The Right Platform can Control, Manage & Grow With You
Custom enterprise marketplace development for multichannel B2B sales platforms offers the most affordable way to control, manage and grow business operations. SaaS developers generally delight in updating the ever-evolving market requirements and building customizations that are critical in global marketplace platforms. Unfortunately, that approach can leave companies with glaring operational deficiencies and escalating cost overruns. Only the full integration of third-party vendors with a company’s operating software provides the custom eCommerce benefits that come from automation and streamlined business processes.
Online marketplaces have racked up some impressive marketing and sales numbers in both B2B and B2C online commerce. The greater amount of data involved in B2B eCommerce means that marketplace development is even more critical for routinely managing multiple vendors and vast inventories of products and services. B2B sales are projected to surpass retail by 2020, and marketing tools have exploded to more than 3,500 types of applications.  Managing these tools in platforms becomes critical because multichannel shoppers spend 300 percent more than single channel buyers, and marketplace platforms are clearly where eCommerce is headed.
Plan What’s Needed in a Marketplace Platform
Each platform is complicated and unique because no two businesses operate in exactly the same way. The same holds true for your customers and the way your service your customers. Marketplace sales have different types of vendors, key in-house products where competition isn’t wanted and proprietary methods of pricing and quoting. Workflows vary tremendously, and some companies offer complex shipping arrangements that involve split-, overweight-, LTL-, custom packaging (i.e. palette configuration and core charge, etc.) and other carrier-shipping services. Standardized software can’t handle all these variables, which is why platform customization is so critical to marketplace success.
Key Development Areas to Investigate
The first step in planning involves determining what a platform needs in the way of software, features, apps and automation. That means defining user stories precisely and determining what each vendor will need and what management will need to monitor and manage quality. What features are needed to foster sales in different regions? Answering these questions can determine a company’s development strategy. The following areas are among the most important to consider:
Enabling Fast Upgrades to Web Design
The B2B eCommerce design needs of marketplace operations are more challenging than simply organizing in-house products and brands. There could be hundreds of thousands of products split into hundreds of in-house stores-within-stores. Each vendor might want to use a unique color scheme and logo and adjust designs periodically. Design challenges for global marketplaces include satisfying the following business needs:
- Incorporate modules for specific design needs.
- Develop extensions, apps and plugins with appealing graphics.
- Use admin panels and custom dashboards for staff and associates to manage their accounts.
- Cater to specific markets within countries and jurisdictions.
- Design displays and content that adjust (responsive web design) for different devices, browsers and computing devices.
- Facilitate unique designs that represent the business’ brand and platform.
Planning Custom Reports
Strong eCommerce development facilitates importing and exporting data efficiently, and allows the design of custom reports for comparisons, strategic planning and taking advantage of marketing opportunities. Special modules can trigger alerts, export statistics for each vendor and prepare reports for custom dashboards for each platform stakeholder. Robust platforms will also include an Ad hoc report builder to extend and create your own reports to meet ever-changing business needs.
Integrating Shipping Options
Managing multiple vendors and global jurisdictions introduces challenges for integrating shipping carriers, local sales taxes, customs and duties and other criteria. Integrated third-party software enables stakeholders to compare shipping methods and prices, calculate taxes, generate tracking information and manage complex shipping rules for split shipments, drop shipments, shipping large pallets of products, using multiple carriers and managing inventory / fulfillment technologies.
Customizing Features for Multiple Stores
Multiple stores generate vast amounts of data, and the platform features that handle this information include different product catalogs, medical products subject to HIPAA regulations and inventory management for companies with separate retail operations. Many companies have different pricing tiers (multi-tiered pricing and / or pricing rules) for predefined customer profiles, and all platform features and applications must integrate fully with related platforms with highly accurate code logic.
Window shopping is common among platform users, and many buyers purchase products by committee or require approvals from multiple decision-makers. That means buyers might visit the platform multiple times before placing an order, but when they do, they need real-time information on inventory. This can be complicated by multiple vendors who have brick-and-mortar operations, outside sales staff and product listings on multiple platforms. It’s easy for multiple users to add the same product to their carts simultaneously. Should each of these products be deducted in real-time, or should reconciliation occur only after an order is finalized? Cart management can be ambiguous, and strong algorithms are critical for managing carts and inventory updates.
Building Custom Dashboards
Custom dashboards can provide great user experiences for customers, vendors, multiple decision-makers and in-house staff. Managing dashboards without integration becomes problematic because each stakeholder has a different level of authorization and dedicated interests.
Engineering Seamless Order Management
Tools for order management and fulfillment can vary considerably among vendors, and each process must integrate with the platform’s software. Integration can automate all the fulfillment processes with minimal errors. Make sure that both the platform you choose and the vendor have experience integrating many disparate applications.
Incorporating Payment Efficiencies
Payment management grows more complex when dealing with platform vendors. Different stores might use popular gateways in their own regions, and processing costs could cut into commissions unless these terms are proactively managed. It’s critical to integrate any restrictions, split payments and escrow accounts to cover refunds. Integration enables offering many payment efficiencies that include using different gateways, users and cash flow practices based on vendor agreements, etc.
Ensuring Platform-Wide Product Quality
Quality assurance often becomes an issue in marketplace platforms. Some markets don’t have complete control of quality and delivery times. Best practices include automating a review system and triggering alerts when issues arise. The right software integrations simplify managing this issue proactively.
Personalization and Contextualization
Each vendor has unique customers and buyer profiles, so generic marketing messages and content sometimes aren’t enough. Each vendor should have the ability to personalize and contextualize their displays and content so that users get an appealing experience and efficient routing along a defined customer journey. The users’ experience directly affects the users’ satisfaction, loyalty and conversions.
Dealing with Astonishing Numbers of SKUs
A single B2B vendor could easily have between 10,000 and 1million SKUs or more to manage, and those figures can increase geometrically depending on the number of platform vendors and product add-ons. Relevant information includes product descriptions and searchable data about color, size and other attributes. An integrated system is essential for managing this data, automating incoming and outgoing information and integrating the data with other systems such as inventory quantities at multiple locations.
Overcoming the Challenges of eCommerce Platform Development
Too many B2B decision-makers learn their craft only after experiencing harsh lessons. Marketplace platforms must satisfy an even broader range of stakeholders than proprietary eCommerce platforms. Some of these challenges include:
- Documenting product and supply chain details
- Copywriting content and imagery
- Providing the right customer experience for each platform visitor/li>
- Assessing and receiving third-party payments and fees
- Ensuring 99.999-percent reliable and scalable hosting
- Maintaining and testing features, Web pages and apps
It’s important to automate as many of these processes as possible, monitor operations to improve them over time and process workflows efficiently and timely. It’s just not possible to manage these complexities without a robust and integrated sales and marketing platform.
Refining Your Development Strategy
Custom eCommerce platforms depend on strong eCommerce development strategies, and these are developed more efficiently when your platform integrates all software to unite interconnected systems. Data silos generate multiple operating challenges, so it pays to invest in full integration of CMS, ERP and other software. The best practices for enterprise marketplace development involve choosing a trusted business partner to integrate software, make recommendations, train staff and maintain the platform.
 Smartinsights.com: 37 indispensable E-commerce stats for 2017