The Amazon Effect: Must Distributors Keep Up?

Whether an Amazon-style fast-shipping and delivery experience is necessary in B2B e-commerce may depend on who you ask.
The Amazon Effect: Must Distributors Keep Up?

Few doubt whether Amazon’s fast and free delivery options have impacted the retail, distribution and shipping industries. But some are still debating whether a Prime-like delivery model will translate to B2B e-commerce, and whether such a model is truly necessary.

Whether or not distributors need to offer next-day delivery, B2B customers do expect the option to select their own delivery dates, said Riccardo Caruso, senior director of e-commerce and digital solutions for molecular diagnostics company Cepheid. It allows for transparency in the ordering process, he added. Caruso and other industry experts spoke during a recent Master B2B Un-Webinar, “Is it possible to conquer the hidden killers of B2B profitability?”

What is a B2B digital customer experience?

Rather than debate whether all Amazon-cloned shipping and delivery methods will fit all distribution needs, it’s important for distributors to figure out how to meet specific customer demands, said Colin Cronin, director of digital and e-commerce channels at Leica Biosystems.

“Of course, everyone wants to receive their products sooner rather than later,” Cronin said. “I think the question is not so much … do people want that in B2B? [But rather,] is it necessary to deliver a B2B digital commerce experience?”

For example, for shipments that include large capital or may require installation, next-day shipping may not be possible, he said. “It’s more about thinking about: How can you provide the right level of information and the right level of experience that meet the customer where they’re at?” Cronin said. “I think B2B companies might find themselves in a little bit of trouble if they get distracted by trying to pursue this ‘Prime shipping gold standard,’ because in some cases your workflow might not allow for that.”

One size does not fit all

Dan Heck, chief operating officer for CDE Fasteners, said there were several reasons why copying Amazon’s shipping methods isn’t necessary:

• A B2B buyer is “slightly different” from a B2C buyer. B2B buyers deal in wholesale, while most consumers usually purchase individual retail items for shipment.

• Drone deliveries may not translate. Amazon is working on expanding its drone delivery fleet, but most Amazon packages weigh about 5 pounds.

• The logistics are more complicated. In B2B e-commerce, companies not only deal with larger objects, but must coordinate with different trucking companies, businesses, package sizes and logistics.

Paradigm B2B CEO and webcast co-host Andy Hoar made a similar point: Amazon-like shipping has become a necessity for B2C companies, especially during holiday seasons. The B2B realm, however, is different.

Hoar said there are many B2B buyers who may not care about the cost of shipping as much as whether the shipment is accurate. “They care more about timing,” Hoar said. “They care more about: Is this what we’re really looking for, as opposed to, can we get it there inexpensively? They have different priorities.”

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