How We Build One of the Largest B2B E-commerce Platforms in the World
E-commerce is a broad and ever-evolving field, highly responsive to technological advancements. As we began developing e-commerce web development projects in 2009, we have been in a unique position to observe evolving market trends by analyzing our clients’ past and current requests. And whereas a decade ago our client’s primary focus would have been for us to develop traditional online stores, their current emphasis has shifted towards the creation of secure, internal systems.
One of the most prevalent types of these systems is a B2B e-commerce platform, designed for wholesale sales to partners, dealers, or bulk purchasers. Additionally, some B2B platforms aren’t sales-oriented but instead offer support services. In any case, such systems are now a mainstay for all significant manufacturers and wholesalers.
At SECL Group, our team has amassed substantial experience in B2B platform development. We’ve created platforms for small businesses with several dozen employees as well as for much larger scale manufacturers, like the leading Korean automotive manufacturer Kia. To offer a glimpse into the scale of the IT product we continue to develop for Kia, here are a few of its parameters:
- Over 10 million requests per day
- More than 20 integrations with various IT systems
- Approximately 50,000 employees in the customer corporation.
In this article, I will explore the process of creating a B2B e-commerce platform in depth, using two distinct projects as examples: a smaller-scale project for a Latvian pharmaceutical wholesaler, and the aforementioned e-commerce platform for B2B we crafted for Kia, without doubt, one of the most extensive platforms I’ve encountered in my 20-year IT career.
Specifics of B2B E-commerce Platforms
Why isn’t a conventional online store universally suitable for all businesses? There are several crucial reasons:
- Wholesale buyers require personalized service and engagement
- Clients purchasing large quantities of goods may be eligible for special price discounts and unique purchasing conditions
- In addition to buying products, clients might also utilize the manufacturer’s marketing materials and offer maintenance or technical support to end customers
- Often, there’s a need for comprehensive integration of the manufacturer’s and the seller’s internal IT systems, for example, to manage stock levels in warehouses
- Bulk buyers may need to place complex orders with varying delivery addresses, delivery schedules, engagement of manufacturer specialists, and many other non-standard parameters.
To help you understand B2B e-commerce platform needs, I’ll share a brief overview of two of our projects:
- The first, a smaller project, involves a B2B platform for a pharmaceutical company catering to wholesale medicine buyers. The selling company is the largest supplier of remedies in its country, serving as the primary source for all wholesalers nationally.
- The second, a larger project for Kia, is a dealer management system. This comprehensive system allows dealers worldwide to purchase products and access all related information.
B2B e-commerce platform features
The functionality of an e-commerce platform for B2B can vary greatly and is typically dictated by the specific needs of the company managing it. If we were to draw a parallel, we might find significant similarities with the functionality of a standard online store, but there are also many features inherent to the business-to-business sector.
It’s worth noting a peculiar paradox: while for smaller businesses, using B2B e-commerce platforms often results in a simpler experience compared to managing a typical consumer online store; for larger companies, utilizing these platforms for advanced functionality can introduce increased technical complexity.
Next, I will list the possible features of a B2B e-commerce platform:
- Login / Authorization
- User management
- Different access rights (for both seller’s employees and buyer’s employees)
- A product catalog (with current stocks)
- Product page
- Popular items
- Product ranking
- Personalization (individual offers based on client needs, personal recommendations based on analytics, best offers in terms of price/quality ratio, etc.)
- Complex orders (including different shipping addresses, subscribing to a group of products every month, requests for the supply of goods that are currently out of stock, etc.)
- Delayed payment
- Different levels of discounts
- Shopping cart
- Payment options
- Personal manager
- Online chat with a personal manager
- Document flow
- Notifications (through the system, by email / SMS)
- Sales forecast
- Regionality (dividing into markets/regions)
- Multilingual interface
- Big Data (trend analysis and forecasts)
- Integration with accounting, logistics, warehousing, etc.
The project I’m highlighting here, despite being a smaller-scale operation for a pharmaceutical company, still showcased a wide array of functionalities. This B2B e-commerce platform boasted a product catalog, multi-tiered access, customer-specific discounts, integration with an accounting system, workflow management, and order creation capabilities.
As you can see, the range of possible features for such projects is quite extensive, and it is very possible to design a custom set of features that fit your sales and service model.
Numerous promising opportunities exist within the business-to-business (B2B) sector, including the B2B e-commerce marketplace platform. This area boasts impressive statistics, which are detailed in the accompanying infographics and includes inspiring success stories such as Amazon Business and Alibaba’s B2B ventures.
When you are thinking about how to select a B2B e-commerce platform option, I recommend that you focus on the business side of your project, as modern web development can provide a technological solution for almost any idea you have. As you delve into the next section of this article, which discusses the practical aspects of B2B e-commerce platform development, this assertion will become more evident.
B2B Platform Development: Step By Step
I will walk you through the stages involved in creating a B2B e-commerce platform project, providing a brief overview of the main components. I will illustrate key points using selected case studies as examples.
