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May 31st, 2024

B2B? From here? But how?

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Considering adding B2B sales into your retail business as an additional channel? Looking to navigate the various technology options available to you? There are a number of key things for you to consider and I’ve laid out my thoughts and suggestions on how to expand into selling direct to other businesses quickly and efficiently.

Key Considerations

  1. Is this a drill? Ticking a box? Or a proven opportunity?
  2. What eCommerce platform / tooling are you currently using?
  3. Are your Fulfilment and Logistics set up to handle B2B orders?
  4. Are you going to be selling your entire D2C product range to your B2B customers?
  5. What kind of online shopping experience are your B2B customers looking for?
  6. What kind of company are you looking to sell your products into? And how are they going to interact with you?

Is this a drill?

Trying this to see if it lands? Need a proof of concept that can enable you to sell B2B to your leadership team in the long term? 

Firstly, consider a marketplace approach. These are specific to your vertical and there may not be an ideal choice, but good examples include Faire, JOOR and B&Q. This approach has its challenges, particularly with regards to the overlap between the marketplace and your brand with regards to who owns the customer, but can provide you with the opportunity to test and develop a B2B channel without the initial and ongoing effort and costs of spinning up your own B2B store.

If you’re on Shopify or BigCommerce I’d recommend leveraging SparkLayer. Sparklayer enables you to layer a B2B store on your existing storefront, or roll out an additional store / trade portal, depending on your preference. In both cases it will leverage your existing product catalogue, inventory and other eCommerce data.

If you’re on Shopify, but not paying for Plus, then they’re a quick, feature-rich route into B2B that doesn’t involve a tonne of customisation. If you’re already on BigCommerce, they enable you to get up and running quickly and give you more flexibility from an experience perspective than BigCommerce’s default trade portal approach.

Just ticking a box, then the path of least resistance makes most sense. What that ends up being will vary significantly depending on the eCommerce technology you’re leveraging.

All in on B2B for your brand? Then, again, your existing technology has an impact, but not as much as ensuring that you take the right approach for your customers, prospects and the product(s) you are selling. Starting off with a MoSCoW analysis (never a bad idea for any product / experience choice) is as good an option as any. Once you’re got your requirements and you’ve prioritised them then compare and contrast with the solutions available. Those could include more established B2B players such as OroCommerce, NuOrder, even SAP at the true enterprise end of things.

Build on what you’ve got

Lean is best when it comes to tech stack and whilst the temptation is always to go with the new, invariably there’s value to be had in leveraging what you already have. There are far too many eCommerce platforms around to cover them all, but for example:

Magento 2 / Adobe Commerce

This is a highly customisable platform and if you’re doing any kind of volume on it you’ll already have an in-house resource and / or an agency that you work with. Leverage them to extend out your B2B offering from the same stack. It doesn’t have to be surfaced on the same store, but should leverage the same product data et al.

The only caveat to this is that it can be time-consuming, complex and expensive to build on Adobe, so depending on your requirements and expected costs, don’t be afraid to consider a separate platform for your B2B store - as above. Make sure to factor in the additional integration, running and admin costs that are going to accompany that choice though.


Highly customisable and a damned sight more affordable than Adobe, the same applies here as above. Where there’s a will there’s inevitably a way with WooCommerce and it won’t generally be that expensive, at least initially. You’ll want to be wary of coding yourself into a corner in terms of the long term and, again, time to market should be a consideration.

Big Commerce

If you’re already running BigCommerce for your B2C and not yet selling direct to other companies then, to be frank, you’re a bit of an outlier. BigCommerce’s default B2B functionality is strong and their rollout of B2B Edition for enterprise customers is compelling, with regards to the default functionality included and the opportunity to craft your own unique B2B experience. Particularly if you’re hooked into composable and / or headless with regards to your eCom Tech Stack then they deserve serious consideration.

As above, you’ll want to leverage your in-house team and / or agency to help you navigate this and in terms of time to market, it will be worth comparing native BigCommerce with what you can achieve with a tool like SparkLayer being added into the mix.

Shopify Plus

B2B is a cornerstone of Shopify’s push into the Enterprise space and, as such, they’ve rolled out a default B2B theme and B2B-specific functionality for Shopify Plus brands only. As with a lot of Shopify’s features, we’re looking at you Markets, it can be a slow burn in terms of when the marketing kicks off versus when the full product’s released but with an unrivalled R&D spend in the eCommerce platform space and a proven track record of consistent delivery, you can be confident that they’ll get there.

There are some key gotchas with Shopify’s B2B functionality at this point though, biggest of which is the fact that, by default, it’s not possible for customers to checkout without paying up front by credit card. Payment on account or by invoice - for example - isn’t possible in checkout at the moment.

Shopify’s Checkout Extensibility means you can build this, so you’re not blocked, but it’s going to add time and cost up front and will be something that you have to maintain.

