Target and Toys R Us posted overall sales declines during the holidays.
B2B buyers and sellers face significant challenges in linking e-commerce systems to business management software, based on an analysis of companies profiled in the first-ever and newly published 2015 Guide to B2B E-Commerce.
Christian Art Gifts had a functional home-grown e-commerce site until early 2014. But the B2B e-commerce site did not integrate well with its Microsoft Dynamics financial and inventory management software, says company owner Heinrich Johnsen. That made it difficult to update inventory availability on the e-commerce site as it processed online orders, Johnsen says.
Christian Art Gifts, a wholesaler of art and gift items, carries about 2,000 SKUs. It offers a constantly changing mix of products ranging from books and day planners to necklaces, leather wallets and coffee mugs. Its products carry a Christian or inspirational theme, such as with imprinted crosses or terms of hope and encouragement.
Johnsen, a former business and technology consultant at an international consulting firm, at first figured he would find a new e-commerce platform and customer relationship management software to plug into the Dynamics application. But that didn’t go as easily as he had hoped. “I realized it would be a very complex integration,” he says. As a B2B e-commerce site, with a wide range of customers from major retail chains like Barnes & Noble to small, independent merchants, Christian Art Gifts required tight integration between its e-commerce and accounting and inventory software. That is necessary, for example, to show each business customer the price discounts it has negotiated at each tier of order volume.
Johnsen opted instead for a new system from NetSuite Inc., SuiteCommerce, which provides an e-commerce site integrated with NetSuite’s business software for managing financial, inventory and other records. Christian Art Gifts is developing its new NetSuite platform in phases. The site now accommodates small purchases by individual consumers as well as bulk orders by business customers who can log in to view their contract pricing.
Christian Art Gifts is like many B2B companies that want to use e-commerce technology to provide an enhanced customer experience that parallels the B2C experience, but that face significant challenges in doing so, ranging from cultural change to cost. And while many companies selling to other businesses, government agencies and educational institutions—essentially manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers—are wrestling with integrating e-commerce systems with business management systems, many more have yet to move beyond the most basic e-commerce capabilities, experts say.
“E-commerce is not entirely new for B2B companies, but for many it’s with solutions they have used since five to 10 years ago. It’s rudimentary—real basic e-commerce,” says Peter Sheldon, vice president and technology analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “If you look at some of those with a ‘B2C’ hat on, it would seem like you’re in a time machine.”
But a growing number of B2B companies are realizing the opportunities of e-commerce and are making a business case for it, Sheldon says. “They are bringing in a vice president of e-commerce and implementing next-generation e-commerce platforms,” he says.
B2B companies are adding e-commerce and integrating an array of software in order to make it easier for customers to renew or place orders with a few clicks. That frees up call center agents from handling routine reorders and lets them concentrate on cross-selling and upselling. It also frees company sales reps from handling standing reorders and concentrating on top customers that place big orders for new products.
Further details on how B2B companies are integrating e-commerce systems and working with systems integrators can be found in the 2015 Guide to B2B E-Commerce. The guide covers how and why companies develop their own e-commerce sites with special features catering to the needs of their customers, such as personalized displays of online content and pricing tied to customers’ purchasing needs and contract terms; trends in B2B e-marketplaces and procurement networks, where buyers can connect with large numbers of suppliers; and the development and use of procurement software that enables companies to manage how their corporate buyers purchase products and services from authorized suppliers.
Order the first-ever 2015 Guide to B2B E-Commerce today.