The line between B2C and B2B businesses have blurred with the advent of online shopping.
Just like end-users are doing most of their research, price-comparisons, and final purchasing decisions online, so are businesses looking to purchase from other businesses.
Therefore, wholesalers need a feature-rich ecommerce platform just as much as B2C entities. In fact, I could argue they need it more because of the sheer scale and complexity a wholesale operation requires.
In this post, we’ll unpack why an ecommerce platform is a non-negotiable for wholesale organizations. We’ll also outline some actionable strategies for building out a future-proof ecommerce sales cycle from top-to-bottom.
Defining Our Terms
Advancements in ecommerce technology are constant. As with any rapidly-evolving industry or school of thought, we need to be crystal clear on our terms. Defining things helps avoid confusion.
Here are the most current and comprehensive definitions of some relevant ecommerce terms:
A wholesaler is a company or person that buys products in bulk from manufacturers and sells them to B2C entities like retailers. Wholesalers assume the responsibility and carrying costs of housing huge scores of inventory.
They also enjoy bulk discounts, which allow them to make a profit when they resell to retailers. Simply, they act as a middleman between retailers and manufacturers.
Wholesale is a lucrative business that requires a sizeable investment. Storage at such a grand scale demands large or multiple warehouses, as well as a team to maintain them.
Wholesale eCommerce platform
A wholesale ecommerce platform is a digital system that facilitates wholesale purchases over the internet.
The definition grows in complexity from there, but that’s the basic idea. We’ll extensively explore how ecommerce platforms help streamline the overall wholesale selling and purchasing process later in this post.
It’s important to note that under the umbrella of “wholesale ecommerce platform” are two very different types of software: a B2B wholesale platform and a B2B wholesale marketplace.
B2B wholesale platform
B2B wholesale platforms (such as BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and Shopify) are services that provide a full-bodied digital storefront for your business. These often include marketing features, blogging capabilities, and a host of integrations.
Many organizations have built their entire business model within the ecosystem of one of these platforms.
Some of the advantages of these services are they have rich feature-sets for content marketing, they’re highly customizable, and they integrate with hundreds of existing business applications.
That said, in order to be successful, they do require an investment of time for setup and branding, and they often take a percentage of sales revenue or charge a monthly fee.
B2B wholesale marketplace
B2B wholesale marketplaces are best described as “Amazon.com for wholesalers.” They’re searchable marketplaces that specialize in selling your wholesale products to retailers.
Examples of these services are Alibaba, eWorld Trade, and Made in China. Rather than setting up a storefront, your wholesale customers wade through a deluge of products and find your wares through search.
Some advantages of these platforms is they’re often free to join, they don’t require much setup, and there’s no brand-building or web development required.
It’s about as simple as listing something on eBay.
However, on the flipside of that coin, the lack of customizability mean it’s impossible to build a custom design into your product offering. Brand-building can’t happen, and you’re subject to just being another product on the marketplace.
Therefore, it’s hard to build a loyal following of customers and you have almost no control over your aesthetic or pre- and post-sale treatment of your prospects and customers.
For this reason, we recommend going with a B2B wholesale platform as opposed to a marketplace, but it’s important to recognize the latter as an option for your business.
Why Do Wholesalers Need an Ecommerce Platform?
So why all this hassle over setting up a storefront? Why hire a designer and marketing expert to build out this comprehensive sales funnel?
Whatever happened to the good ‘ol days where B2B businesses could make deals directly with retailers through isolated channels and none of this fancy internet marketing stuff was necessary?
The bottom line is this: thanks in large part to Amazon and other modern online retailers, the modern buyer has come to expect a specific type of buying experience.
In other words, B2B customers expect a B2C experience. What does this mean exactly?
A few different things:
An automated buying experience
Wholesalers don’t want to deal with quotes, sales reps, or long sales cycles just as much as you don’t when you’re picking up a new TV on Amazon.
That means implementing a sales process that can be done through the web without talking to a single human. Yes, even for large-scale bulk purchases, this should become the norm.
Thankfully, many ecommerce platforms support this functionality out of the box, as we’ll discuss in more depth later.
Rapid response times
On the flipside, when B2B buyers do want to talk to a human, they expect rapid response times. Consider implementing a chatbot on your site or have strict SLA (service-level agreements) for callbacks or live chat.
An easy mobile experience
If someone told you 20 years ago that customers would be purchasing tens of thousands of dollars worth of wholesale product by moving their fingers across a piece of glass, you’d nod your head and silently think they were insane.
