UPS recently conducted the UPS Purchasing Insights Study in collaboration with research firm TNS, in which the results indicated that customer experience is the key component in keeping long-term customers from a purchasing standpoint. The study surveyed 1,501 decision makers in the industrial supply segment in December of 2013. With UPS’s strong background in packaging and transportation services in the B2C realm, the company was receiving a lot of inquiries surrounding that expertise and how it translated into the B2B field.
“These distributors really wanted to know what types of customer experience their buyers were looking to have in an online buying experience,” says Brian Littlefield, the director of marketing for the Industrial & Automotive segment at UPS. “They are struggling with whether or not they are making the right decisions and are looking for ideas as they go down this path in the B2B space.”
One of the more interesting findings in the study (page 11 of the report, which can be downloaded here) is that 93% of respondents said that the websites they are ordering from are the same, or better than, the consumer (B2C) sites that they are using as a consumer.
“Everyone uses B2C sites as the baseline against which we measure our buying expectations for these B2B transactions,” says Littlefield. “When you see a stat like that, it shows us that the websites in the distribution segment are further along than most people think they are. They have learned from the B2C world, and they are starting to add components that have the visibility purchasers want to see.”
The study noted that buyers wanted to see more real time availability information, more technical product details, and what the shipping costs would be prior to checkout. “That data was somewhat surprising – we didn’t think we would find that the sites were perceived to be as advanced as they are,” says Littlefield.
Regardless of how well their sites are mimicking the B2C space, the results of the study indicated that distributors have to be thinking in terms of customer experience. The more a distributor is able to hone their online and internal processes, the more likely they are to have a unique customer experience that will ensure them repeat customers.
Littlefield points out that 34% of buyers are willing to make purchases from an online vendor that they did not have a previous relationship with. “They are looking for the convenience factor, for sites and vendors that are easy to order from,” he says. “Why is it important? If I am not concerned about my customer experience, my customers will be out there shopping around and they will gravitate to distributors that have convenient visibility, higher ease of use, and easy returns.”
The area of returns is something more familiar for the B2C space – the more suppliers a purchaser is buying from, the more that buyer need a returns solution. The more convenient that process is, the more likely they are to do repeat business with you. One overwhelming data point on the survey results was that 53% of respondents think the returns process could be improved by including a pre-printed shipping label with the original delivery, and 40% of people wanted to be able to handle all aspects of the entire return process online (page 15 of the report).
Littlefield mentioned that distributors that have a more robust online presence are more likely to snag business that finds them through organic search. If a distributor’s site comes up through a search because their website adeptly uses Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or has great product content on their site, purchasers that do not have a previous relationship with that distributor are more likely to order from them than from a site with less credibility.
Another result of the research study that stands out is the idea of post-sale experience. Many buyers said they would purchase more from a distributor who has very robust post-sales experience. “Purchasers want to know that if they have questions about warranty or technical use, they can get someone to answer them quickly,” notes Littlefield. This could be the opportunity to chat with a representative online, or the ability to call someone directly for a quick answer. If that multi-channel approach is available, purchasers are most likely going to continue to purchase with that distributor.
While the research points to the need for a more seamless omnichannel experience for buyers, Littlefield would discourage distributors from getting rid of traditional methods just yet. “We are not at all saying that you should avoid the other means of transacting in the industrial space. What our research shows is that online is the most used and most preferred now, but it is still critical that you have all the other modes of transacting with the customer – sales reps, an actual phone or fax number easily accessible, even an online or physical catalog presence. It is the ability of the distributor to manage all of those as a cohesive strategy with one another that makes a difference,” explains Littlefield.
To download the full report, please click here.
Brian Littlefield is the current director of marketing for the UPS Industrial and Automotive Segment; the portion of UPS’s business committed to providing the latest logistics solutions to the automotive and manufacturing industries.