A Step-by-step Guide to B2B eCommerce Website Development

Surabhi Shukla
Surabhi Shukla
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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Global business-to-business (B2B) eCommerce is a $2 trillion market, with 83% of B2B buyers making an online purchase at least once a day.

The move from offline (in-person and phone) buying to online buying is a significant shift. In this guide, we’ll outline how a powerful B2B eCommerce platform and carefully curated website design can optimize the buyer’s journey, scale over time, streamline backend processes (e.g.warehousing and fulfillment), and provide actionable business intelligence.

Key Takeaways

  • B2B eCommerce websites require platforms that specifically support B2B processes
  • Modern technology (such as cloud-based, headless architecture) opens powerful doors for B2B eCommerce companies
  • Careful planning, with a clear understanding of the customer experience, will set you up for success

Looking for a seasoned technology partner that has built powerful B2B eCommerce websites for well-known clients? Contact Net Solutions for your eCommerce consultation.

What Is B2B eCommerce Website Development?

B2B eCommerce website development describes the work required to design and build an online store specifically designed for business-to-business sales of goods or services.

Although B2B eCommerce purchasing is heavily influenced by consumer experiences, B2B eCommerce sites are usually more complex than B2C eCommerce. B2B eCommerce sites need to support business operations of B2B sellers (supply chain management, corporate account management and multi-store management), along with the unique demands of B2B buyers (such as negotiated pricing, invoicing and bulk buying).

The very best design and development teams work to understand your specific B2B business requirements to build a B2B eCommerce website that addresses your current needs and long-term goals.

What’s the Difference Between B2C and B2B eCommerce Website Development?

B2C eCommerce websites sell directly to personal consumers, while B2B eCommerce website development uses an eCommerce platform to sell to other businesses. Examples of B2B sellers include suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, service-based businesses, and software-as-a-service (SaaS).

At the surface level, this seems a simple distinction, but the ‘customer’ profile and buying processes are very different in B2C vs B2B. As such, the key differences between B2C websites and B2B websites—both in terms of the benefits they offer businesses and how they address customer needs—include:

B2C eCommerce Website Development

  • Leverages an eCommerce platform designed for retail sales flows that are quick
  • Targets individual consumers, often with decisions influenced by emotion, experience, and lifestyle association
  • Prioritizes eCommerce UX design practices: aesthetics, personalization, user friendly design, quick buying
  • Designed to handle fixed pricing with coupons or promotions, supporting credit card, mobile wallets or buy now, pay pater (BNPL)
  • Leverage simple and intuitive navigation to support quick product discovery and checkout
  • Often requires 24/7 customer support
  • Can include simple website builders and out-of-the-box eCommerce solutions to more comprehensive headless commerce solutions designed for multi-store, multi-brand and omnichannel retailing
  • Often subject to regularly shifting eCommerce trends

B2B eCommerce Website Development

  • Targets the business buyer, which can include multiple departments or individuals during a sale
  • Emphasizes deep product information, demos, and thought leadership that is solution-oriented to support research and trust in a protracted buying cycle
  • Designed to handle negotiated and bulk pricing, quotes and repeat purchasing
  • User experience optimization is more complex, focusing on self-service portals, personalized dashboards, account management
  • May support non-traditional online payment methods (check, ACH, delayed payments with invoicing)
  • Robust security and compliance measures are critical
  • Requires an B2B eCommerce platform, one designed specifically for B2B businesses or that has a specific B2B edition (e.g. Adobe Commerce, formerly Magento, BigCommerce or commercetools)

Those are some of the major differences between B2B eCommerce websites and B2C eCommerce websites, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.

Read on to learn about many of the essential features that high-quality enterprise B2B eCommerce websites should offer in order to serve their current customer base and set themselves up to scale in the years ahead.

How to Develop a B2B eCommerce Website in 5 Steps

Every great eCommerce website begins with a plan, which involves everything from understanding your goals, to choosing and implementing the right technology, and understanding how to design a website that meets your buyer’s needs. What follows are five high-level steps that will take you from ideation to a fully functional B2B online store.

Step 1: Define your goals and objectives

Just as with any software design and development project, B2B eCommerce businesses must begin by clearly identifying their goals for a new online store:

  • Business Model: The type of business you run will heavily influence the B2B eCommerce platform you choose, whether you are a manufacturer selling to a wholesaler or a wholesaler to a retailer. Your strategy could include the need for B2B, B2C, or B2B2C sales, marketplace support, multi-site capabilities or localization capabilities).
  • Set Business Goals: Clearly identify the KPIs you’re looking to improve in creating your B2B website or in replatforming to a new B2B eCommerce platform. Examples include search engine position, traffic volume, lead capture, conversion, retention, sales volume, referrals or more. The website strategy should not only reflect these goals, but also the current competitive landscape.
  • Understand the target audience: Meet with key stakeholders who work with customers (marketing, sales) or customers themselves to understand how you can better engage with them and support the buying journey. This understanding will inform the needed functionality of the eCommerce platform as well as the content of the website, the tone, the design theme and the key CTAs.

