Build Versus Buy: Which Ecommerce Strategy is Best for B2B

The selection of an eCommerce platform is an important decision with long-lasting implications for your business. At first glance, the obvious answer is to look for the best overall platform. However, B2B businesses are vastly different and not all solutions work well for every company.

The main questions to ask include:

  • What does a solution built from scratch offer over an off-the-shelf product?
  • Are there any other alternatives to consider?

In this post, we'll share three different options to consider, look at the pros and cons of building from scratch versus buying a solution, and we’ll introduce a way to have the best of both worlds.

Weighing the options: Vendor-based or custom-built eCommerce website?

Option 1: Buy an eCommerce platform

Choosing the right eCommerce vendor may seem overwhelming, but once you do the research and identify your needs carefully, the job becomes much easier. A major advantage of working with eCommerce vendors is that they constantly update their software with eCommerce-specific features that businesses need to succeed. Businesses can build fully functioning stores without in-house coding, design, or SEO skills.

If quick implementation and faster time-to-market is a priority, you may not want to invest the time and resources it takes to develop an eCommerce system from scratch. This is particularly true if your business model is not complex and your industry isn’t highly regulated. Consider your current and future needs, appoint a team, perform research, and carefully weigh the functionality you require from your eCommerce system. Once that is done, you’re ready to communicate with your shortlisted vendors.

Option 2: Build a custom eCommerce platform

Large businesses, marketplaces, and retailers with narrow markets find that many B2C eCommerce platforms - even those with extensive B2B add-ons - don't meet their needs out of the box. Instead of building complex workarounds through plugins, integrations, and customizations, building a custom eCommerce site from scratch could be the better and more cost-effective solution.

Many large companies may want to control the development process and build a system they truly own. If you have highly-specialized requirements and the resources to create a B2B eCommerce solution from scratch, it makes sense to take this route. Weigh your options, perform research, and consider the long-term costs of maintenance, enhancements, and staffing an in-house technical team. Before deciding on a custom-built solution, don't dismiss vendors that offer many of the features, customization options, and integrations you find necessary.

The pros and cons of BUYING vs BUILDING your own platform

Each eCommerce solution has its own advantages and disadvantages. Businesses looking for maximum control of design, development, flexibility, and scalability of their eCommerce platform, and the resources to pull it off, will be interested in building from scratch. Others will opt to commit resources to other areas of the company and rely on off-the-shelf vendors with ePlatform expertise and market know-how. 

Pros of BUYING an eCommerce platform

Business-focused features

Vendors strive to offer a solution that appeals to ever-changing customer expectations and back-office capabilities. Many vendors specialize in business-specific features and constantly improve on them, thereby eliminating the need to develop, test, and roll out new software.

Robustness, security, scalability

The software vendor takes care of security audits, certificates, payment processing, and other privacy-related assurances. Sellers focus on selling and their customers remain confident they’re purchasing from a trustworthy vendor.

Great customer service

Customer service is a differentiator in today’s business world, and eCommerce vendors are no exception. Many vendors have round-the-clock support, multimedia libraries, and self-service documentation. Some even have a developer community you can tap into for guidance.

Cons of BUYING an eCommerce platform

It’s a middleman

Using an eCommerce vendor can get you up and running quickly with a ready-made platform. However, you'll be giving up some control over your eCommerce business. You'll also have no control over price increases, features, and input regarding the vendor's development roadmap.

Lots of fees

Adopting a ready-built eCommerce solution can get costly. In order to reach the desired objective, you may require integrations, add-ons, or plugins and may need to hire developers to help out. In addition to implementation costs, you must also consider maintenance and the total cost of ownership of the solution.

Less customization

Once you're locked into a solution, it’s a challenge to make any modifications to your eCommerce implementation. Without the right integration, plugin, or API endpoint, it may be difficult or impossible to implement processes that you want.

Pros of BUILDING your eCommerce platform

Greater development freedom

As long as you are willing to invest the necessary resources, a custom solution removes any design or development limitations imposed by a vendor-based platform. You also have complete freedom to align your solution with your customer and business requirements without unnecessary features or extras.

