Originally published March 6, 2018. Refreshed Jul 12, 2022.
In the post-COVID world, B2B eCommerce is essential for manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers. Whatever your business model, you need some form of B2B eCommerce.
That part’s easy. The hard part is comparing B2B eCommerce platforms—and understanding which option is best for you.
That’s why we created a FREE chart comparing the top 6 B2B eCommerce platforms. Download it now:
Need more information? This topic is actually quite complex. Let’s dive in (click to jump).
I. Compare the top B2B eCommerce platforms
There are more options than ever for B2B eCommerce. However, it’s best to narrow down your choices so you’re only comparing the top platforms.
In our free comparison chart, we analyze these 6 platforms:
- SAP Commerce Cloud
1. SAP Commerce Cloud: Robust solution for large organizations with available IT resources
SAP Commerce Cloud is a powerful solution for large enterprises. It offers incredible functionality like context-driven services for personalization, embedded PIM, and a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor for storefronts.
For organizations that need deep integration to SAP ERP, Commerce Cloud may create too much heavy lifting—especially if IT resources are scarce. In particular, manufacturers who just need a B2B customer portal may find Commerce Cloud difficult to swallow. In those cases, SAP recommends Corevist as an alternative.
2. The Corevist Platform: Managed B2B customer portals & eCommerce, integrated to SAP ERP
Corevist is built for manufacturers who aren’t ready for huge transformational projects. Our solutions are delivered under a multi-tenant SaaS model, which means fast launch and expansion. They also include prebuilt integration to SAP ERP so that every transaction conforms to the relevant business rules, hands-free. Most of our clients have no full-time resources dedicated to supporting their Corevist solution.
3. Adobe/Magento: Great fit for B2C and simpler B2B scenarios in the mid-market
Magento comes in two flavors.
As the name suggests, Magento Open Source is an open-source eCommerce platform. You’re 100% on your own with Magento Open Source, although a rich ecosystem of third-party developers and plugins can help you build your B2B eCommerce site.
Adobe Commerce, formerly Magento Commerce, offers a PaaS (platform as a service) delivery model.
Either version of Magento should work well for a midmarket organization that doesn’t need comprehensive integration to SAP ERP.
4. Salesforce: Enterprise-class solution requiring significant IT resources
Salesforce offers tons of frontend capabilities for a powerful, flexible, B2C-style experience in B2B eCommerce. You buy the platform, then use internal teams (or outsourced developers) to build out a solution using components and customizations tailored to your unique needs.
With all this power comes great responsibility. Your organization must take full ownership of the technology stack through a dedicated team. How well that plays may depend on your specific customizations and version management against new cloud releases.
5, 6. Shopify and Bigcommerce: Excellent for SMBs and lower end mid-market without complex SAP integration requirements
Small businesses need to plug and play. Depending on the use case, Shopify and Bigcommerce can fill this need with minimal technical involvement from the merchant.
As with Magento, the challenge arises when the organization needs comprehensive integration to SAP ERP. Because Shopify and Bigcommerce are built as standalone platforms, they’ll require a third system sitting between eCommerce and ERP to pass data back and forth. For various reasons, this complex architecture can create problems for companies without a lot of IT resources.
Read more here: Direct B2B eCommerce Integration vs. Middleware.
II. How do you find the best B2B eCommerce platform for your organization?
There’s no such thing as “the #1 B2B eCommerce platform for every company.” Some platforms are ideal for organizations with lots of IT resources, while others are tailored to companies whose IT staff can’t take on a new responsibility. Every platform makes compromises to deliver what their target market needs most.
So what’s right for you? What criteria should you consider?
At a high level, there are 2 primary factors that should guide your choice.
- The availability of your IT resources to support B2B eCommerce
- The depth of ERP integration that you need
Analyzing your IT resources
Does your existing IT staff have the capacity (and expertise) to support your ideal B2B eCommerce platform?
If not, are you prepared to hire new staff or outsource this responsibility?
If you’re outsourcing, are you buying more firepower than you need? Or are you keeping things lean and mean?
Some B2B eCommerce platforms are designed to run as managed solutions with minimal effort from your IT department. (The Corevist Platform falls into this category.) Others require bigger projects and dedicated IT resources to support.
Use our FREE comparison chart to see how many in-house resources each platform typically requires. Then look at your available staff (or lack thereof) and consider what life might look like with each platform.
