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Need a mobile B2B e-commerce app for your business? Should you build or buy?

Choosing whether to design and build your own enterprise-grade mobile e-commerce app in-house or to turn to a customisable off-the-shelf solution is a key decision companies must weigh when choosing how to introduce modern e-commerce technologies.

In the vast majority of cases, opting to build an enterprise solution ‘from scratch’ makes increasingly less sense given the rise of proven white-label mobile solutions that can fulfill the vast majority of likely operational requirements.

Basic requirements for a B2B mobile commerce app

  • Functional
    • Catalog presentation of products with intuitive navigation
    • Shopping cart ordering and checkout functionality
    • Secure ePayment
    • Customer-specific pricing and promotions
    • Customer dashboards and reports: orders, shipments, invoices, top items
    • Flexibility to change pricing, products, catalog presentation, order workflows
  • Non-functional
    • 2-way ERP integration: orders, shipping status, invoices, payments, inventory, pricing, etc.)
    • Mobile-first: designed and built for mobile; runs as a native app for optimised user experience
    • Runs on all mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, and Windows) – because you can’t control which device your users will use
    • User & password management
    • Scalable to meet current and future e-commerce volume
    • Slick, intuitive UI

4 common reasons for native development

Yet, there are several cases in which native, or ‘in-house’ development of such an app can make sense.

  1. If an organisation has the resources available ‘on the bench’ who hold the technical skills necessary for this task, a large organisation can allocate the required resources and ongoing maintenance to this project.
  2. If a business does not expect many, if any changes to its ongoing sales operations (e.g. workflows, business rules, pricing), investing on in-house development as a one-time project could be reasonable.
  3. If a business is not expecting significant growth in the volume of its e-commerce business, which would necessitate an enterprise-scale application, it could create a simply e-commerce app to service its more modest business needs.
  4. Some businesses will choose to develop their own e-commerce applications simply because they want to be owners of their own fate. These companies typically default to in-house development vs. buying off-the-shelf software.

However, there are still a myriad of challenges involved in this approach.

The pitfalls of native development

For many reasons, developing a custom-built app is likely to be a manpower black hole for all but the largest of organisations with highly experienced IT development teams.

Undertaking an in-house app development project necessitates the creation - and ongoing employment - of very specific expertise:

  • Project management – with full understanding of the business requirements
  • At a minimum, separate development resources will be needed for the various mobile operating systems the app will need to run on, as well as staff for developing web dashboards that form part of the platform
  • Staff needed to develop and manage the server-side architecture to support the system’s overall operation
  • Integration with the company’s ERP as well as any other back-end systems that need to interface with the app
  • Pixel-perfect user interface and user experience design
  • QA and testing staff must also be in place to ensure the identification and resolution of bugs throughout the development phases

Supporting this effort involves deploying a team of specialised mobile development professionals who will expect competitive and costly remuneration.

Alternatively, management must contend with the rising cost of agency app development fees which have grown 39 per cent between January 2015 and 2016 alone, according to data from the Blurb Group.

The development process itself could also end up being an unrealistically long one, increasing the financial expenditure required to go from wireframing to rolling out a finished solution. In fact, the cost of developing such an application, according the 3rd party estimates could range from $300K - $400K – and this doesn’t include the time and resource costs.

At a minimum, a business can expect it to take from 4-6 calendar months to produce a B2B e-commerce app for a single mobile platform, 5-7 months to support 2 platforms, and up to a calendar year if also developing for Windows mobile - to speak nothing of necessary post-deployment processes such as user testing, adoption measurement, and required changes following user feedback.

By project completion, changes in the business environment will likely also have rendered some features redundant and others not anticipated, now necessary. Such reactive development requirements pose an additional challenge to small teams and can significantly expand timelines.

Finally, system maintenance, ongoing feature additions, iteration releases, and changes required as a result of operating system upgrades will together place a heavy workload on the development team who must therefore be retained on an ongoing basis.

To the rescue: configurable off-the-shelf white-label solutions

White-label e-commerce solution providers – that enable full customisation of the e-commerce app, including app name, logo, workflows, business rules, and UI – help level the playing field in e-commerce by allowing businesses with less-than-massive IT budgets to leverage the mobile technology needed to remain competitive while operating a sane budget.

With the possible exception of companies operating in extremely niche circumstances, opting for a white-label solution represents an excellent option to the difficulties posed by internal development.

Choosing a white-label solution means neither ‘reinventing the wheel’ with a costly development and maintenance effort, nor forsaking the ability to bring business-specific customisations to support sales agility.

The additional benefits of white-label solution implementation are manifold:

  • Implementation costs, which for the most part, entail simple configurations, are a fraction of the cost of building a native solution.
  • The ability to cloak the underlying technology in company business rules and branding means that to external parties, the app has the prestige of a natively-developed tailor made build, unlike any other.
  • The buyer of a white-label based system leverages the know-how and expertise of the solution provider, which encapsulates best-practices from other deployments.
  • The buyer effectively “outsources” the ongoing development of new functionalities, as well as the maintenance of the base system, to a professional development team. There is therefore no need to hire specialist app development talent or retain programmers simply to maintain and update an app.
  • As a result, time to market is significantly abridged, and project risks mitigated.

B2B e-commerce use-cases that cannot be satisfied by rebranding and configuring an existing highly configurable enterprise-grade system are rare, especially as vendor options are growing rapidly with the rise of white-label solution providers.

Deploying a white-label e-commerce solution is a win-win option for businesses hoping to introduce and use world-class technologies that would be unfeasibly expensive to develop in-house, but that must be customised to meet each businesses’ unique needs.

Oren Ezra is the CMO of Pepperi

Image source: Shutterstock/31moonlight31