Complete product ownership

By creating your own solution, you'll retain ownership rights of your design, code, and systems. There's no need to agree to restrictive licensing terms that can hurt your business down the road. With no one standing between your software and business, you can confidently plan ahead, meet changing customer expectations, and adapt to any industry or economic challenge over time.

Cons of BUILDING your eCommerce platform

It's resource-intensive

Bringing your custom B2B eCommerce vision to life requires time and money. First, you'll have to perform research, communicate with stakeholders, and collect their requirements. Next, you'll need to hire engineers, organize the development process, perform quality assurance testing, and implement change management procedures. And you’ll need to keep additional IT people on staff.

It's maintenance-intensive

An eCommerce platform consists of many different interconnected systems, and each will require constant tweaks and updates. Your SEO, marketing, content management, user interfaces, payment, and fulfillment systems must all work seamlessly within your eCommerce system.

Development issues are inevitable

Developing an eCommerce system is a monumental undertaking. The bigger the project, the more errors and bugs you can expect to experience. You'll also need a team of support engineers, technical writers, and risk analysts to create and maintain documentation about your system and its capabilities.

Option 3: The best of both worlds; a customized, flexible eCommerce platform

If you're looking for the flexibility found in a custom solution along with the expertise, robustness, and customer service offered by a vendor-based solution, there's a third option to consider.

First, select a vendor with the core B2B functionality you need. As an example, your must-haves may include:

●     Support for multi-branded websites:

●     Customizable, self-service portals with multiple shopping lists

●     Pricing engine that’s able to automatically personalize prices based on complex, pre-set rules

●     Customizable payment and shipping options specific to each client

Next, look for a smooth connection between your eCommerce and tech stack (CRM, ERP, PIM, etc.) to improve visibility, productivity, customer experience, and sales. Look for a solution that meets these needs while allowing you to easily customize it when necessary.

Now that you know your needs, it's time to choose a vendor. Popular eCommerce platforms that cater to B2C sellers typically can’t meet the needs of complex B2B relationships. While many B2C vendors offer B2B add-ons, they can't match the architecture, flexibility, personalization, and workflows that B2B solutions provide.

Which of the three options is right for you?

  Buy eCommerce software Build eCommerce software Customize eCommerce software
You are a small business + - -
You have a limited budget + - +
You don’t want to deal with integrations + - +
Implementation speed and quick time-to-market is a priority + - +
You have complex corporate hierarchies - + +
You have complex workflows for customers, prices, and supply chains - + +
You need to manage quotes, contracts, and order approvals - + +
You need multiple checkout, payment, and shipping options. - + +
You operate across different markets, regions, and verticals - + +
You are in a highly regulated industry with restrictions on ordering and shipping - + -
You want full control of your development and licensing - + -


Whether you build a custom solution from scratch or work with a vendor, you should first research the features, capabilities, integrations, and customizations you'll require. If neither option seems right for your investment cost, time to market, and total cost of ownership goals, then you should explore a hybrid solution.

This option offers the best of both worlds. You start with a well-researched vendor that provides the core B2B eCommerce functionality you need right out of the box, and then select a platform that matches 75% of the functionality, such as workflows and customizations, you require.

Make sure they are backed by a powerful API, a sizeable list of integrations, and a pool of talented developers and implementation partners. You’ll take that vendor-supplied option and customize it to create your own eCommerce system in record time, for a fraction of the cost of a custom solution built from scratch. It’s your business and it's done your way.


  Anna Korolekh


Anna Korolekh, Marketing Director at Oro Inc.
Anna has been in online marketing since 2009, she started her career as an SEO analyst for Promodo marketing agency. By 2012 she extended her skillset beyond SEM becoming a Digital marketing manager of the International department at Promodo. In 2014-2016 Anna led marketing efforts at PSD2HTML web development company until she finally joined Oro Inc. family in November 2016 to lead marketing efforts of Oro key products: OroCommerce and OroCRM.

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