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  • 22 Aug 2022 · 6 min read

The Evolution of Shopify B2B

From a limited B2B offering via its wholesale channel, to a far more mature platform allowing for a single D2C/B2B site, Shopify’s B2B functionality has evolved to give merchants more flexibility to structure their B2B businesses the way they want. Join MD of our Australian team, Sean Clanchy, as he takes a look back at the evolution of B2B on Shopify.

Written By
Sean Clanchy

June’s Shopify Editions covered no less than 100 product updates, with a whole host of features promising to help retailers thrive in the “Connect to Consumers” era.

Amongst those updates was a particularly exciting announcement about B2B on Shopify, promising the ability to sell to direct and wholesale customers from one integrated store.

Knowing the historical limitations of Shopify’s B2B functionality, I was immediately intrigued by the platform’s shiny new B2B capabilities, wanting to know more about how these long-awaited tools would impact ecommerce merchants.

In this article, I’m going back in time to explore what Shopify B2B has looked like over the years. I’ll then take a more detailed look at the new B2B functionality that Shopify has unlocked, the benefits it brings to Plus users, and the additional potential it unlocks for pure play B2B businesses – from manufacturing to wholesale distributors.

The gap: Historic Shopify B2B limitations

Shopify is the largest out-of-the-box ecommerce platform in the world (discounting WordPress WooCommerce, which we consider to be a cart plug-in rather than a full platform). According to BuiltWith, it supports sellers around the world with over five million live sites.1

Known predominantly as a direct to consumer (D2C) ecommerce platform, Shopify has an openly stated mission to “make commerce better for everyone”.

Over the years, they’ve clearly solved problems for merchants everywhere: making their ecommerce admin easy to use, creating their own payment provider in Shopify Payments (2013), lending to entrepreneurs via Shopify Capital (2016), and improving merchants’ fulfilment capabilities with the introduction of the Shopify Fulfilment Network (2019).

And while the focus has been largely on their online capabilities, Shopify have made notable improvements to their Point of Sale system – Shopify POS – with the latest round of major updates announced in 2020. One of the clear benefits of Shopify POS is that it uses the same customer and inventory records as the online sales channel – allowing merchants to sell more from consolidated inventory and to build an understanding of consumers’ behaviours on and offline (often referred to as a “single customer view”).

Beyond improvements to their D2C online platform and offline POS, Shopify has historically had some limitations that have made it tricky for B2B merchants to leverage the platform to sell in the same ways they “always have”.

Namely, Shopify historically hasn’t supported separate price catalogues per organisation or organisational location – a common way of doing business on existing B2B platforms.

Whilst Shopify Plus merchants have had access to the wholesale sales channel (Plus exclusive since 2017), which has enabled basic price customisation via tags and pre-set lists at a user level, this required a lot of manual management. It also limited your ability to leverage other Shopify native functionality and wasn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing. What’s more, it required a separate storefront to be created, which wholesale users couldn’t access via your regular storefront.

Another limitation worthy of note is that wholesale channel stores aren’t indexable, meaning they don’t rank organically in Google or Bing – limiting their ability to attract new wholesale customers.

At Swanky, we’ve been able to counter some of these limitations for our clients thanks to our expertise and experience creating custom user experiences and functionality, like bespoke app solutions. We enjoy creating innovative solutions that go beyond the realms of what Shopify offers “out-of-the-box”, and have done just that with premium cycling brand Saddleback and water product supplier Brio Water.

Progress: Targeting B2B pain points

Historic limitations noted, let’s have a look at how Shopify have been working to improve B2B ecommerce on their platform in recent years, with the acquisition of Handshake and Deliverr.

Handshake

Handshake is an online marketplace allowing B2B merchants to sell wholesale to D2C retailers. Shopify acquired them in 2019, in what was, in our opinion, their biggest step towards providing their B2B sellers with a competitive advantage.

Handshake currently only supports the US market, but Shopify “see a bright future where Handshake expands globally”.

Deliverr

Beyond giving B2B merchants an extra sales channel, Shopify have been working to solve a number of the other key problems highlighted by B2B merchants and manufacturers in PWC’s 2021 “Manufacturing COO Pulse Survey”, including fulfilment and logistics, cost control, and the use of data analytics (generally, but with a recurring theme of demand management).

In May 2022, Shopify announced their acquisition of Deliverr – a fast and cost-effective end-to-end fulfilment platform that integrates with ecommerce marketplaces (Bigcommerce, Amazon, Wish, Ebay, Google Shopping, Shopify, Walmart, Facebook Shops and WooCommerce) and 3PL warehouses. This was the largest acquisition in Shopify’s history!