Explore each of these areas until you’re perfectly clear on what your customers, and your business model, require in a website.

Step 2: Choose the right eCommerce platform

Once you’ve clearly identified your goals and objectives, you’ll need to choose a B2B eCommerce platform. Very basic eCommerce platforms often have limited B2B capabilities, but leading B2B eCommerce solutions that are designed for B2B sales offer powerful functionality and scalability to support your B2B digital marketing strategy.

Here are some considerations to support your business needs:

  • Hosting: You can choose self-hosting (on-premise) or a cloud strategy involving either software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) (see more: PaaS vs SaaS), depending on how much you want to do vs offload to a cloud provider
  • Architecture: eCommerce solutions are available in three primary architecture models, impacting customization capabilities and channel performance:
    • Traditional or monolithic, tightly coupling the front and back-ends into one platform, using responsive web design to send content to multiple channels (web, mobile, social media, wearables, etc).
    • Headless commerce decouples the front and back-end business operations to improve scalability and performance across channels (read more about this later in this guide).
    • Composable commerce uses microservices organized around functional capabilities (e.g. reviews) to introduce even greater customizability and agility.
  • Key features: Create a list of ‘wants’ for the key features you need in a B2B eCommerce platform (e.g. personalized pricing, bulk ordering, approvals, inventory management, catalog management, customer relationship management, payment options, self-service and localization).
  • Integrations: Ensure the platform can support integration with your current internal systems (e.g. ERP, CRM, inventory management systems, payment gateways and financial systems, supply chain management systems or more) and offers robust third-party integrations to extend the capabilities of the platform and/or expand to new channels to support your marketplace strategy.
  • Scalability: When choosing a cloud-based architecture, you gain the benefit of global content delivery networks (CDNs) to support scalability, with resources that can expand as needed as online sales pick up. Most enterprise eCommerce platforms offer SLAs that specify uptime and scaling parameters.
  • Cyber security: eCommerce security is an absolute must for B2B eCommerce. Essential security features include compliance certifications (e.g. GDPR, ISO), payment processing security (PCI DSS), strong authentication, role-based access controls, encryption, firewalls, intrusion detection, support for SSO, and real-time alerts, logs or reports.

Considering these factors will help you optimize internal workflows, business agility, and customer satisfaction.

Step 3: Design the User Experience (UX)

User experience (UX) design is the practice of creating an intuitive, responsive, and easily navigable customer journey across your website. Optimizing UX is about creating the most logical and positive experience for customers to help maximize conversion rates and keep customers coming back year after year. It begins with user research that allows you to understand what customers want and how they behave.

Here are a few eCommerce UX design practices to consider when designing your website:

  • Navigation and search: Make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for, from having a well-positioned search bar or AI-assisted search to navigation menu design, promotional call-outs, easy-to-use buyer portals, and the organization of product catalogs.
  • Account management: Most B2B customers are looking for a robust self-service portal to create or manage their accounts, view order histories, track shipments, manage payments, shopping lists, support re-orders, etc. Ideally, accounts also support role-based access for different team members, to access only what they need, and sales rep access to streamline interactions.
  • Personalized experience: Personalization is critical to any eCommerce journey, the bulk of which takes place independent of sales reps. Taking advantage of any platform capabilities for customer segmentation (e.g. by industry, role, customer priority or organization size) to personalize the products and content you show, the offers you include, or the stage of the buying journey. AI is making a lot of inroads in this space.
  • Streamlined purchasing process and checkout: B2B buying journeys can differ based on types of B2B seller, requiring optimization in different ways—from standard shopping carts and secure checkout processes to more robust capabilities including custom ordering / quotes, invoicing, discounts, mobile ordering, bulk ordering, re-ordering, and more. Although some of this depends on the platform, UX designers are critical to minimizing the steps and optimizing the look and feel of each step.

Professional UX designers test different design options through prototypes, refining them or changing them entirely based on feedback. Once the website is live, you’ll want to study user behavior and continually test new designs to maximize your website’s effectiveness.

