B2B e-commerce platforms: will it be all-in-one, best-of-breed or headless?Best Practice: Fluiconnecto | MS Schippers

B2B e-commerce platforms: will it be all-in-one, best-of-breed or headless?

B2B customers expect a richer purchasing environment and more content when they search for products or services. For many B2B companies, this is a reason to replace traditional e-commerce and ERP systems by more flexible platforms. Three experienced experts talk about how organizations nowadays reach the best possible decision for a B2B digital commerce platform.

Forrester’s research shows that fast time-to-market, personalization, omnichannel support and data analytics are the most important requirements that B2B companies pose when it comes to an e-commerce platform. Dirk de Bruijn is a freelance e-commerce professional and is familiar with those requirements. “I help organizations find the right platform and its implementation. There are two possible reasons for this change: this is the organization’s first entry into e-commerce, or the old system is no longer sufficient. At the moment, for instance, I am working for an organization that used an online order system that is linked to the ERP system. They are ready for a more advanced solution. But it also occurs quite often that companies use a system that is rigid and inflexible, due to which they cannot keep up with the fast developments in the field of e-commerce and the time-to-market is too long. If the business model changes, it’s a lot of work adapting such a traditional system to that.”

Personalization also plays an important part in Dirk’s experience in the B2B segment. “For instance, this often relates to customer-specific prices. The e-commerce package should be able to cope with that. In addition, you want to serve the right content based on the customer profile. If someone is browsing a certain product category all the time, that category should be highlighted. That can also be done in a proactive way; if you know when someone bought a certain coffee maker, you can predict when he/she needs what in terms of coffee beans, accessories and maintenance. This obviously results in the requirement that the platform should be able to collect and analyze data. You cannot personalize the platform without that information.”

According to Dirk, the omnichannel demand is customer-driven. They want to make a purchase with self and full service, online and offline, directly and indirectly. “A mix of channels needs to be facilitated. A representative should also be able to use the e-commerce package to place the customer’s order.”

Which set-up?

Apart from functional requirements, companies also need to consider the set-up of the e-commerce platform itself. Forrester distinguishes three options for this:

All-in-one

An all-in-one solution offers all the cornerstones of e-commerce (commerce management, marketing, experience management, order management and PIM). According to Forrester, this is mainly interesting for companies that wish to replace their existing platform, medium-sized enterprises that don’t have the budget to match various tools to one another, and companies that have just started developing their e-commerce. Furthermore, Dirk de Bruijn sees possibilities for pure players. “I recently talked to a wholesaler who established a separate online formula, for which sales can only be made through internet. If you want to make a quick start with that, an all-in-one solution is a good choice.”

Best-of-breed

It is also possible to buy the best solution for each required functionality on the market and to link all those solutions. That is time- and money-consuming. A more strategic approach is to take an e-commerce platform as your starting point and implement additional top tools where needed. This mostly happens on enterprise level and with companies that have a lot of experience in e-commerce.

Headless

Headless e-commerce platforms have no front end, which means that the user interface needs to be custom-made. Companies that choose this option mainly have web CMS and marketing toolsets which they want to continue using, or they wish to innovate with e-commerce on new interfaces like conversational or social commerce. “I have seen this solution at one company so far,” Dirk says. “They had an ERP system for all back-end processes, a data asset management tool for photos and videos, and an e-commerce platform. All that data was rendered through a Javascript generator that makes up the front end. This specific company was extremely focused on speed at the front end, which means a short loading time of the site for the user.”

 

Choosing in practice: Fluiconnecto

Fluiconnecto is specialized in hydraulics and active in 31 countries. At the end of last year, it was decided to ‘rig up’ e-commerce, Group E-commerce Manager Krimo Maadi says. “More and more customers want to be able to make their orders online and, in addition, we see it as a good opportunity to acquire new customers. Our products are also very suitable for this. That is why we started last year looking into how we can set this up.”

The starting point in selecting an e-commerce platform is mainly zooming in on company-specific requirements, Krimo says. “Nowadays, every platform offers the key standard functionalities, like a shopping cart. For us at Fluiconnecto, it is important that the platform is suitable for the management of multiple web shops in various languages and that we can allocate roles to employees with the corresponding authorization levels. We designed the marketing decentrally, because local people know the market best. However, they don’t need to see in detail what happens in other countries.”

In the selection process, Krimo chose not to focus on the standard functionalities. “You can download the feature list from the supplier’s website. We mainly looked at the vendor themselves and their partners, the financial model, the platform’s architecture integration possibilities and user friendliness. So, the RFP/RFI mainly focused on corporate and technical points that are relevant when making such an investment. From there on, we decided on the platform first, then, we invited implementation partners for interactive demonstration of a number of specific use cases in order for us to see how partners would handle this, how the dynamics with the supplier are, etc. We went through this procedure in three months.”

After that, we picked Intershop as platform with a separate PIM tool on the side. “Along the way, we will purchase other tools as well, we are going for the best-of-breed approach. But that is still a long way off. The current basis is sufficient to make a decent start.”

 

MS Schippers: B2C look & feel, B2B back end

Jules van der Werf is marketing manager at MS Schippers, which is a supplier for farming companies. The web shop is active in ten countries and in seven languages, and is characterized by a B2C look & feel. “Of course, that is a deliberate choice. We want to attract new customers and that is easier when the site feels familiar.”

An important requirement in the selection of an e-commerce platform was that it can handle these new technological developments (mobile, responsive) and the various country sites and languages. At the back end, the system had to be able to support a number of specific B2B features. “Repeat orders are very important in our field, something that does not apply so much for amazon.com and Newegg, for instance. In addition, we make sure that the various types of farming companies reach the right information by means of favorites lists. A poultry farmer can have chickens for the eggs, but also for breeding. Both need different products. But the personalization goes even further than that. A pig farmer will no longer see a picture of a cow on our website. This creates a tension field, because the amount of content increases a lot if you want to do this right. We are now figuring out how fast we can implement this.”

According to Jules, another typical B2B feature, which the platform should be able to handle, is the fact that farmers often have multiple companies. “If they have numerous stables, they are accommodated in separate private companies. But the owner should be able to see what has been ordered elsewhere, so it should be easy to switch between accounts. The pricing policy is also a big difference between B2B and B2C. We have price agreements with various customers and they need to be processed online, otherwise they won’t be able to order in the web shop. Differences in dangerous goods taxes, yet increase complexity.”

All of this made them choose Intershop. “Another fact that came into play was that we have a couple of Java developers here that have a lot of experience with this platform. That makes a difference in the implementation time. In 23 weeks, we went live in ten countries. Now we are in the feedback phase. Our sales employees use the same system as the customer and that provides us with a lot of positive responses. Therefore, my most important suggestions to those that are faced with a decision on a commerce platform are: a) make sure you have a clear view of the company-specific qualities the system needs to fulfill and b) involve the employees in the improvement of the user experience.”

 

More successful case studies are available in http://www.intershop.com/case-studies

Tobias Giese

Director Sales Solutions

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