B2B platform development project management
Our project teams are well-versed and enthusiastic about working with Agile methodologies. From our experience, these project management approaches resonate with and are easily understood by most e-commerce software clients.
We handled our small-scale pharmaceutical project using Scrum. This involved 2-week sprints and continuous updates for the client, ensuring transparency and visible progress throughout the process. The team consistently set bi-weekly tasks and conducted thorough planning to ensure timely completion. Daily planning sessions lasting 10-15 minutes were held, and post-sprint retrospectives were conducted to learn from any errors and avoid them in the future. A single Project Manager (PM) led the team.
On our large-scale B2B e-commerce platform project for Kia, we use Kanban. The client-side project manager compiles tasks from all departments into an extensive list. Each task is assigned a priority, and they are executed in sequence. We have assembled a sizable project team, allowing us to work on several functional blocks concurrently. We generally make one big release approximately once a month, based on the progress made in each stage of development. Given the project’s size, it is managed by one PM, two technical leads, one business analyst team lead, and one support team lead.
Business analysis on a B2B platform development project
The process of gathering requirements for creating an e-commerce platform for B2B is a collaborative effort between the client and the web development company.
Typically, client specialists undertake the initial phase of this work. However, as developers, we are prepared to step in at any stage to continue, finalize, or even initiate the requirement collection process from scratch.
We once had a pharmaceutical client who approached us with a clickable prototype of their desired system, crafted in Figma. However, this isn’t the norm. Generally, we start by collating requirements and preferences in conjunction with the client’s managers. We then systematize and detail these requirements before creating a clickable prototype.
On our significant project for Kia, we employed two business analysts—a senior and a junior—who translated all client requests and wishes into clear terms of reference for the development team.
Involving business analysts in this type of project is essential; without them, there’s a risk of missing some of the B2B e-commerce platform needs.
В2В e-commerce platform design
Typically, in such B2B systems, design takes a backseat and doesn’t demand much attention. The primary focus is on ensuring user convenience. Given that user frequently interact with and have a good understanding of the system, they value functionality over aesthetics.
In both projects discussed in this article, there were minimal design requirements, with creativity confined mainly to fill out various forms. In the smaller pharmaceutical project, the designer was involved only at the initial stages of development, during the first few weeks. By the end of this period, a consistent design style had been established, which fully satisfied the client’s needs.
In contrast, the Kia project required the continuous involvement of a designer, primarily focusing on new functionality elements. However, this aspect of the project is largely confined to technical design, which aims to replicate the previously established style and maintain a user-friendly interface.
Programming in B2B e-commerce platform project
As you might anticipate, in B2B e-commerce platform projects, coding represents the most substantial portion of the work. In most instances, highly skilled developers are required, particularly for integrations with other IT systems, which can be numerous.
But how long does it take to complete a project’s scope? In the small project we completed for the Latvian pharmaceutical company, we spent several months writing code based on predefined Terms of Reference (TOR). Every 6 to 12 months, the client submits requests for minor enhancements that require tens or hundreds of hours to implement.
For our large-scale project with Kia, we’ve been engaged in continuous programming now for several years. Every month, we undertake new tasks for this corporation’s internal customers, which include its various departments and divisions.
I want to underscore the significant impact of programming on software quality, aspect clients also consider when deciding which B2B e-commerce platform to adopt for their operations.
Quality Assurance of B2B e-commerce platform software
Testing is a crucial component of any B2B platform development project. We tailor our testing requirements to each system, adjusting them based on the scope and complexity of the software being developed.
For our pharmaceutical platform project, we found that manual testing after each sprint was sufficient. At the end of the development phase, we employed regression testing, which involves re-running tests to ensure that the entire software, including previously developed and tested parts, functioned seamlessly in its final configuration.
On the other hand, our quality assurance approach for the automotive industry project is considerably more intricate. The project team working for Kia engages in continuous testing, employing a variety of standard methods. Both our manual tester and an automation test engineer are actively involved in the project simultaneously, and we also utilize unit tests written by programmers. This level of involvement is necessary given the large scale and constant updates required by the IT system, necessitating a distinct approach to testing — a topic we have delved into in another of our articles.
Integrations with third-party IT systems
The quantity and complexity of integrations often correspond to the size of the project.
Take, for instance, the platform for the pharmaceutical wholesalers which we integrated with the client’s accounting system. The data exchange process, in this case, was as follows:
- The B2B platform received catalogs of goods, prices, and current warehouse balances from the accounting system.
- Conversely, information about placed orders was transmitted back to the accounting system.
However, as stated, the specifics and scales of other projects may vary, often requiring more numerous and intricate integrations.
In the case of the Kia platform, we implemented over 20 integrations with internal corporate IT systems, in addition to a significant number of integrations with major dealer software systems. These integrations involved SAP ERP, Salesforce CRM, warehouse software, and logistics systems, among others.
As a rule, the larger the project, the more diverse and complex the likely integrations required will be, presenting increasingly intricate challenges for your development team. To provide a sense of the complexity of the integration solutions we have developed for this project, consider this: the documentation outlining the requirements for the CRM integration alone exceeded over 80 A4 pages.