Step 4: Develop back-end functionality

Back-end functionality describes all those operational tasks that the customer can’t see but are nevertheless critical to ordering, fulfillment, and other essential steps in the customer journey. These are often inherent in the B2B platform you choose or can be customized by using third-party integrations. Critical back-end operations for B2B include:

  • Order management: Order management is the process of streamlining the flow from an order to payment to fulfillment, as well as support for returns or refunds. You can manage orders in your eCommerce platform, via independent order management software, using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or manually (not recommended). Order management practices become more critical for businesses with multiple brands, stores, sites or locations.
  • Inventory management: Inventory management is the process of overseeing procurement, storage, and distribution of products, requiring an accurate real-time picture of inventory, restocking processes, and optimized fulfillment.
  • Integrations: Seamless integration with independent order management software, enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, customer relationship management (CRM) software, payment gateways and financial systems, and supply chain management or logistics systems is critical to streamlining often complex business processes and create a unified picture of inventory, orders and customers.
  • Pricing management: Most B2B organizations rely on the capability to tailor prices not just at the product level, but also at the customer and market level, via segmentation.
  • Business intelligence: Today’s advanced systems can leverage BI tools and analytics to understand customer behavior, trends, and preferences to improve marketing and sales, but also to better manage inventory, the supply chain, pricing and more.

Depending on your business model, you’re likely to have additional backend operations tied to your website. This list is a good introduction, but it’s by no means exhaustive, so think carefully about your needs.

Step 5: Test, test, test—then deploy

Testing is essential before taking your eCommerce website live. Before deploying each release, you want to thoroughly test the following.

  • Functionality: Ensure the features you’ve added work properly (both on the front end and the back end)
  • Usability: Test the website with real users to ensure they find it intuitive and user-friendly
  • Security: Test for security holes to mitigate the risk of debilitating cyber attacks
  • Performance: Conduct user acceptance testing as well as load testing to ensure your website performs well under all circumstances (including heavy traffic)

The goal is to minimize bugs and avoid any major failures that could impact your business.

What Are Some B2B eCommerce Must-Have Features?

Competition is fierce in the B2B eCommerce industry, and to stand out, you need to provide a smooth, efficient customer experience. You also need to use technology that is flexible enough to adapt to this ever-changing landscape.

What follows are 11 must-have features for a modern B2B eCommerce website that support your long-term growth and keep customers coming back.

API-first, headless design, and functionality

Composable commerce leverages MACH architecture (M – Microservices, A – API-first, C – Cloud-Native, H – Headless), allowing you greater agility to choose the services that best support your business. With this more granular, API-first approach to headless commerce, you have the flexibility to scale services independently, to optimize services continually to support the user experience, and support high-performance omnichannel retailing

A Step-By Step Guide to B2B eCommerce Website Development

Advanced search functionality

Leverage powerful search capabilities and artificial intelligence (AI) to streamline queries and improve search workflows. Search by a wide range of factors (product categories, specific SKUs), leverage predictive search to speed up search time, and ensure search is optimized for both site and any portal / FAQ / help areas.

Clear navigation

Clear navigation combines a logical structure with usability, and it starts by understanding the customer journey from start to finish. Creating customer journey maps can help designers visualize potential customer workflows, and testing prototypes with your target audience can ensure that your website is intuitive and easy to navigate.

Fast page loading

Fast-loading pages are essential for eCommerce companies today since nobody wants to wait around for a page to load. After all, we’re used to responsiveness and instant ordering.

Fast-loading pages are even more important for B2B websites than for B2C websites because buyers frequently have a lot of different pages to review, from buyer’s guides and demos to the self-service portal (e.g. inventory tracking).

Mobile optimization

B2B buying journeys are protracted and often repeated, involving significant use of mobile devices during the sales process, already accounting for 40% of sales and a 20% shorter buying cycle. Responsive web design, progressive web apps, mobile apps, and channel-specific frontends (headless) all should be considered for mobile optimized websites and buyer portals. (Learn more about mobile-friendly web design.)

Detailed product information

B2B buyers typically require more information than B2C shoppers for a number of reasons. First, the order value tends to be much higher for B2B transactions. Second, it’s the buyer’s job to make a highly informed decision, and their livelihood depends on it!

B2B product pages should include highly detailed descriptions (also benefitting search engine optimization or SEO), with additional information available by product guide, demo, or interactive experiences.

Order tracking

Transparency is critical to converting customers and ensuring ongoing satisfaction. Visibility into anticipated delivery dates should be available before purchase, with comprehensive order tracking once an order has been placed, ideally with real-time updates or push notifications.

Multiple, secure payment methods

Business clients usually need the option to pay through a variety of methods, including secure credit card payments, virtual cards, purchase orders, buy-now-pay-later, wire transfers, ACH payments, and other methods. Payments should be localized for global brands.

