Built-In vs. Add In: B2B eCommerce Platform
Today’s manufacturers and distributors have more eCommerce options than ever before. With new platforms emerging every day, existing software companies expanding their portfolios to include eCommerce offerings, and even B2C platforms recognizing the B2B opportunity, the options can be overwhelming.
Many manufacturers and distributors have unique needs and business processes that are specific to their business. To accommodate these requirements, most organizations end up modifying a platform to varying levels. One of the most common customizations is to the front-end experience, but it also is not uncommon for companies to extend the platform for unique B2B needs such as PunchOut, robust search faceting, and/or real-time integrations to sophisticated back-end systems.
Buyer beware, as you evaluate the many eCommerce platforms available, that not all solutions are created equal. Some solutions may be open source or provide a plug-in ecosystem, while others may have the required features built in, or out-of-the-box, with options to customize those functionalities to meet your needs. As you work with technology partners, RFPs, or selection consultants, you may often come across features listed as “3rd party plug-in available” or maybe the platform will respond that they do indeed support your needs, only to later inform you it’s through 3rd party developers in their plug-in marketplace.
While it may seem easy to understand the benefits of both options, it may not be as apparent to their drawbacks. In this Executive Brief, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of the built-in vs. add-in features of a B2B eCommerce platform.
Of course, a bespoke plug-in ecosystem to help expand a platform can help broaden the appeal of the platform to a wider audience, but what else can businesses expect out of a plug-in compatible platform?
Time & Money
Plug-ins can be cheap. Depending on competition and the complexity of the task the plug-in solves for, generally plugins can be found for cheaper than building out capabilities from scratch.
Reduce time spent in implementation. Assuming the plugins exists for a large chunk of your business’ requirements, often time plug-ins can be installed quickly. However, to fine tune and set up the resulting experience of a plug-in can still be time-consuming, but perhaps less technical.
Quality & Support
Large ecosystems and a number of developers. For well-known and well-adopted platform, there is a large opportunity for plug-in developers. This results in a larger number of plug-in choices and competition, as well as a larger pool of developers familiar with the platform.
Preconfigured Integrations. Within larger ecosystems, other vendors you’ve invested in (ERPs, Marketing Automation Tools, CRMs) may have 1st party official plugins.
Faster product development Plug-in development lifecycles can sometimes be faster than holistic product releases. Also, security patches and hotfixes can be pushed quickly as well.
Native managmentPlug-ins can often times be managed within the same administration screens as the base platform.
While it may seem that a plug-in fueled platform has endless potential to suit manufacturers and distributors needs, they aren’t without fault. For many, picking a more rounded feature-rich platform alleviates the need for involving external plug-ins at all. A feature-rich base platform also may allow for more consistent, customizable experiences.
Time & Money
Plug-ins may cost additional money. Nothing is every totally free, and therefore many plug-in developers are in the marketplace to make money. Additionally, to best position themselves for revenue potential, many developers are likely to aim their development efforts to the broadest crowd possible: The B2C retail storefronts.
Additional licensing and support Since these plug-ins are created by 3rd party companies, some may require a different licensing and support model depending on how many sites you operate, how much transactional volume you place through those sites, and other measures.
Quality & Support
Too many cooks in the kitchen. Depending on what your plug-in is doing, you may be involving many stakeholders: plug-in developer, 3rd party platform it’s integrating, the eCommerce platform, and your implementers.
Abandoned plug-ins. Sometimes plug-ins become unsupported or abandoned over time, or no longer work with the latest version of the eCommerce platform. What now?
Licensing and support. Depending on the licensing model, you may need multiple licenses to work across the development environment or microsites. Support may be limited to the features of that plug-in, and will not help with plug-in cross-compatibility.
Development quality and secruity.Without a moderated plug-in exchange and now with advanced proprietary DRM restrictions, it’s harder to verify the quality and integrity of the plug-ins code, a scary proposition when it has access to your customer data.
Code bloat. Since plug-in developers are ultimately looking for adoption and revenue, they design plug-ins with the broadest audience in mind. This can cause a lot of code bloat and performance issues with unnecessary components.
Performance and speed issues. With additional external processes running to display the user experience of plugins, are additional hosting needs accounted for?
Customer data and secruity.Are you comfortable with the 3rd party plug-ins and extensions accessing your ERP, customer, and revenue data?
While there are certainly reasons why a plug-in centric platform can be compelling for customers, manufacturers and distributors should be keenly aware of their downfalls. With more and more self service and transactional events moving online in B2B, ensuring your platform and its crucial components can scale efficiently to provide the best customer experience is critical for success. When looking for your new B2B eCommerce platform, it’ll pay to be extra cautious when your vendor requirements say “3rd party extension” vs. “out-of-the-box”.
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