The truth is, buyers expect a seamless mobile buying experience. Again, we can thank our modern ecommerce retailers for this.
If your ideal customer can’t purchase a large amount of product from your mobile-optimized site on their iPad, you will miss out on revenue — it’s a fact.
Thankfully, most B2B ecommerce platforms come prepackaged with mobile responsiveness, so your site can look great (and accept payment) on any device.
The Revenue of B2B, the User-friendliness of B2C
There’s a new standard of wholesale operations — revenue at the scale of a true B2B business (over 250% more than B2C, by the way), with the smooth, streamlined experience of a B2C transaction.
Wholesalers shouldn’t dread this. On the contrary, it should get them excited. Ecommerce platforms are at the bleeding edge of this technology and have done a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
Taking a piece of that sweet B2B revenue pie while providing an excellent experience to your client is an absolute win all around.
What to Look For in a B2B Ecommerce Platform
So you’re sold — perhaps even excited — on the importance of implementing a B2B Ecommerce platform. What in the world do you do next?
In this next section, we’ll walk through some of the essentials of what you should look for when shopping your ecommerce solution. Some of these may be more applicable to your business than others.
That said, you should have an eye on all of them if you want to optimize the entire wholesale buying experience from end-to-end.
If you don’t sell through multiple channels, you need to rectify that today. Making your products available on multiple channels brings in an average of 190% more sales than single-channel businesses.
While many of these channels offer reporting features, who wants to spend their time logging into five different marketplaces or reading through reports to try to discern channel success?
Modern ecommerce platforms will integrate all of your channels into one dashboard. You have a single source of revenue truth that can you drill down into to investigate the success of particular storefronts.
It’s the best of both worlds: a high-level picture of revenue growth and the ability to get granular on the success of each channel.
Not only does this keep things organized, but it helps you double-down on successful channels and eliminate or optimize channels that aren’t working.
Third-party integration support
An ecommerce platform is one touchpoint in your sales cycle. There’s also the pre-sale phase that includes SEO, content marketing, lead nurturing, and funnel optimization. Then, the post-sale phase of inventory management, customer service, up-selling, cross-selling, and ongoing customer success.
A wide variety of software tools exist that B2B businesses use to facilitate these needs, and it’s imperative your ecommerce solution of choice integrates with each of them.
Integration allows anything that happens in your ecommerce platform to talk to other applications. Therefore, you can set up a largely automated system based on certain buying actions and triggers.
Here are a few specific things you’ll want to make sure your ecommerce platform of choice integrates with:
– CRM Integration
While most ecommerce platforms have basic CRM dashboards, if you’re serious about growing your business and actually building out a robust library of customer data, you’ll need a CRM like HubSpot or Salesforce.
These offer more robust data storage features, funnel stages, and revenue reporting.
CRM integration is pretty standard on most ecommerce platforms, but you’ll still want to make sure that whatever CRM you use is supported by your software of choice.
Even better is a two-way integration that allows purchases made within the ecommerce platform to affect data in the CRM, and changes within the CRM to be populated in the platform.
If you choose to switch platforms down the line or you just want a granular look at your sales data, you can rest assured that it’s safely documented and accessible from within your CRM.
– Marketing Automation Integration
Another integration forward-thinking organizations will want is with marketing automation platforms like Marketo, Pardot, and ConvertKit.
Marketing automation platforms allow for things like:
- Lead scoring – scoring prospects on how likely they are to purchase
- Lead nurturing – sending emails that are custom-tailored to a customer’s pain points and how they’ve interacted with your content
For example, let’s say you have two leads: one has clicked through a few of your social posts and read a few blogs, while the other has loaded products into their shopping cart and abandoned them.
Lead scoring allows you to determine which of these leads are most likely to purchase (the latter) and send emails or other communications based on their position in the sales cycle.
– Web Analytics Integration
If you use WooCommerce, Shopify, or BigCommerce, you’ll likely be building your web presence in the ecosystem of these platforms.
Smart B2B wholesalers know the buying process is a journey, not a one-time transaction. Leads may come to the website, browse for a bit, and then bounce.
Content marketing like video, search-optimized blog posts, and infographics nudge leads down the funnel, but the process can take days or weeks.
In order to judge performance of your web content as well as how leads interact with your online presence, you need access to a web analytics engine like Google Analytics.