Analyzing your ERP integration needs
At a high level, either your B2B eCommerce solution will act as the system of record for your business—or another system will. Most organizations launching B2B eCommerce already have their ERP system in place. Usually, this system is the boss.
Consequently, it’s essential to integrate the B2B eCommerce solution with the ERP.
But how powerful does that integration need to be?
For some organizations, it’s enough to synchronize data for transactions and inventory following regular intervals. There’s no such thing as customer-specific pricing or inventory allocations. Customers aren’t blocked from seeing certain SKUs, and the merchant doesn’t offer purchasing on account—only credit card payments at checkout.
These scenarios are relatively simple. They look a lot like B2C.
They’re not the norm in B2B—particularly for manufacturers.
In fact, manufacturers have unique needs when it comes to ERP integration. Sure, orders and inventory need to stay current in eCommerce and the ERP—that’s a given. But manufacturers need far more.
Typically, they only work with known customers—and those relationships are governed by contracts. The contract may stipulate the customer’s pricing, service level, credit terms, and the product availability that the manufacturer will offer.
When different customers have different terms, and those relationships are fully defined in the ERP, you’ll find yourself in the deep end.
You’ll need comprehensive ERP integration.
III. Top B2B eCommerce platform features
At this point in the game, all B2B eCommerce platforms offer the same essential core features. Basic B2B eCommerce technology has become fully commoditized. For most merchants, the devil is no longer in the details of features, but in big-picture things like impact to your IT workload, impact to your data landscape, and agility.
That said, features are still an important baseline. With no features, there’s no B2B eCommerce!
And for organizations with specialized needs, the devil is in the detail of features.
- Quick price and availability check (real-time ERP integration required)
- Personalized inventory/ATP (available to promise) that reflects ERP business rules
- Instant order posting to the ERP with all relevant ERP business rules enforced
- Dynamic reports pulled from the ERP in real time
- Email order automation with real-time, error-free posting to the ERP
The main thing is to know what matters to your customers and your internal business processes. Read more here: Top 32 B2B eCommerce Features To Look For.
IV. B2B eCommerce solution providers: What to look for
Your solution provider will look different depending on the platform (and delivery model) that you choose.
If you choose a managed SaaS solution, your provider may handle the implementation and ongoing support (as Corevist does). On any other platform, you may have one provider who implements the software and another who supports it after GoLive.
When it comes to ERP integration, you may need another provider if your chosen platform doesn’t support the integration out of the box. (This is one reason Corevist comes with prebuilt, configurable SAP integration.)
Whatever model and platform you choose, your solution provider should demonstrate certain qualities. In a nutshell, they should defend your interests better than any other provider.
Here are your interests in B2B eCommerce—interests which the provider should fight to protect.
- They should strive to delight YOUR customers
- They should do no harm to your business, customer relationships, or IT landscape
- They shouldn’t saddle you with technical debt
- They should strive to cut your costs
V. B2B eCommerce: SaaS or on-premises?
In our FREE chart comparing B2B platforms, we analyze the impact of each platform on your IT team. Not surprisingly, some platforms have minimal impact, while others will need a dedicated team.
The big factor here is the software delivery model.
Old-school B2B eCommerce was always on-premises. You licensed the software, set up your servers, installed, integrated, and supported it yourself—or outsourced these functions to various partners.
On-premises still offers benefits for organizations that need total control. However, in today’s post-COVID world, it’s better to get online fast with prebuilt solutions than spend months (or years) reinventing the wheel.
For organizations that need to launch (and iterate) fast, a true multi-tenant SaaS model is superior. It allows your organization to iterate quickly with new product lines and go-to-market strategies—without requiring you to own your technology stack. Your organization can focus on your core competencies rather than investing in infrastructure and coordinating multiple support vendors.
Read more here: 3 Questions To Ask About B2B eCommerce SaaS Solutions.
VI. B2B eCommerce platform cost
Cost is an essential consideration for any B2B eCommerce platform. It’s not enough for a platform to be affordable. It has to offer a clear path to ROI and business growth.
It’s impossible to give hard numbers for various B2B eCommerce platforms—largely because there are so many variables. However, at a high level, here are the principles that drive cost in a B2B eCommerce platform.
