When would you have said e-commerce first appeared? 1995? 1997?
Today I found out that the first e-commerce transaction was in 1971 or 1972, according to Wikipedia – with a cannabis sale between students at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Over 40 years since ecommerce started out, allegedly, although for B2C trading the platform can actually be quite basic… I mean, that cannabis sale could have been achieved as easily by email as it would on a Shopify site. I’m sure more effort went into thinking through the legalities (or illegalities) than the sales platform.
Today in the B2B arena, one of the key questions for any companies heading off to enjoy all the spoils of B2B selling, should be “Do you want this to be a business asset, or just a sales platform”.
Unlike the brochure sites of the past, or even the e-tailing online shops of B2C, a B2B ecommerce platform, is an integrated business system. The fingers of this system reach into the business – into:
- Accounts – where customers can check out their accounts balances themselves. They can pay off their credit account, and download copy invoices… for themselves.
- Sales – where customers can self-serve with orders, replenish standing stock orders, review new products and even have recommendations made – yes a true B2B ecommerce system will actually do some of the selling for you!
- Marketing – building in market research, reviewing products bought and identifying buying times, and buyers can provide useful marketing information. Added to this, the SEO capabilities to push your site, and the video/image opportunities to push product.
- Social Media/PR – links from your site to social media, online and traditional media and PR can support your awareness further.
- Logistics – from stock predictions, fulfilment, white label orders, delivery address changes, timing and even delivery charges.
- And finally even to production – with links accessible (if you wish) right through the organisation.
So, the question these days is not as cut and dried as “which platform”, but “to what extent do you want your B2B ecommerce site to be a business asset. To what point do you want it to enhance your business processes AND save costs?
All B2B ecommerce platforms are not created equal. When it comes to buying, here are a few questions that are worth asking:
- Does it have full integration into my business systems? Eg: My accounts package, like Sage, etc
Is this a seamless and real-time integration or is there a delay (think stock levels, or people ordering duplicates)
- Can customers truly access the very latest information on their account status?
- Can they pay off their credit accounts? Can they request information like copy invoices?
- Can customers place orders and see stock availability (if this isn’t an option you want right now, is it still an option for the future?)
- Can you cut out duplicated effort – can you make a change in one area of the business, and have it cascade through the system. Eg: Can you change the price in your accounts package, for it to immediately trigger a price change online?
The bottom line is a B2B ecommerce system is a powerhouse for driving up sales and driving down costs, but only when it is truly integrated. At that point it will prove itself as a business asset.