Again, many ecommerce platforms come equipped with rudimentary analytics that can give you basic insights, but an integration with a more robust service is a must, especially if you want a granular look at how your customers are interacting with your website.
An integration into an analytics platform allows you to set goals, view your most searched-for content, see how well your pages perform through bounce rates and abandonment rates, and determine regional demographics on who’s visiting your site.
– Email Marketing Integration
If you’re not quite ready for the large-scale investment of a marketing automation platform like Marketo, email marketing platforms like MailChimp or ConvertKit are free for small lists and very reasonably priced for moderate-sized lists.
While not equipped with the lead scoring or nurturing mechanics of Marketo, you can still send marketing emails based on certain triggers, automate when leads receive certain communications, and configure automated emails like a cross-sell to go out whenever a purchase is made.
This is also a great, inexpensive way to start building your B2B email list, an essential discipline for today’s online business.
If you’re using an email marketing platform or planning on it, ensure that whatever ecommerce platform you choose integrates nicely.
– Accounting Software Integration
Chances are you’re already using accounting software in your wholesale business. Trying to account for the shipping, receiving, manufacturing, and carrying costs of wholesale operations manually would be nearly impossible without.
While most ecommerce platforms feature basic accounting functionality, you’re likely not looking to migrate your entire accounting process to another platform. An integration with popular accounting software like QuickBooks is essential.
Thankfully, accounting software has become the standard for many ecommerce platforms.
– Inventory Management System Integration
Wholesalers, by definition, are managing massive inventory and varied product lines. They need a robust inventory management system to help them optimize their per-pallet revenue and intelligently run their warehouse operations smoothly.
IMS platforms like SkuVault use intelligent replenishment reports to help wholesalers know when to reorder products from manufacturers and at what quantity. It also centralizes all of your warehousing operations into a single source of truth.
The best part? SkuVault integrates seamlessly with almost every modern ecommerce platform, so you can ensure the data reflected in your systems reflects the reality of your warehouses.
– Customer Service Platform Integration
B2B buyers expect a B2C experience in excellent customer service. The same level of attention given on B2C ecommerce sites is expected from wholesale buyers.
Even if you’re not currently using a customer service platform like Zendesk, for future scalability, and in case you want to move to one later in your company’s growth, you’ll want to make sure what ecommerce platform you choose can integrate customer service software.
Modern Payment Methods
Here’s an earth-shattering idea: not every wholesale purchaser wants to deal with invoices. Invoicing is slow and cumbersome and flies in the face of every other purchasing experience buyers experience online.
If you can purchase a car on Carvana without talking a human, shouldn’t the same be expected of wholesale purchases?
Most ecommerce solutions support modern payment methods like credit cards and PayPal, but truly forward-thinking solutions are embracing Apple Pay.
Imagine how seamless the purchase experience could be: retailers and buyers navigate to your site, choose their products, and with a few taps of their iOS device, transmit payment.
It’s all about making the buying journey as frictionless as possible, and modern payment support is a big part of that.
That said, some industries and regulations require the formal quote process. The solution? Offer both. Most ecommerce platforms discussed later in this post will afford you that kind of flexibility.
Content Marketing Capabilities
As mentioned above, many ecommerce platforms are full-fledged website builders as well. This allows for the creation of a blog and searchable content.
If you thought you could get away with neglecting SEO just because you’re in the wholesale business, think again.
Using Google to research the best solution isn’t something reserved for B2C buyers. Therefore, building out a blog and creating great content is an essential discipline for B2B wholesalers, especially those trying to break into a new market or develop a brand.
Hearkening back to the importance of integration: when users visit these posts, you can capture their email address for further marketing and, because they’re in your controlled online ecosystem, you can track all their behavior.
This will help you make business decisions and also give the customer a better, more integrated experience.
How often do you use the category menus on eBay, Etsy, or Amazon? My guess is rarely, if ever. Search has become the standard way for buyers to find what they’re looking for for one reason: it’s just faster.
Intelligent search (sometimes called flexible search or elastic search) is a search engine that doesn’t just search inquiries against exact keywords, but against intent.
So, for example, if a user looking to purchase fitness jump ropes in bulk searches “skipping rope,” “jumping rope,” or “jumprope” with no space in between the words, intelligent search can parse this out.
Searching exact keywords likely wouldn’t present the correct product, but with taggable search functionality, you can not only show jump ropes, but other fitness equipment for up-sell or cross-sell opportunities.