Streamlined checkout process

Creating a friction-free checkout process for B2B involves more than just flexible, secure payment processes, it’s about eliminating steps in the checkout process by ensuring customer information is pre-filled, that reorders are simplified, that payment information is remembered, and that automations are leveraged wherever possible (e.g. invoicing, payment reminders).

Focus on UI/UX and customer experience

An attractive, highly usable website leverages best practices (always evolving) to streamline each customer interaction. You can achieve this by hiring experienced designers who understand best practices and UX design trends and conduct extensive user testing to ensure that their designs and workflows are intuitive.

Easy new channel addition

Today’s top eCommerce platforms support omnichannel experiences, with the average B2B buyer using a dozen digital sales channels to engage with brands, interacting across email, in-person or storefront, phone, website, portal, mobile app, live chat, social (e.g. LinkedIn), B2B marketplace or more. With the exponential growth in channel interactions, you need a central place to manage and support continuous and protracted interactions with customers.

What Are Some B2B eCommerce Development Best Practices?

While one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to designing and developing an eCommerce website, there are some general best practices for optimizing B2B sites. Here are a few to keep in mind.

Make sure potential customers know you’re B2B

When your target audience is B2B buyers, you should make it clear in your website copy that you sell to business customers. Don’t leave any ambiguity in that regard, otherwise you’ll attract the wrong customers and miss out on the right ones.

Double down on UI/UX design

UI and UX design should never be an afterthought. In fact, design can make or break your B2B sales efforts, so don’t be afraid to put your resources toward user testing and high-quality design. This will help you pinpoint exactly what your customers want and how to streamline the buying process for them.

Build with mobile in mind

As we mentioned above, responsive design is essential in a world where mobile is taking up an increasingly large amount of eCommerce traffic. Make sure your website is optimized for all devices.

Customize your website according to your brand

It’s important to present consistent branding across your website. Make sure your company colors, font choices, and brand voice come through at every level—and that they match the existing branding you have in your current marketing collateral, logo, etc.

Include customer reviews and recommendations

Customer reviews and recommendations aren’t just for B2C online stores. B2B eCommerce sites can also benefit from customer reviews in the form of visible star ratings on site, integration with third-party review site information (e.g. G2) or curated customer case studies.

Don’t forget about multi-language options

One amazing thing eCommerce has done is to break down barriers to international trade and pave and allow B2B companies to reach new markets. To capture larger international markets, ensure you have a platform that supports localization, that design practices reflect any localized preferences, and that your website curates sales interactions according to region.

How do I Choose a B2B eCommerce Website Development company?

Choosing the right partner to design, build, and support your B2B eCommerce website is essential. You need an outsourced eCommerce development partner who understands the unique demands that B2B companies face.

Here are five qualities to look for in a technology partner.

  • Years of experience with B2B eCommerce website design and development, with case studies and testimonials to back their claims
  • Strong English fluency (when outsourcing overseas)
  • Strong communication skills (wherever you’re outsourcing)
  • Strategic mindset with excellent product management skills
  • Cyber security knowledge and experience

Once you find some solid candidates, vet them carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions to ensure they’re the right partner.

Ready to build a cutting-edge B2B eCommerce website?

Whether you’re looking to set up a new B2B website or replatform your existing B2B website, Net Solutions brings over 20 years of experience working with internationally recognized brands like American Golf and Xerox. We’ve also designed and developed eCommerce solutions for B2B eCommerce leaders like Euro Car Parts and Bonds of London.

Contact Net Solutions today for a free consultation. We’ll work together to strategize and take your B2B eCommerce business to the next level.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.How much does it cost to create a B2B website?

Depending on the functionality you’re hoping to achieve with your eCommerce website, outsourcing the project at every step (design, development, project management, etc.) would typically cost between $20,000 and $70,000. Visit our post about B2B eCommerce website costs to learn about the many different factors that influence this estimate.

2. What are some examples of successful B2B eCommerce websites?

A few examples of successful B2B websites include the following:

  • Alibaba: The world’s leading B2B eCommerce marketplace based in China
  • Thermo Fisher Scientific: A company that provides labs with scientific research equipment across the globe
  • Bulk Bookstore: A book supplier for independent bookstores

Visit our post about successful B2B eCommerce website examples to learn what these companies are doing right.

Surabhi Shukla
Written by

Surabhi Shukla

Surabhi Shukla is a dedicated PHP developer with a special forte as a Magento Certified Developer. Outside of her professional realm, Surabhi has a penchant for listening to jazz music and indulging in speed reading. However, she doesn't quite fancy podcasts that tend to drag on.

While she is still looking for her definitive claim to fame, she is known for being an "ever-dependable" team player. Problem-solving comes naturally to her. Her eye for detail and strategic thinking have lent perfection to many projects that she has worked on.

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