EDI is Not B2B EcommerceThere’s an urban myth in the world of B2B business that having EDI in place constitutes having a B2B ecommerce channel and that nothing else is required.

I strongly disagree.

EDI, or electronic data interchange, has been around in one form or another for 50 years. EDI is the exchange of standard business documents between two companies via computer-to-computer connection. Some of the types of documents exchanged via EDI can include purchase orders, invoices, shipping notices, export and import notices, waybills, funds transfer, design specifications and health insurance claims.

While B2B organizations may provide EDI as a way for their larger customers to place product orders and while EDI is a method by which enterprise organizations could place orders—the “e” part of the transaction requirement fulfilled by the fact that EDI takes place strictly from computer-to-computer—EDI does not provide the expected ecommerce transaction experience.

In my opinion, having EDI in place without a supporting ecommerce venture that utilizes the Web, B2B organizations cannot say that they have a B2B ecommerce initiative in place.

Why can’t EDI along suffice as an ecommerce channel?

  1. EDI is most likely to be used by large enterprise organizations, limiting the potential for a B2B company to receive orders from companies without EDI capability.
  2. I believe that the definition of what constitutes ecommerce is changing. It used to be that the only requirement for a transaction to be ecommerce is that the purchase be conducted electronically. Now dynamic content, user experience, and site functionality play as large a role in the ecommerce transaction as does the act of buying something online. EDI does not offer the expected “ecommerce experience” users have come to expect and as the consumerization of B2B ecommerce continues, the differences between EDI and online ecommerce will become more and more stark.
  3. While it is possible to submit an order via EDI, there are any number of types of information that can be shared via EDI that have nothing to do with a sales transaction. While they may support a purchase by providing additional information between systems, ecommerce lies in the act of buying, not the act of sharing information.

Should B2B organizations abandon their EDI offering in favor of adding an ecommerce website? Not necessarily. Should an organization with EDI in place consider adding an online ecommerce site to reach those who are not using EDI? Absolutely.

To learn more about how to ensure that your B2B ecommerce initiative is a success, download the whitepaper, B2B Ecommerce Success – Seven Questions to Consider When Beginning an Ecommerce Initiative.