UPS Study Reveals Broad Use of E-Commerce for Industrial Purchases

US 05/01/14

Atlanta, GA

Buyers prefer online ordering, place high value on post-sales support

A shift is underway for distributors of industrial supplies and the e-commerce experience they provide to their customers. In 2013, more than 63 percent of industrial supply buyers said they made purchases online, with half of those purchasers spending at least 50 percent of their annual budget with suppliers who have an e-commerce platform.

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, a global logistics leader 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. With more than a decade of experience in the online retail space, UPS is particularly well-positioned to assist our industrial supply customers with implementing a competitive range of services, as they look to enhance their customers' online purchasing experience."

Visibility in online purchases and shipping

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

How can industrial suppliers be more competitive online?

UPS can help industrial supply distributors with a complete portfolio of services to effectively compete and make their online presence comparable to leading online sites. The company offers specialized solutions to help suppliers manage services that are the backbone of great e-commerce sites, including:

  • Contract logistics, including inventory management
  • Shipping, visibility and returns solutions
  • Online service and support solutions

For more information on the survey findings and to download a white paper of the complete survey results, click here.

Survey Methodology: TNS conducted this online survey with 1,501 industrial supplies purchasers in the U.S. during December 2013.

About UPS

UPS (NYSE: UPS) is a global leader in logistics, offering a broad range of solutions including transporting packages and freight; facilitating international trade, and deploying advanced technology to more efficiently manage the world of business. Headquartered in Atlanta, UPS serves more than 220 countries and territories worldwide. UPS was awarded America’s Best Customer Service company for Shipping and Delivery services by Newsweek magazine; Forbes Most Valuable Brand in Transportation; and top rankings on the JUST 100 list for social responsibility, the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, and the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient, among other prestigious rankings and awards. The company can be found on the web at or and its corporate blog can be found at The company’s sustainability eNewsletter, UPS Horizons, can be found at To get UPS news direct, follow @UPS_News on Twitter.


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