What Is B2B eCommerce Integration

To ensure consistency and deliver rich experiences across channels, ecommerce platforms need to integrate with other systems. According to Gartner, a typical ecommerce experience depends on at least thirty integrated applications. Since integrations are an integral part of the ecommerce ecosystem, it’s important to keep up with best-of-breed applications and ensure the flexibility of your own systems, when building a digital commerce technology stack.

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about B2B ecommerce integration, including its benefits and limitations, reasons to integrate with other systems, and methods you can undertake to successfully integrate your B2B ecommerce platform with internal and third-party applications.

Definition of B2B eCommerce Integration

eCommerce integration is the connection and coordination between different systems within one larger ecommerce ecosystem. When talking of ecommerce integration, we typically mean the coordination of ecommerce’s front end and back end systems that enable the bi-directional flow of information between them. For the illustration purposes, consider the following example: if your business uses an ERP to keep track of inventory, and if you want your online buyers to see the real-time stock levels (what’s in and what is out), then your ecommerce solution needs to be integrated with the ERP for the systems to be in-sync. By integrating critical systems with ecommerce, your customer data and product information remain consistent across all channels. Such automatic consistency ensures you don’t have to check, maintain, and move data between systems, as it’s done for you as a matter of course.

Types of eCommerce Integration

There are many ways to integrate your systems. The choice of a method will largely depend on such factors as the available development resources, short- and long-term business objectives, established workflows and practices. Below are a few typical methods that can guide you.

Real-time (API)

An application programming interface (API) is a type of software that offers services to other software. Simply put, API is a connection between either computers or computer programs. API helps accomplish a real-time connection of two systems with data getting pushed automatically between the application and ecommerce environment. API integrations can be either one- or two-way. For example, inventory changes in the ERP (something is sold offline) can be reflected in the ecommerce system (one-way), and changes in the ecommerce system (something is sold online) can be sent back to the ERP (two-way) reflecting the changes there as well.

Scheduled (SFTP or API)

While some syncing might be urgent, other is really not; such as product descriptions, for example, which can be scheduled for integration to run during off-peak hours. There are two types of scheduled integration, namely scheduled API sync and SFTP import of CSV files. Whatever method you choose, look for the ability to specify workflows and other parameters for transfer.

Manual (CSV file upload)

While pushing data to and from different systems manually might be the cheapest method, it might not be ideal for many reasons: firstly, it’s perilously prone to mistakes, secondly, it’s slow, and finally, it doesn’t scale so well. However, for companies with smaller data sets and slow-moving inventory, a CSV upload might totally do the job.

How to Prepare for eCommerce Integration

From planning to implementing, the mountain of steps you need to climb can get higher the more systems you need to integrate or the larger your business is, so better start now, rather than wait until the last minute to get everything straight. While there's no single recipe that'll work automatically for every company, there are still a handful of universal steps everyone climbs at some point, and so these are below:

  1. Familiarize yourself with your data and how it's set up: doing so will help you understand what exactly needs improvement, how you can accomplish the task, and what integration approach you'd like to pursue.
  2. Identify manual, slow, weak processes and convoluted steps you wish to eliminate or minimize. Review customer journey and areas to eliminate friction. Examine information flows: for instance, understand how your ERP routes data, how the accounting system handles payments, or how CRM manages customer information.
  3. Determine what exactly needs to be integrated (such as inventory, pricing, or product data), then map out the sync and integration procedures.
  4. Clean up the data you already have: for example, fix inconsistencies, eliminate duplicate entries, double-check for system updates, and so on.
  5. Consider the budget or other constraints, and if there are any, limit integration procedures accordingly or to only vital data and systems.
  6. Choose your tools and approaches carefully to avoid any bumps on the road to integration.

How to Integrate a Customer - Owned CRM into Virto Commerce Platform

Benefits of eCommerce Integration

There are multiple benefits to integration, such as a dramatic reduction in human error or better customer experience, among others, which we'll talk about in more detail below.

  1. Mitigation of human-error

    Eliminating manual procedures, such as the input of data from one system to another, dramatically reduces the possibility of mistakes. eCommerce integration allows continuous, uninterrupted flow of information between different systems without the need for manual intervention.

  2. Real-time data availability

    Since all data in integrated systems are in sync, the data across channels get automatically updated on a real-time or near real-time basis ensuring their consistency. The insights on such timely availability are extremely important not only for decision making or forecasting but also for seizing opportunities, reducing chances of lost sales, and improving customer experience overall.

  3. Greater data control

    The data availability makes it easier for data assessment, analysis, and forecasting. By leveraging real-time data insights, you can better understand demand/supply fluctuations, and react on the fly accordingly.

  4. Improvement in customer experience

    Nobody wants to order something that is no longer in stock and find out about it with a call back from a distraught salesman who just lost a sale and perhaps, a potentially loyal customer. Real-time data availability helps to eliminate such situations. Integration ensures customers always have instantaneous access to order status, inventory, pricing, and so on.

  5. Reduction in operational costs

    Good systems integration significantly reduces operational costs: there's no need to hire additional staff to manage data and update fulfillment information since such menial tasks are performed automatically.

