Ecommerce is no longer the exclusive domain of B2C businesses. Nowadays, B2B businesses are increasingly turning to online solutions for direct sales of their services and products. Manufacturers, wholesalers and materials suppliers are augmenting their sales and expanding their customer base with comprehensive online purchasing experiences. From quote requests to completed sales transactions, these B2B businesses are leveraging the tools built for the B2C world as their customers are demanding these ecommerce options more and more.
Depending on your particular needs, there are packages available that provide a vast amount of canned functionality while still allowing you to have a custom online experience that matches up with your sales process. Software and Software-As-A-Service (SAAS) providers such as Magento, Volusion, and Bigcommerce all offer a safe and secure online sales environment coupled with a flexible CMS and comprehensive APIs.
For relatively straight-forward sales and quoting processes, we use and recommend Shopify. We’ve built a number of sites using it and it’s has a surprising amount of flexibility and security at decent price point. If you don’t need a full-blown custom solution (or it’s not cost-effective), Shopify is a good place to start building your B2B online shopping presence. First things first, let's discuss what we like about Shopify overall.
Speed of access and transaction time
While there are other sites that perform admirably in this vital area, few can compare to the lightning-fast page loading and order processing capabilities Shopify offers its customers. The last thing any business owner wants to worry about is losing a customer to a competitor because their site is slow to load or complete the customer's transaction. If your eCommerce site lags behind, you're not going to be able to seal the deal and keep customers happy and coming back for more.
Data security and PCI compliance
Maintaining a secure integrated payment system that protects customers' financial data, and is compliant with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard requirements is the bedrock of both virtual and brick-and-mortar businesses. That kind of peace of mind is invaluable to owners, and Shopify doesn't disappoint. Freeing yourself from worries about hacked accounts and data breaches allows you to get back to the sales and marketing of your product line.
The analytical tools built into Shopify are tailored to the needs of ecommerce. They created an intuitive, attractive interface to allow users to easily track sales, orders and general traffic patterns to to help grow your business.
Accessible customer support
This is an area where Shopify excels. Whether it's a troublesome tech issue or something related to the marketing concept, reliable and knowledgeable customer assistance is only a click or phone call away. Shopify also maintains a vast database of frequently addressed topics, as well as an interactive forum to share your experiences with other users. Having somewhere to turn when you are tapped out of answers is worth its weight in gold.
Bundled solutions tailored to the needs of your business
Whether you prefer a basic approach for your fledgling business or are seeking an option with all the bells and whistles, Shopify has a plan to fit the needs of your company.
The old adage, "If you build it, they will come" was never intended for eCommerce companies. Shopify offers a plethora of marketing resources and tools in their App Marketplace that can be purchased as add-ons to their packages. Got SEO? Shopify does, along with meta descriptions and title tags customized to generate click-through traffic to your store.
Shopify has a comprehensive RESTful API. If Shopify doesn’t do something out of the box, the API is the way to get it added. It offers both XML and JSON payloads but XML is being deprecated so any new development should be done in JSON. The documentation is extensive and the API reaches into just about every aspect of the system. Access to the API is throttled, meaning you can’t just blast requests at it because they’ll start failing once you hit your threshold. So far this hasn’t been a limiting factor but it does force you to think carefully about your app and what you’re trying to accomplish. We’ve used the API extensively for data importing as well as building full-featured fulfillment systems with integrated shipping and back-office accounting interfaces.
Ultimately, the beauty of Shopify is it’s simplicity. The straight forward interface makes for a great user experience for site administrators and the end user. That simplicity is also what may rule it out for B2B. These sales more complex than B2C sales for many reasons:
- Often higher ticket item goods require more than one person to make final purchase decision and an involved quoting process
- Goods are often not kept in stock and may be made-to-order
- Final pricing may require negotiation, special discounts and may be tiered based on client type or quantity of sale
- Buyers are often quite knowledgable and require more in-depth product information
- Billing may be invoice based or involve just partial payments
- Shipping methods may require freight shipping or ongoing scheduled shipments
To address these needs, there are several Shopify applications, add-ons and workarounds for wholesalers and other businesses. These tools provide functionality like minimum order limits, freight shipping, made-to-order sales, recurring orders and volume based pricing. However, in general, the more scenarios above that apply to your business, the more likely that Shopify is not the right fit. These add-ons increase the monthly cost of Shopify and the likelihood that a fully custom website would better fit the needs of your marketing and sales teams alike. For other businesses, it’s worth taking inventory of your needs to see if an ecommerce solution like Shopify might fit the bill.