The sizable B2B commerce economic sector is going digital, and more than 13 percent of the U.S.’s B2B transactions are expected to take place online by 2021.
Traditional purchasing, which occurs when corporate buyers call in orders and receive paper invoices via postal mail, is being replaced with newer methods that have buyers shopping on B2B eCommerce platforms or automatically sending purchase order details directly to vendors through digital channels. These practices reduce the headaches involved in managing paper invoices, give buyers faster purchasing experiences and bring services online, where they can reach more customers.
Creating smooth digital purchasing processes is not easy, however. Sellers may struggle to program or integrate the capabilities needed to accept customers’ preferred payment methods, and they may also be challenged by enabling data flows with clients if they must forge unique direct connections with each one’s specific systems. Application programming interfaces (APIs) could provide a solution by enabling vendors to offer online purchasing options tailored to individual clients’ needs.
This month’s Deep Dive explores how APIs can underpin B2B eCommerce and facilitate the processes that are critical to modern business procurement.
eCommerce Sites and Client Portals
Many sellers want their clients to interact with them directly on their own online platforms, which helps firms build brand recognition, evade third-party platforms’ fees and avoid giving traffic to marketplace-and-retailer companies like Amazon that compete with merchants. Amazon’s B2B division is expected to serve 10 percent of the U.S. B2B market and 5 percent of the global B2B market by 2021, for example.
Vendors that wish to transact via their own eCommerce platforms or customized client portals may find that business buyers’ specific needs can complicate designing such experiences.
Corporate buyers want access to a range of payment methods that include credit cards and ACH for maximum convenience, with 53 percent of surveyed North American businesses favoring ACH for B2B transactions in 2018. Vendors can use APIs to meet those demands and quickly integrate different payment solutions — including those that enable smartphone and mobile wallet payments — into their eCommerce sites’ or client portals’ checkout experiences. Such options could be helpful for these firms, as 50 percent of all B2B searches were initiated on smartphones last year, indicating that many corporate buyers are readily using mobile devices to conduct searches and find items to purchase.
These traditional checkout approaches do not work equally well for all buyers, however. Accounts payable (AP) departments often insist on receiving digital invoices, for example, meaning that buyers cannot simply fill up virtual shopping carts, enter payment details and check out. AP departments often want to review their companies’ invoices and then choose which ones to pay on which timelines. These invoices crucially affect how AP departments can manage their cash flows.
Meeting buyers’ needs requires vendors to adopt capabilities that support a wider array of purchasing options. They could integrate with digital payment services that allow clients to receive eInvoices and send digital invoice payments upon customers’ requests, for example. Many that have implemented such offerings have seen positive results: More than 46 percent of AP professionals desire eInvoice solutions, according to a 2019 report. Integrations with enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems can also help vendors easily record and view customers’ unique purchasing requirements and better manage their needs.
Direct System-To-System Integrations
Online point-of-sale (POS) options may not be enough to please all buyers, however. Some vendors might discover that the most convenient eCommerce platforms to adopt and use do not appeal to all their corporate clients, as each has their own preferences regarding how to send and receive data and transmit payments.
These discrepancies often result in less-established players having to give in to their bigger trading partners’ desires. Smaller parties may also find that pleasing their buyers requires them to undergo numerous onboarding procedures and manage different processes and setups. Such work can be expensive and time-consuming because it involves using several B2B eCommerce platforms at once and tailoring digital invoice submissions to each client. Small buyers seeking to purchase from major vendors might similarly be forced to adapt to sellers’ preferences.
Buyers and sellers can prevent forced onboarding with certain platforms by using APIs to directly connect with each other’s systems. This link-up enables both parties to smoothly exchange transactional data, and APIs are critical to making such integrations easy and fast. Vendors that attempt these integrations without APIs would need their developer teams to program unique connections with each client — a process that can take weeks or months. Sellers can avoid this time-intensive work by publishing standard APIs their clients can use to easily connect with their systems.
Business buyers are used to shopping online in their personal lives and are coming to expect similar conveniences in their professional lives as well. B2B vendors can meet this challenge by providing convenient eCommerce experiences and allowing API technologies to unlock the flexibility and customization necessary to getting ahead when selling online.