The B2B Commerce Legacy Platform Problem

Randy Kohl

Ask any business or IT leader in the B2B manufacturing or distribution space. Creating, operationalizing, and running a digital business is hard. An incredible amount of commitment and effort is involved in:

  • Managing organizational change

  • Digitizing offline workflows 

  • Implementing complex business rules and use cases

  • Migrating customers to online channels 

  • Maintaining 1:1 pricing for key accounts

  • Merchandising catalogs that can run into the millions of SKUs

And the list goes on. Advances in ecommerce technologies and the broader tech ecosystem have made many of these critical areas easier to manage. But, what if a company is not in a place to take advantage of these technologies? Innovation is inhibited. Growth suffers. Even adherence to basic digital best practices can be difficult. For a significant number of companies, this is an issue, as the B2B sector at large has a legacy platform problem.

According to research in the most recent edition of Wunderman Thompson Commerce & Technology’s B2B Ecommerce Benchmarking Report, more than one-fifth of B2B companies are still running legacy ecommerce platforms. (We define a legacy platform as one that was either built in-house or is operating on a no longer supported version of a commercial commerce platform.) Over the eight years since we first published this report, the percentage of companies on legacy platforms is essentially unchanged. While we’ve long postulated how the role of legacy platforms impacted businesses, some related data points in our current report would seem to validate that thinking.

Let’s take a look at something that has become table stakes in digital experiences: responsive design. When we first published our Benchmarking Report, responsive design, which is the ability of a site to detect and adapt to the type of device which is requesting it, was a relatively recent innovation. Accordingly, the vast majority of sites did not offer that functionality. Now, 87% of companies reviewed in our current report are responsive. However, of those companies still falling short in this area almost a decade later, 100% are on legacy ecommerce platforms. 

Perhaps, even more relevant is Core Web Vitals, which Google implemented to grade site performance as a measure of user experience, and also plays a role in SEO rankings. Due to the overall complexity of B2B experiences, the vast majority of companies are falling short in this area. Yet again, there is a correlation with legacy commerce platforms, as not a single company operating in this manner receives a passing grade from Google. We see this in other areas as well, from the ability to integrate commerce and marketing automation platforms to creating headless experiences. What we can’t measure are other critical aspects of the digital and customer experience like site security, which is an ongoing and ever deepening problem for those on unsupported platforms.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single reason why companies continue to operate in this manner. Budgetary reasons and a failure to prioritize digital are a factor in some cases. In many others however, it points to an accumulation of technical debt that makes decoupling the legacy platform and replatforming a difficult proposition. While these sites may remain operational, they continually fall further behind their peers. This raises questions about the continued business impacts over the long-term. 

Fortunately, when it comes to technology, there is always a solution and often multiple paths to get there. This could be a complete lift and shift or a gradual, phased decoupling of system components to implement a more modern tech stack. The important thing is to take action. More modern commerce experiences await.    

For a deeper look at the data and additional insights on the state of B2B commerce, please take a look at the 6th edition of the B2B Ecommerce Benchmarking Report.