An approach I’ve seen a lot of existing Plus customers take is to leverage SparkLayer - apologies for the repetition on that, but it is what it is. Enabling them to build on their existing Tech Stack and create a B2B-specific experience, either on their existing store or via a separate B2B store / portal.


Shopify / Shopify Advanced

B2B tooling isn’t something that Shopify have released below Plus, so if you wish to stick with the big green giant - and if you’re on it, why wouldn’t you - then an app such as SparkLayer will enable you to expand into B2B whilst retaining the same admin environment for your users and leverage your existing product data etc...

An order’s an order, right? Right?!?

You already have a robust fulfilment process for your D2C orders. Either running through your own Warehouse and tooling, or via a third party, like Scend. Presumably your B2B orders can flow through the same process without any issue?

Not likely I’m afraid.

Key differences that we’ve seen between D2C and B2B orders that you’ll need to discuss and decide on how you want to handle, include:

  • Order size. Potentially you’re going to shift to picking 2-3 line orders for your D2C customers to picking 10s or 100s of lines for a single order for B2B. That impacts:
    • How you pick - splitting out D2C and B2B orders is necessary
    • Pallet picking and other bulk pick approaches may make sense for your B2B orders
  • Logistics. Despatching 2-3 pallets to a single business presents a different set of challenges to Royal Mail, DPD or UPS picking up some cages of parcels.
    • Haulage
    • Final mile delivery
    • Do you know when you’ll be able to deliver to your customers’ locations - all of a sudden Class 2 or HGV lorries only having access outside peak hours becomes a thing.
  • Money. If you’re enabling businesses to buy from you on account and / or to pay for their invoices on 30, 60 or 90 day terms (for example), this needs to be fed into your fulfilment process. 
    • Customers that don’t pay on time or whose account is over its limit need to be put on hold. Either from having orders despatched and / or from being able to create orders in the first place.
    • Processes for invoicing, producing statements, contacting customers, pursuing debt chasing etc. need to robust and automated as much as is feasible to ensure they run efficiently and consistently.
    • Seamlessly integrating that financial control into your fulfilment processes is necessary to ensure that you’re not escalating an existing situation.
  • Locations. D2C delivery and contact details are - unless I’m ordering via Apple Pay and sending a pair of shoes to my brother in Folkestone by accident - uncomplicated. Invariably the Billing and Delivery Address match and the Delivery Address will have been checked against your postcode lookup tool on checkout.
    • B2B customers will often have more than one location / site that they’re ordering for. 
    • You’ll have a mix of that being handled through central purchasing and individual sites doing their own thing.
    • Adding company names, specific departments and other fun stuff into addresses can make address lookup a lot more challenging.
    • Ensuring that the right order is being shipped to the right location becomes a lot more entertaining. It’s easier for the customer to make a mistake - especially if there’s a shared address book on their end - and it’s also easier for things to go awry in your back office software with merged accounts and addresses.
  • They might not want to order online. Shocking I know, but a lot of businesses still want to be able to speak with someone and place their order. That can be over the phone, in person, or even via an old fashioned order book. 
    • Do your existing systems enable you to process those orders efficiently and feed them into your systems?
    • If you have colleagues visiting companies to physically take orders, have they got the necessary tools to be able to see current customer-specific pricing, inventory, account status, order history etc..
  • Cost to serve. Whether you’re fulfilling yourself or leveraging a 3PL, there are going to be significantly different costs that need to be modelled out for processing B2B orders and for handling B2B stock.
    • As above, B2B orders are likely to be bigger. The impact that has on your costs will be driven by product mix, options that are available for bulk picking, haulage and a myriad other elements.
    • If you’re working with a 3PL, dig into the location type / storage mix, as well as the pure picking and shipping cost side of things. Potentially there will be savings to be realised from being able to put away a pallet into bulk storage that you can then pick whole, reducing replenishment costs and other associated stock touches. Alternatively, weaving that into your existing D2C processes could lead to the opposite.

Choosing the right technology and systems to enable you to handle the above - and the myriad other elements that are going to come into play - is key. Again, building out your requirements and prioritising them is key. And, again, do as much as possible with what you’ve already got.

Adding a whole new channel into your business brings a level of complexity with it that can benefit from the right tooling. But that doesn’t have to mean you leap into bed with an Enterprise Resource Planning system on day one. Leveraging the right tools for your operation is key and don’t be afraid to explore no-code / low-code solutions, especially when initially building this out.

In Summary

Adding in a B2B sales channel can be a huge opportunity for your brand. Globally, online B2B sales stood at around $1.6 trillion in 2021. By 2025 they’re expected to have reached $4.6 trillion (as per On top of which, significant growth in retail technology is predicated on increasing the rate at which B2B transactions move online, one just has to look at the strategies of platforms such as Shopify and BigCommerce.

If you’d like to test a B2B channel, or dive in and build out B2B as a cornerstone of your brand’s ongoing strategy, then hopefully the above provides you with a jumping off point.

Explore B2B Fulfilment 

Special thanks to Andy at Cogent² for this excellent article.

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