their flexibility and applicability to B2B online stores, the evidence over the years has been that solutions which are originally B2C make for an uncomfortable fit for many wholesalers. Ecommerce developed for the B2C market just speaks a completely different language, something which often becomes apparent too late in the process.

Fast, constantly developed, feature rich releases newly developed features every single month and we listen to our clients on the features they most want to see. We recently presented a new reorder feature to a client, who suggested a different, more useful, way of enabling reorders. We changed the route of our development and, two months later, we’ll be going live with the client’s suggestion. White label solutions, backed by proper client engagement and development teams, can often add functionality quickly to an already rich base of features.

Build your own B2B ecommerce

Building your own B2B ecommerce solution means that you will end up with a proprietary system, which you own the IP for and can develop to exactly suit your needs. It can be a very tempting option, 

particularly for larger businesses, but take care of the pitfalls that many in-house developments come across.

In-house is a big undertaking

Even the initial steps can be daunting. You will need to hire a developer or developers and agree a development plan. This process in itself could take several months before a line of code is even written. There will be snags and delays along the way, as there is in any development process, and you will have to keep tightly to your scope to enable your developers to deliver on time. A ‘from the ground up’ ecommerce development is a large undertaking, which you should be aware of well in advance of beginning the project.

Ongoing development and support

White label solutions provide you with a point of contact for support should something go wrong and, as mentioned, they will develop the product, often in line with client feedback and requests. For in-house solutions you will need to plan for this with your developers. If your developers worked for you on a project basis then how will they provide support, what level of support will they provide and what will it cost. If your developers were on your payroll then will someone else be able to support and develop the product if they leave?

Create your roadmap to scope effectively

Whilst answering those questions about your developers it is also important to plan your ecommerce solution’s roadmap. You should have a ‘version one’ ecommerce solution that represents the basic functionality you need to ‘go live’. But then where should the ecommerce solution you have made go? What functionality will help you to sell online effectively? Creating this future roadmap will also help you to see the whole scope of an in-house development project.

Hire a 3rd party developer to build your B2B ecommerce

Instead of looking for an individual developer or developers yourself, you could research and find a company who develop bespoke solutions for their clients. This is an option for clients, but usually clients wanting a bespoke ecommerce solution are larger-than-average, with complex requirements. The budgets required for a tailored solution, whether through us or an alternative source, are typically much bigger than the budgets needed for white labelled solutions or even in-house hires.

What’s their specific experience?

When hiring a 3rd party developer, try to dig into their background as much as possible. B2B ecommerce is a unique offering. Have they ever built a B2B ecommerce solution before? How did it go? What technology do their developments run on and why is it suited to B2B ecommerce? There are a lot of developers out there and in this sort of relationship you will want to make sure you are choosing the right one.

Ongoing development and support

As with an in-house hire, the future of your solution is going to be important. Most development companies will quote for both the initial build and ongoing support. Check that this includes the future development of your solution and if there are any limitations on this. For example, are you limited to a number of new features being added per year, or an amount of time the developers will work on the ecommerce solution for you?

Risks and costs

The cost of a 3rd party development company can be higher than the other options here and there are risks associated with these projects. Normally a bespoke approach using a 3rd party developer is needed when there are complex requirements, not currently catered for by software on the market. Addressing these requirements carries some risk, though the rewards can also be great. In the ideal world your finished solution will be completely tailored to what you need and offer functionality not available to your competitors. For that sort of solution though you will need an appropriate budget and the time available to wait for development to take place.

The fourth option: a mixture of all three

When ‘white label’ isn’t really white label

There are several options within the marketplace which offer a mixture of all three approaches. In theory, the platform is a ‘white label’ solution, but to enable it to work for you, you will need to employ the services of a developer, either as an internal hire or external partner. Magento is a good example of this sort of approach, the benefit being that you are using established, feature-rich technology.

Beware escalating costs in B2B

This hybrid approach though comes with many of the risks associated with each way of getting your store online, whilst the benefits are often sidelined. The benefits of a white label solution, for example, include speed of deployment. A large solution such as Magento can take months or even years to roll out completely, negating this benefit. This is especially true of a B2B deployment. Magento’s history is as a B2C online platform, meaning B2B deployments carry increased development costs and elapsed time to go live.

Speak to case studies

If you’re considering a solution such as this, which mixes a platform and a bespoke development approach, then strongly consider speaking to case studies. How do current or previous users find the platform? Did the deployment go as planned? What budget did they have and did they stick to it. A hybrid approach can work, but the risks are significant and thorough exploration of suitability is recommended.

Weighing up your options

The choice between your three (or four) options will depend on various factors but is ultimately often about weighing up the ability to design your ideal ecommerce solution yourself with what is available in the marketplace right now. Speed of delivery, cost, functionality and future development are all common assessment criteria to look at very closely as you make your choice and build your B2B ecommerce solution of the future. Good luck and let us know if we can help.

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