So how do you know if your ecommerce platform of choice supports this? Test it out on other vendors! Go to some WooCommerce, Shopify, or BigCommerce shops and try out a few searches. Test how easy it is to find the products you’re looking for.
This is especially relevant for wholesalers that move product in bulk and often carry many varied product lines.
B2B buyers, just like the “traditional” B2C consumers, are are a fickle breed. If they can’t find what they’re looking for within the first few searches, the chances are high that they’ll bounce off of your site and head to a competitor.
Flexible Pricing Parameters
The psychology of pricing is something that business analysts have studied since the very beginning of commerce. This is why $999.99 oddly feels less than $1,000, and far more than a penny apart.
To ensure maximum control over your pricing parameters, you’ll want to make sure whatever ecommerce platform you choose includes at least the following features:
- Bulk pricing
- Loyalty or reward programs
User-friendly Admin Panel
This last feature may seem like small potatoes, but you’ll spending a lot of time on the back-end of your ecommerce platform. If it’s cumbersome or confusing to navigate, it will only add to the stress of your day-to-day workflow.
Most modern ecommerce platforms offer a “freemium” option that lets you test drive the software in a limited capacity. Once you decide on your top two or three contenders, sign up for a free account (if it’s available) and try to imagine spending hours in the admin panel.
If the user experience of accessing revenue charts, reports, or your customer database makes you want your computer out the window, that’s not an insignificant thing. It may warrant looking at other solutions.
Ecommerce Platforms for Wholesalers
Alright, now that we’ve established the cruciality of a B2B ecommerce platform and equipped you with must-have features to look out for, let’s examine a few of the most popular platforms.
Before we dive into the B2B wholesale platforms, let’s do a quick fly-over of the marketplaces available to wholesalers.
B2B wholesale marketplaces
- Made in China
- eWorld Trade
B2B wholesale platforms
For organizations looking for more than what the aforementioned marketplaces can offer, these are the top B2B wholesale platforms available today.
PrestaShop is a freemium, open source ecommerce solution. The software is published under the Open Software License (OSL) and used by 300,000 shops worldwide. It’s also available in 60 different languages.
Features of Prestashop include:
- CRM and email marketing integration
- Multi-channel marketing
- SEO functionality
- Pre-built web templates
BigCommerce is a cloud-based ecommerce platform for established and rapidly-growing businesses. It combines enterprise functionality, an open architecture and app ecosystem, and claims to reduce online business costs by 80%.
BigCommerce powers B2B and B2C ecommerce for more than 60,000 brands, 2,000+ mid-market businesses, and 30 Fortune 1000 companies.
Features of BigCommerce include:
- Free trial
- CRM and email marketing integrations
- Bulk ordering
- Refund and return management
WordPress is one of the most common website frameworks, and WooCommerce specializes in powering ecommerce on the WordPress platform. While they don’t have a free trial or freemium version, getting WooCommerce up and running is as simple as downloading a plugin on your WordPress-powered site.
Currently, WooCommerce powers around 42% of all online shops, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.
Features of WooCommerce include:
- Wholesale capabilities
- Integrations with CRM and other platforms
- Multi-layered data encryption for customer and seller security
Shopify is one of the most well-known ecommerce platforms in existence, and for good reason. Companies as large as Adidas, Motorola, even Tesla use it as their main ecommerce system.
In addition to being a great B2C platform, Shopify Plus dominates the B2B space, checking all the boxes for must-have features mentioned in this post.
Features of Shopify Plus include:
- Multi-channel wholesale integration into one admin dashboard
- Integration with over 1,500 apps for streamlined sales workflows
- SSL Certificate for secure checkout and storefront browsing
- 8,000 order-per-minute cap for moving massive quantities
Magento is an ecommerce platform for wholesalers and retailers. It boasts of world-class customer support at a “fraction of the price of the competitors.”
Features of Magento include:
- CRM integration
- Inventory controls and analytics
- Multiple payment options
- Mobile optimization
This blog post has given you plenty of action items to start if you’re looking to maximize your B2B revenue. Start downloading or researching the above solutions and weighing your specific needs against what they offer.
Keep a close eye on growth and ensure whatever platform you choose won’t limit your scalability.
Once you’re established on an ecommerce platform and your business is growing, don’t forget to invest in a robust inventory management system like SkuVault.
SkuVault takes the headaches out of wholesale inventory management with intelligent replenishment reports, efficient picklists and pick routes, and a full suite of integrations with whatever ecommerce platform you choose.