Pitfalls of eCommerce Integration

Integration challenges in B2B are all mainly associated with either complexity of the IT ecosystem or the ecommerce platforms’ varying degrees of integration ability. Speaking from experience, it’s quite common to find B2B still using monolithic solutions or obsolete communication channels between trade partners, such as emails for order processing or Excel spreadsheets for keeping track of data. Since some of those tools in use are entirely unsuitable for integration, it takes time to process, convert, or transfer data from those obsolete tools into something much more manageable and identify the underlying interactions and boundaries between different applications.

Then there are master data and catalog enrichment challenges that require the processing of additional data, or pricing challenges and identification of the underlying logic of price regulation, and so on.

The main challenges, therefore, are related primarily to the understanding of data flows and getting those flows in order rather than the integration process by itself, which becomes easier the more developers familiarize themselves with data and business logic.

Examples of B2B eCommerce Integration

Below are a few examples of successful integration use cases that Virto Commerce undertook in the recent past.

Bosch Thermotechnik

Bosch Thermotechnology (Bosch Thermotechnik) makes heating and air conditioning solutions for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Traditionally, the company relied on its distribution channels for completing the final sale. To gain access to important customer information, Bosch decided to build a loyalty solution that will connect more than a dozen partners and fulfillment providers across the EU. At this point, Bosch sought Virto Commerce development expertise and used Virto Commerce modules to build the final product. Bosch chose Virto for a few reasons, such as a .Net technology stack, for example, but also because Virto could integrate with virtually any system, including an unlimited number of third-party providers.

As Bosch wanted to manage its own front-end development, Virto Commerce developed a solution around the company’s front-end technology stack. The result has been the development of the Bosch Thermotechnik Sales Digital Unit, a loyalty portal where customers register Bosch Thermotechnik products in return for exchangeable points that they can use to purchase marketing materials, professional tools, or clothing from Bosch partners. In a loyalty portal, every brand/country has its own fulfillment providers that upload goods and marketing materials to the store. Thanks to Virto Commerce, Bosch has been able to connect with more than 60 fulfillment providers with 3,000 SKUs available per brand or country and roll out its loyalty program in 26 countries.

Bosch Thermotechnik

Standaard Boekhandel

Standaard Boekhandel is a large Belgian bookstore chain of approximately 150 stores and 15 million products. In addition to selling millions of books, the company sells stationery, music, games, gifts, and toys. Looking to strengthen its position in a fiercely competitive online book sales market, Standaard Boekhandel, Belgium’s largest book retailer, embarked on a digital transformation. Unfortunately, the existing platform didn’t answer Boekhandel’s ambitious goals so the company chose to re-platform. Re-platforming to Virto Commerce allowed Boekhandel to extend their product offering and handle millions of products daily in near-real-time, integrate efficiently with different channels (including more than 200 offline points of sale), and improve the search functionality for their two brands.

Standaard Boekhandel

How Virto Commerce Helps with Integration

Virto Commerce can be a perfect interaction point for data consolidation that's needed to build a seamlessly functioning digital catalog so that customers browse through it, switch to various personalized offers, complete an order, while Virto processes and aggregates data from different systems according to order status.

Think of Virto Commerce ecommerce platform as an architectural basis for the integration of different systems and the meeting point of all business logic, API or SDK, that effectively links all software modules into a single interface.

Furthermore, Virto Commerce can serve as a gateway for integration with other services that need a different integration architecture and algorithmic solutions, such as non-real-time services. Virto Commerce ensures that users interact with those systems in real-time and that this interaction does not depend on the stability of external systems.

You can read more on integration, its associated challenges and solutions, in a series of articles we did on the subject by following the links below:

E-commerce integration, Part 1. The need for integration in enterprise e-commerce
E-commerce Integration, Part 2. The Real Challenges of eCommerce Integration
E-commerce integration, Part 3. Growing number of dependencies between apps as an integration challenge
E-commerce integration, Part 4. How Virto Commerce can help with e-commerce integration
ERP and e-commerce integration scenarios, Part 5. Overview and point-to-point integrations

ERP and e-commerce integration scenarios, Part 6. Using integration middleware

FAQs

What is a B2B ecommerce platform?

B2B ecommerce platform is an ecommerce software that facilitates online transactions between businesses via an online sales portal.

What is e-commerce integration?

eCommerce integration means tying various business systems with an ecommerce solution. Examples of such systems include finance, accounting, inventory, and product systems. eCommerce integration creates an accurate and consistent flow of data between different systems.

What is B2B e-commerce model with example?

A B2B ecommerce model is defined by the sale of goods or services between businesses via an online sales channel. Amazon Business and Alibaba are good examples of such businesses.

How do I make a B2B ecommerce platform?

If you're talking about an ecommerce portal where you can sell your products and services, then there are a couple of ways you can make it. You may opt for purchasing a ready-made solution with essential B2B functionality out of the box, you may employ developer resources and build a website of your own from scratch, or assemble your own solution from available open-source ecommerce modules.

What is integrated B2B e-commerce software?

An integrated B2B ecommerce software is connected with critical internal and third-party systems to enable a seamless b-directional flow of information for a scalable, extensible, and customizable business environment.

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Marina Vorontsova
Technical author and eCommerce advocate