Implementation of B2B e-commerce platforms
The implementation extends far beyond simply launching the software. It also requires adequate training of the client’s staff and preparing the necessary documentation to ensure the successful operation of the platform.
For instance, in the project we completed for the pharmaceutical company, in addition to developing the platform, we also provided technical documentation and user manuals, and further offered subsequent consultations to the client’s employees, addressing their inquiries.
Large-scale projects, such as the one we continue to undertake for Kia, often exemplify the process of continuous implementation. The project team constantly develops additional features and new software versions, ensuring their delivery and deployment. Additionally, in agreement with the client, we consistently supplement its documentation, depositing extensive amounts in Confluence. This documentation encompasses all types, from technical to user-focused.
We have a dedicated support team that constantly addresses queries from Kia employees, dealers, partners, and other interested platform users. However, we’re not talking about basic inquiries like «I forgot my password again, help me!». The questions we receive are technical, and our specialists assist car dealers by answering them and facilitating their integration with various Kia software systems.
As you can see, even though the systems serve the same purpose, the approaches to their development vary significantly.
B2B platform development team
As I often highlight, the composition of the technical team should be determined by the goals and tasks of the project. In the scenarios we’ve been considering, we allocated a dedicated team immediately to our smaller project, and for the larger one, the team expanded gradually as additional tasks were assigned.
So, what kind of experts might be needed to create a B2B e-commerce platform?
First, let’s consider our B2B platform for selling pharmaceuticals:
- Project manager, part-time.
- UI/UX Designer, part-time.
- Frontend developer, full-time.
- Backend developer, full-time.
- Quality assurance engineer, part-time.
- DevOps engineer, part-time.
This composition of the team was entirely enough to implement the project, the duration of which was several months.
Naturally, a much larger team is driving the B2B e-commerce platform project for Kia. Here are the professionals we need:
- Product owner, full-time.
- Project manager, full-time.
- Two business analysts, full-time.
- UI/UX Designer, full-time.
- Four front-end developers, full-time.
- Four backend developers, full-time.
- Quality assurance/quality control engineer, full-time.
- Automation quality assurance engineer, full-time.
- Three support specialists, full-time.
- DevOps engineer, part-time.
This team has been diligently working on this project for several years, and together with the client’s representatives, we keep our finger on the pulse of the project, and we stand ready to adjust the team’s composition as necessary, responding to changes in the project’s scope.
B2B platform project tech stack
In today’s tech landscape, every popular programming language has notable projects associated with it. The selection of a technology stack should always be dictated by the specific needs and characteristics of a project. I’ve previously discussed the proper approach to this in our blog.
Allow me to share details of the process of how we chose tech stacks for the two projects we’ve been referring to in this article.
For the small pharmaceutical project, virtually any programming language suitable for web development could have sufficed. The client had no particular preference and granted us complete autonomy in selecting technologies.
In determining the optimal set of technologies, we considered the following:
- The popularity and prospects of the technology.
- Speed and performance of the solution.
- Ease and speed of software development.
- Market availability and rates of relevant developers.
- Our specialization/s and experience, among other factors.
- As a result, Python/Django and JS/React became the backbone of this project’s tech stack.
In contrast, larger clients often come with more preconditions and potential restrictions. When our project with Kia commenced, they already had an established technology stack, which included PHP/Yii and JS/Vue.
Consequently, we had to align with the client’s existing framework. Large corporations typically adhere to an internal tech stack that rarely changes. In this scenario, if we had the choice, we would have recommended Python. Nevertheless, despite our clear preference for Python, we’re also proficient in PHP, a capability we successfully demonstrated in this project.
Timing and budget for building a B2B e-commerce platform
Based on the functionality and team descriptions of the two platforms we’ve discussed, you should now have a rough estimate of typical project parameters.
The project to develop a wholesale platform for medicines, including additional development and testing, spanned around 5-6 months, and cost the client several tens of thousands of euros.
Conversely, the substantial project for Kia has been ongoing for several years, with a budget that extends into millions of dollars.
The two instances discussed in this article represent opposite ends of the spectrum in the realm of B2B e-commerce platforms. One project is straightforward, while the other is exceedingly complex. Remember that the majority of projects tend to fall somewhere in between these two extremes however, if you aim to create a large-scale B2B web resource akin to the Kia case, we, as developers, are ready to guide and support you along this path.
B2B e-commerce platforms are versatile solutions that cater to various scales of operation, from minor auxiliary projects for small businesses to critical, expansive IT systems for larger enterprises. Building such systems requires an experienced and skilled team, particularly proficient in handling technical issues and integrations. If you’re a manufacturer or wholesaler in need of a B2B e-commerce platform, it’s advisable to engage experts who can guide you in implementing such a project tailored to your company’s needs.
Our company specializes in crafting e-commerce solutions. We’ve developed a wide variety of similar platforms, a few examples of which have been illustrated in this article. Documenting our entire experience in such projects would necessitate a multitude of articles, but if you’re looking to propel your business forward with B2B platform development, feel free to reach out to us — we’ve got you covered!