B2B e-commerce companies don't have enough options for e-commerce platforms -- at least not ones that are easy for end users to navigate and allow for customizing complex back-end processes.
That's according to Greg Raece, president of e-commerce at Online Metals. He says B2B online marketplaces should be more like B2C ones.
"B2B e-commerce isn't as convenient as B2C e-commerce," Raece said.
In addition, there are fewer out-of-the-box options that are complex enough to handle B2B order operations and provide simple purchase interfaces for end users like B2C marketplaces do.
In January, Online Metals launched a platform integration between SAP Commerce Cloud and Mirakl Marketplace to give its shopping experience more B2C-like capabilities and make it easier for both Online Metals and its customers to use.
On the back end, SAP Commerce Cloud gave Online Metals a way to allocate the material that the customer ordered to one of its seven locations -- a process that takes multiple factors into consideration. With Commerce Cloud, Online Metals was also able to create an easy way for customers to search through its catalog of 60,000 parts using the Material Selector.
"That was one of the benefits of using this platform -- it allows us to catalog and organize all of our data in a dynamic way," Raece said.
B2C e-commerce is more accessible
There are several differences between B2B and B2C e-commerce that make the B2C experience more desirable.
B2B customers are increasingly expecting a B2C-style shopping experience because it's more accessible and intuitive. For example, B2C customers can simply purchase items online from their smartphones and other devices, which is easier and cheaper because it's all conducted online.
Joshua GreenbaumAnalyst, Enterprise Applications Consulting
Raece is on the mark, as Joshua Greenbaum, analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting, sees it.
B2B e-commerce companies should look toward B2C as an example for how to conduct an online marketplace, especially since it's more cost-effective to operate virtually, according to Greenbaum.
"Huge shifts in the global economy are making it imperative that B2B companies shorten the virtual distance between themselves and their customers -- if they don't, some more agile competitor will," Greenbaum said. "So most B2B companies are under a lot of pressure to sell like a B2C company, even though the target customer is still another business, not a consumer."
But B2B back-end order processing routes are more complex than B2C ones, Raece said.
For example, B2B companies such as Online Metals take in orders from third-party catalogs, electronic data interchanges or APIs, which then snap back to the company that is placing the order. Such capabilities usually require hard coding, and then need to be built and developed through sprints.
In contrast, a B2C-oriented company such as Amazon has a lot of connectors, so it can just trade orders between Amazon and the seller, Raece said. This doesn't usually happen in the B2B world, according to him.
"What's different between us and a B2C e-commerce company is that a lot of the rules that we have to create are unique," Raece said.
For example, perhaps a B2C clothing company would need simple configurations for T-shirt size choices and shipping of small identical packages. But Online Metals is an e-commerce supplier of custom-cut aluminum, brass, copper, steel, stainless steel and titanium, as well as plastics, for companies and private consumers.
These materials have a wide variety of sizes because they are cut to order. In addition, they are more cumbersome to ship. Also, customers are ordering and interacting with these products differently from how they would with clothes or another small household item, Raece said.
"They don't just take [the metal] and put it in their living room," he said.
The journey that B2B companies must take to create a B2C-forward experience has many steps that affect both the e-commerce seller and the end user, according to Greenbaum.
"On the sell side, that usually means updating a lot of back-end systems in order to meet new B2B demands for product selection and timeliness of delivery, as well as implementing a consumer-like e-commerce experience on the front end," Greenbaum said.
Shifting to a B2C experience
The Mirakl Marketplace integration with SAP Commerce Cloud provides the complex back-end configuration options and simple online interface to give Online Metals' customers a more intuitive shopping experience and the company's employees an easier way to navigate product shipping specifications, according to Raece.
In his view, Mirakl enables Online Metals to offer a more Amazon-like experience.
"[Mirakl] handles the connections between the sellers' view, our website and what the customers experience, and the data gets passed back and forth," Raece said. "It allows complex or unique configurations for many of these suppliers to be standardized in a way that then lets those orders and that product appear on our website.
"That is a pretty cool innovation, and it's hard to find somebody who can handle that complex of a transaction in the B2B world," he continued.
Online Metals also launched the Mirakl integration to support its catalog expansion effort and expand its metal marketplace to include third-party metal and plastics sellers, Raece said.
"It's also a supply chain benefit for us too, because a lot of times we're really having to find who has this material to be able to sell, and the marketplace has been allowing us to do that," he said.
More interactions online, adding analytics
Online Metals has been using SAP Commerce Cloud since 2018, when it was called Hybris. The platform proved especially useful during the pandemic in 2020 because it enabled Online Metals to conduct complex back-end business operations online.
"That actually gave us a foot up because we were able to make our own customized experience," Raece said. "We really needed a very powerful and flexible platform that would allow us to adjust how we sold to our customers, and that's why we went with the SAP route -- because we can make lots of really configurable options."
One way in which SAP could strengthen its e-commerce line of products is by offering an e-commerce-specific analytics package to Commerce Cloud, rather than requiring customers to tie their Commerce Cloud data in to separate analytics platforms, according to Raece.
Mary Reines is a news writer covering customer experience and unified communications for TechTarget Editorial. Before TechTarget, Reines was arts editor at the Marblehead Reporter.