While e-commerce has been gaining in popularity among distributors, a recent study shows that there is still a long way to go. Software provider hybris recently conducted an audit of the top electrical distributors and found that nearly 40 percent had "extremely basic or nonexistent" websites. This is despite an earlier survey from hybris indicating that 88 percent of B2B buyers want an e-commerce option.
Of the 200 companies reviewed in the audit, two companies had no website at all, eight were either "under construction" or unavailable for some other reason, and 84 invited contact via fax but had no email or online contact option available.
That said, those companies that did have what the audit called "functioning websites" did get some things right. Almost all of them (98 percent) allowed searches by product code and all of them had an option for customers to log-in and view their accounts.
But they also got a lot wrong, according to the audit. Only 48 percent allowed for searches by product attributes such as size, brand or price, and half failed to inform customers about secure checkout processes. Even basic information, such as a customer service phone number, was absent on 22 percent of the functioning websites.
Even with the large gap between "want" and "have" in distribution e-commerce, it seems that e-commerce has actually gained significant traction in the past year. As we reported in the 2013 State of E-Commerce in Distribution, the number of distributors whose e-commerce revenue comprises 5 percent to 10 percent of total revenue has grown 50 percent from last year. The number of distributors with 10 percent to 20 percent of revenue or with 30 percent to 40 percent of revenue coming from e-commerce has doubled.
The argument that "it just doesn't fit with our business model" still persists, but according to Eric Hills, chief evangelist of Zilliant, it just means they aren't thinking about e-commerce in the right way.
"E-commerce provides an opportunity for these companies to provide superior service," he said in a recent episode of MDM Executive Briefing, E-Commerce in Distribution: Why It Can't Be Ignored. "If you think about the core value propositions of leading distributors – efficiency, reliability, availability – all of those characteristics can be amplified or enhanced through a well-designed e-commerce system."