The evolution of B2B eCommerce has historically been driven by the effort to bring a consumer-like experience a-la-Amazon into the corporate procurement world.
It's not an unfounded strategy. Business professionals are seeking to purchase goods and services via the same workflows and interfaces they use in their personal lives, and a focus on user experience can be valuable in the B2B space.
Yet using the consumer eCommerce framework as the launchpad for digitizing B2B trade isn't always going to suit enterprise needs.
In a conversation with PYMNTS, Aptean Chief Product Officer Duane George explained how starting from the back office to build a B2B eCommerce strategy can enable the integrations key to easing the industry's unique pain points — particularly when it comes to payments.
Traditionally, eCommerce-as-a-Service solutions that target B2B vendors and manufacturers must be retrofitted to integrate with back-office functions like the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. It's a front-to-back strategy, and while it may provide a positive buyer experience, it has ample opportunity for data bottlenecks and connectivity breakdowns for the seller.
Payments workflows are a particularly large hurdle in this space. Force-fitting a B2C-based eCommerce platform for a B2B sales context can mean a lack of payments features corporates need, like the ability to facilitate check transactions and establish custom payment terms. As a result, buyers and suppliers may connect and strike a deal online but will ultimately journey offline to complete a financial transaction independently.
This is among the friction points ERP provider Aptean aimed to tackle with the rollout of its B2B payments and eCommerce solution this week.
By working back-to-front and building an eCommerce and payments strategy integrated with the ERP from the get-go, there is significantly less room for data connectivity errors.
"By integrating the payments and eCommerce with the ERP, it's going to allow businesses to effectively drive online revenues as well as improve payment processing and time of payment," said George, adding that Aptean supports real-time invoice and payments reconciliation as a result of that ERP connectivity.
Corporate buyers, meanwhile, can often benefit from faster shipping, with the seller's ERP automatically initiating a shipment as a result of ingesting payments data.
Similar benefits can result in inventory and product management, George said, noting that later this year, Aptean will roll out capabilities that enable manufacturers and other corporates to update product information within their ERP, and have those changes automatically updated across their online commerce storefronts.
The ERP connectivity can be much more easily achieved as a result of payments digitization. While some of Aptean's corporate customers continue to use paper checks, George said there is growing demand for commercial card payments as well as ACH, the latter enabling companies that are used to using their checking accounts to make payments to more seamlessly shift from paper checks toward a familiar electronic payment model.
With the global pandemic wiping out the opportunity for in-person sales pitches and trade shows, B2B industries have no choice but to migrate their commerce operations online.
As a result, the consumer eCommerce model will continue to influence the B2B world, according to George.
"Today, most of us prefer to order from Amazon or Walmart,” he said. “We're used to that digital transaction, paying online, and having our orders be shipped. That's translated over into the business world, especially now that people can't be in their offices working."
The proliferation of B2B eCommerce will drive further digitization of B2B payments, he added, noting that finance teams working remotely can no longer manage the friction of ensuring paper check payments are going to the right address, or figuring out how accounts payable personnel can physically receive that check and get it to the bank.
Yet as digital B2B commerce and payments adoption grow, the ecosystem must forge its own path separate from the B2C world to ensure trade can operate as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Through emphasizing back-office integration, B2B eCommerce and payments strategies can more effectively help corporates rise to the occasion.
"It's really about eliminating manual processes, especially in the times we're in today," said George. "Companies need to make much faster decisions, especially with inventory-on-hand and payments."