- Software delivery model. Is the B2B platform SaaS or on-premises? SaaS solutions typically have a low up-front cost and a lower ongoing cost, as all maintenance and support is offloaded to a third-party provider. Under this model, economies of scale reduce cost for the provider, which allows the merchant to get the same services at a much lower cost than supporting an on-premises solution.
- Complexity of ERP integration requirements. This is the #1 thing that organizations overlook when forecasting the cost of a B2B eCommerce platform. The cost and complexity of ERP integration can shipwreck platforms that don’t include integration out of the box. This is an essential consideration if you need deep ERP integration for things like contract pricing, real-time inventory, real-time credit status, mapping of sold-to/ship-to/payer relationships, and so on.
VII. B2B eCommerce platform architecture
Here’s where the rubber meets the road (from an IT perspective).
Simply put, some B2B eCommerce platforms offer an architecture that includes ERP integration.
Others require you (or a third party) to design a bolt-on ERP integration—which expands the cost and complexity of your B2B eCommerce architecture.
VIII. What about headless B2B eCommerce?
In a nutshell, headless B2B eCommerce is an architecture in which the technology supporting the front-end user experience is disconnected from the back-end B2B eCommerce databases. It allows freedom to develop the front end separately without having to modify the back end.
- Is UX (user experience) a competitive differentiator for you?
- Are you moving existing customers online or pursuing new customers?
- Do you have the resources to do headless B2B commerce well?
Read this post to start answering those questions: Headless B2B Commerce—What You Need To Know.
IX. B2B eCommerce personalization
Personalization is essential in B2B eCommerce—particularly if your users are known customers buying from you under contract. With unique pricing, availability, and credit terms, your known customers need granular personalization that typically comes from ERP integration.
- Personalized catalog
- Personalized pricing
- Personalized, real-time inventory availability (or ATP)
- Personalized ship-to/sold-to selection
Read this article to understand these features (PLUS 3 more): 7 Must-Haves In Personalized B2B eCommerce.
X. B2B eCommerce best practices
While every merchant has different needs, there are certain principles that apply to nearly every B2B eCommerce project. They’re essential to understand because they directly influence your choice as you compare B2B eCommerce platforms.
- Include the voice of the customer in your project methodology.
- Start small (with order and invoice tracking) on a B2B eCommerce platform that’s ready to grow.
- Consider your ERP integration carefully.
- Don’t create more technical debt through 3rd-party connectors.
Want more best practices? Check out this post: Top 10 B2B Ecommerce Best Practices For Manufacturers.
XI. Best B2B eCommerce sites
What does a great B2B portal or eCommerce site look like?
Most articles on this topic focus on unique, impressive user experiences. That’s definitely important in some B2B eCommerce markets—but not in all.
As a general rule of thumb, the more industrial the market (and the more the customers are already known and registered), the less important that B2C-style branding is. Rather than a unique, consumer-style look and feel, these B2B eCommerce merchants typically need comprehensive, real-time ERP integration to provide customer-specific data and experiences.
So what makes a B2B eCommerce site “the best?”
Meeting the needs of customers—no matter how challenging.
Along those lines, here’s one of our top favorite B2B eCommerce sites.
Top B2B eCommerce Site: Emmerson Packaging
As a leading manufacturer of packaging solutions, Emmerson gives their customers significant control over order placement and stock releasing from the warehouse. To create the best B2B eCommerce experience for their customers, Emmerson had to find a solution with a deep integration to SAP ERP. This was the only way to empower customers with self-service—because all those complex processes are defined in SAP.
Read more here: 6 Great B2B Portal Examples.
Wrap-up: The key to comparing B2B platforms
To really compare B2B eCommerce platforms, you have to go deeper than features. You need to look at the way those features are delivered—and what that means for your data landscape, your IT resources, and how it will affect your ERP practice.
When it comes down to it, even the top B2B eCommerce platforms don’t have great answers for complex ERP integration. By nature, they will compete with your ERP to be the system of record for your business. Third-party connectors may pass data back and forth, but that complexity creates new (and increasing) technical debt.
If you have IT resources to handle it, this approach works.
If you don’t have those resources, it doesn’t.
This is why the Corevist Platform includes prebuilt, configurable SAP integration. Corevist leverages your investment in SAP ERP for B2B eCommerce—without introducing technical debt.