Importantly, Deliverr handles B2B deliveries. This acquisition has expanded fast and easy fulfilment for wholesale merchants across multiple channels, removing complexity in one of the most challenging areas of modern business: logistics.

Which brings us to “B2B on Shopify”, which entered the ring in June 2022.

Most recently: B2B on Shopify

The June 2022 Editions announcement marked a significant and long-awaited digital upgrade for B2B functionality on Shopify. When you consider that 80% of B2B commerce is expected to take place online by 2025, there’s no better time for Shopify to invest in B2B capabilities with all the hallmark benefits of its market-leading D2C offering.2

Shopify Plus users can now enjoy a new set of wholesale features built specifically for B2B merchants, directly in the core of the platform. This means that merchants can manage their entire ecommerce business – B2B, D2C, or both – all in one place.

On top of this, you have access to the powerful customisation tools that make Shopify Plus so unique. And, this single-store setup means that B2B sites will now be indexable via Google and Bing.

“You now have the option of running both sides of your business from a single online store for both your direct and wholesale buyers. Or, you can choose to manage your wholesale business from a dedicated expansion store that is customised specifically to your B2B business and only used by your wholesale customers. Whichever you choose, you can manage it all from the same place—saving you time and money.”

– Source: Shopify

Here are the key highlights of this new and improved B2B functionality:

  • Company profiles. Provide each B2B customer with distinct contact permissions, payment terms, price lists and tax exemptions – making for a tailored buying experience. For more complex buyers, assign multiple contacts and locations to a single profile with different permission levels.
  • Price lists. Set fixed price and percentage-off price lists for all your products, and assign these to company profiles without the need for tags or third-party apps.
  • Net payment terms. Automatically assign payment terms to orders in the admin. Your customers will be able to checkout with the payment terms you’ve made available to them and can keep track of any upcoming payments in their account.
  • Powerful customisation functionality. Leverage the same level of customisation you have for your D2C customers. Merchants have access to things like custom store themes, discounts and Functions (formerly Scripts).
  • B2B checkout. Customise and automate the checkout experience with net payment terms, payment methods and wholesale discounts, creating a streamlined and personal experience for wholesale buyers.
  • Self-serve customer portal. Buyers can manage their account, select the company location they’re buying for, edit buyer information, and view and filter order history – freeing up your customer support team. Not only does this benefit your team, we talk in our guide to improving B2B customer experience how self-service is a necessity for today’s B2B buyer.
  • B2B analytics. Apply new B2B-specific filters to reports, giving a clear view of your wholesale business.

The future vision: Reimagining B2B as a concept

This new and improved B2B functionality, which combines essential wholesale features with the power of Shopify’s D2C solution, has the potential to revolutionise B2B selling.

In particular, I see huge value for offline, sales agent-led B2B businesses, whose entire sales models revolve around Business Development Managers (BDMs) or sales staff, with large percentages of repeat orders. I’m talking about the same accounts, spending the same amount every year, on the same products – meaning the BDMs are essentially just taking orders.

With B2B on Shopify, they now have a much easier avenue for moving online. They could leave the platform to handle order management, freeing up their BDMs to focus on accelerating business growth. As a result of taking their B2B business online, they could:

  • Reduce the risk of human error (keying in the wrong amount, account, price, or delivery address etc.), which can often damage client relationships.
  • Reduce their headcount requirement whilst servicing the same revenue.
  • Leverage their BDMs to proactively seek out new clients or upsell and cross-sell additional products when orders are submitted.
  • Leverage Google Analytics and other data platforms, allowing them to gain a richer understanding of their buyers (through data that wouldn’t otherwise be captured through interpersonal sales).
  • Address a broader market (instead of only focusing on large accounts), comfortably able to profitably service smaller accounts thanks to the reduction in cost-to-serve that tech-driven efficiency brings.

Then, once familiar with Shopify’s interface, there’s plenty of potential for B2B brands to start experimenting with selling D2C.

Your B2B ecommerce agency

Whether you’re a B2B retailer looking to make the move to online sales, or an established B2B ecommerce brand looking to scale your online presence, we have the expertise and experience to help here at Swanky.

We’ve been at the cutting edge of ecommerce solutioning for over a decade now, creating best-in-class Shopify Plus stores that not only look great, but are powered by industry-leading tech solutions. We also know a lot about B2B ecommerce and all of its complexities.

But don’t just take my word for it – our results speak for themselves. Just one month after we launched Saddleback’s award-winning UK B2B ecommerce website, their sales grew by 881%!

To find out how we can unlock your ecommerce potential like this, talk to us today.

 

For reference:

[1] https://trends.builtwith.com/

[2] https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-09-15-gartner-says-80–of-b2b-sales-interactions-between-su 

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