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Online Purchases Drive B2B Purchasing Insights and SME Decisions

Date posted: February 18, 2015

Most of our content marketing clients are B2B manufacturers or sell to manufacturers. They buy things. How do they go about it?

Logistics giant UPS gives us a window into that question, with the results of a study they conducted with global research firm TNS. UPS B2B Purchasing Insights looks into the behaviors, preferences, and perceptions of industrial supplier performance, and what they find is more than a little interesting. For the study, TNS conducted an online survey of 1,501 industrial supplies purchasers. Respondents included sole/joint decision makers or strong influencers of sourcing and purchasing decisions. Here are some of the findings that caught our eye:

  • Factors affecting supplier selection.

While the vast majority of buyers rank product-related features as important when selecting a supplier, more notable is that delivery and returns capabilities, along with the ability to buy on a supplier’s website, are important to more buyers than having a sales representative and having a printed catalog.

So much for industrial concerns being slow to adopt digital behavior.

The top ten criteria ranked as extremely important attributes to consider when choosing which industrial vendors to purchase from:

  1. Product quality (70%)
  2. Product availability (66%)
  3. Delivery when products are needed (63%)
  4. Product price (61%)
  5. Shipping costs (50%)
  6. Return policies and procedures (42%)
  7. Product catalog/information available on supplier website (41%)
  8. Contract/negotiated pricing (41%)
  9. Ability to make purchases on the supplier’s website (39%)
  10. Value-added services (36%)
  • How suppliers are performing on those factors
    Buyers indicate their suppliers are performing very well on all the criteria important to selecting a vendor. No meaningful differences could be found among different annual spending levels.
  • Most used and most preferred research methods
    More buyers choose websites and search engines to research industrial supplies purchases, and they’re also the most preferred methods. A majority of buyers are researching supply purchases via supplier websites (68%), and 52% are using search engines.

These were the top seven methods used to research products:

  1. Suppliers’ websites (68%)
  2. Search engine results that take me directly to the product I need (52%)
  3. Suppliers’ print/hard copy catalog (47%)
  4. Account/sales representative (43%)
  5. User reviews and recommendations (40%)
  6. Reviews from independent trade publications (29%)
  7. Technical articles or whitepapers from the product manufacturer (27%)

Interestingly, most purchases were found to be a combination of repeat and one-off orders:


The majority of buyers across all spending levels report making a combination of repeat and one-off purchases, indicating that suppliers may have ample opportunity to acquire new customers. Since buyers expect to increase their online purchases in the future, and a clear majority prefer to research supplies online, having robust e-commerce and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) strategies are essential for suppliers seeking to add or potentially retain customers.

This rings true to us, as we’ve been preaching the importance of SEO and SEM to our customers for years, as well as providing practical advice on how to improve these disciplines to their advantage.