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A Beginner's Guide to ECommerce Applications

The availability of eCommerce and PunchOut catalog integration influences buying decisions for B2B buyers who rely on eProcurement platforms to manage procurement and spending.

eCommBlogSm.pngThe importance of eCommerce to B2B sales has grown enormously in recent years. Historically, B2B sales have been primarily based on direct relationships between buyers and the sales departments of their suppliers. Even today, a large proportion of manufacturers process orders manually.

Large enterprise buyers have used online catalogs and Electronic Document Interchange (EDI) systems for decades, but, in 2019, electronic procurement platforms are far more widely used by B2B buyers of all sizes. The most straightforward path for suppliers to integrate with buyer eProcurement platforms is via an eCommerce platform.

Additionally, procurement professionals who entered the field in the last decade expect B2B suppliers to provide shopping experiences that are as convenient and searchable as the B2C stores they are accustomed to.

It’s essential for B2B sellers who intend to adopt eCommerce to understand the landscape. There are several different categories of eCommerce applications, each of which has multiple members. Your choice will impact the functionality, the cost, and the technical burden your business will face.

A Taxonomy of eCommerce Applications

ECommerce applications can roughly be divided into the following groups:

  • Hosted or self-hosted
  • SaaS
  • Open source or proprietary
  • Headless
  • B2B or B2C

Hosted, Self-Hosted, or SaaS

ECommerce stores need hosting, and there are several different hosting models. ECommerce stores such as WooCommerce and Magento Open Source are self-hosted. That means the store owner is responsible for hosting, a task that is usually outsourced to a web hosting provider.

The hosting provider manages the server, the network connection, and other aspects of the underlying technology. The store owner manages the eCommerce store itself. This is the option that grants B2B sellers the most flexibility, but the burden of managing the store falls on the store owner.

Hosted solutions bundle the hosting and the application together, with both being managed to some degree by the provider. offers a hosted version of WooCommerce. Other self-hosted applications also have hosted variants, such as Magento Commerce.

With Software-as-a-Service eCommerce stores, there is an even tighter coupling between the software and hardware. Examples include Shopify and BigCommerce. For B2B sellers who don’t want to manage a server or to worry about scaling and performance, a SaaS store is an excellent choice, but, because the platform is tightly integrated, it’s easy to become locked into the platform.

Open Source or Proprietary

Open source eCommerce applications are developed by communities of developers and businesses who collaborate to create software. The code of open source projects is freely shared and can be freely modified. The most widely used eCommerce applications, including WooCommerce and Magento Open Source, are truly open source and can be downloaded for free.

With proprietary eCommerce applications, a single company develops and creates the software. The code isn’t shared, and users pay a license fee, for which they may receive vendor support. Most enterprise eCommerce applications and SaaS applications are built on the proprietary model, including IBM Websphere, Magento Commerce, BigCommerce, and Insite Software.

Headless eCommerce Applications

Traditionally, eCommerce applications are monolithic, the front-end and the back-end are integrated into a single piece of software. The front-end is the interface that buyers interact with. The back-end handles most of the heavy lifting such as catalog management and the store’s database.

More recently, it has become common to separate the front-end and the back-end or provide an API that allows an eCommerce back-end to be accessed by any number of front-end applications. These headless – or decoupled – eCommerce applications are more flexible than monoliths; the same back-end can be used by different front-ends, such as a mobile application or a web application that runs in the browser and loads data from the server-side back-end via its API.

Applications that were originally built as monoliths, such as WooCommerce and Magento, have lately added APIs that allow them to act as a back-end for a decoupled eCommerce store. BigCommerce’s Commerce-as-a-Cloud application is purely headless; it provides only a hosted back-end that store owners are expected to build front-ends to interface with. Elastic Path also offers a powerful headless eCommerce platform.

Headless eCommerce platforms are flexible; they can have multiple front-ends built with a variety of frameworks and programming languages. Users aren’t constrained by the design and technology decisions made by the developers of monolithic applications. However, to use a headless eCommerce platform, the store owner has to build a front-end.

B2B or B2C

This is something of an artificial category because there is no clear delineation between B2B and B2C features. However, eCommerce applications tend to be developed and marketed with a specific audience in mind. This means B2B eCommerce applications include features specifically intended to facilitate B2B sales, such as:

  • Buyer segmentation with custom pricing for different groups
  • Buyer-specific catalogs
  • Wholesale and bulk order features
  • Restricted catalog access

WooCommerce, for example, is aimed squarely at small and medium B2C retailers. Its default feature set reflects those choices. With the addition of WordPress plugins and B2B-specific WooCommerce extensions, it can be transformed into an effective B2B store, but that is not its primary motivation.

In contrast, InsiteCommerce is designed specifically for manufacturers and distributors. Its catalog management, personalization, integration, and workflow features are optimized for B2B sales. Other great eCommerce platforms focused on B2B sales include Salesforce B2B Commerce Cloud and Oracle’s Netsuite SuiteCommerce.

EProcurement Integration

A key feature of B2B eCommerce is integration with buyer eProcurement systems to provide PunchOut catalogs, purchase order automation, and eInvoicing. As you can see from this blog, there are many different eCommerce platforms. There are also over 150+ different eProcurement systems.

The bad news is that integration and automation aren’t straightforward; suppliers should expect that their buyers are currently using a wide selection of incompatible eProcurement platforms. Whichever eCommerce application they choose, it won’t be natively compatible with most of their buyer’s eProcurement platforms.

The good news is that PunchOut2Go can integrate any commerce platform with any eProcurement system. With PunchOut2Go, B2B suppliers can quickly and easily integrate their eCommerce store with any eProcurement system for PunchOut catalogs and B2B order-to-invoice automation.

To learn more about how PunchOut2Go drives business results for buyers and sellers through B2B integrations, contact us via live chat, or fill out the form on at the bottom of this page.

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