This preference for e-commerce purchases offers potential growth opportunities for distributors of industrial supplies by reaching buyers who are using the web to expand beyond their existing supplier base. Distributors’ e-commerce websites are opening new routes for customers, with 34 percent of survey respondents claiming they made online purchases outside of their existing supplier base in the last year.
UPS and TNS, a global market research expert, surveyed 1,500 industrial supplies purchasers in the U.S. to gain a deeper understanding of their perceptions in five key areas of the purchasing process: researching and selecting suppliers; the purchase transaction; suppliers’ websites; shipping, delivery and returns; and post-sales service and support.
The vast majority of respondents said their experience with vendors’ e-commerce sites are the same (56 percent) or better (37 percent) than the consumer sites they use for personal purchases. However, that doesn’t indicate complete satisfaction regarding their experience with either B2C or B2B sites.
Even though industrial supply purchasers are embracing e-commerce, traditional purchasing capabilities are still important, along with best-in-class product quality, purchase visibility and delivery speed. Survey findings show B2B online purchasers still want access to traditional customer methods, such as catalogs and access to a sales representative. Post-sales support was particularly important to respondents, with 68 percent indicating they would be somewhat or much more likely to do business with a new supplier if their website featured post-sales service and support. In addition, 53 percent of buyers stated aspects of the returns process are important, such as including a pre-printed return shipping label with the original delivery.
“Sales representatives and other methods are still in demand, but the study shows B2B and B2C purchasing habits are becoming more similar,” said Brian Littlefield, industrial distribution director at UPS. “The findings underscore the need for industrial suppliers’ e-commerce sites to offer a positive customer experience, much like B2C companies.”
When evaluating purchasing decisions, buyers of industrial supplies identified several benefits to purchasing online. Of those surveyed, 67 percent think the ability to make an online purchase is very or extremely important. When asked about the benefits of making purchases online:
• 64 percent cited knowing shipping costs prior to making an order
• 63 percent selected the ability to see real-time product availability
• 63 percent said the ability to view purchase history, as well as the ability to see the estimated delivery date when ordering