63% of industrial supplies buyers say they purchase online, making it the most popular purchasing channel, according to a recent survey released by shipping carrier UPS. Survey respondents cited paper catalogs as least important in a list of suppliers’ purchasing tools.

When buyers of industrial supplies decide on a supplier, the most important criteria are all related directly to products: quality, availability, price and on-time delivery, in that order, according to a new report from United Parcel Service Inc. But among purchasing channels considered when choosing a supplier, a supplier’s web site is tops, while a printed product catalog is last.

To be sure, traditional selling channels like sales reps and catalogs are still important, but they’re increasingly overshadowed by web sites as easy to use as retail e-commerce sites, UPS says in the report, “UPS Purchasing Insights Study.” The study was based on a survey in December by research firm TNS of 1,501 purchasers in the United States of industrial supplies across industries including general manufacturing, construction, health care, government and hospitality. TNS is a unit of Kantar Group.

“Sales representatives and other methods are still in demand, but the study shows business-to-business and business-to-consumer purchasing habits are becoming more similar,” says 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.”

The study also lists shipping costs and return policies among the leading criteria buyers consider when choosing a supplier, whether online or offline. And when purchasing online, buyers cite two web site features as particularly valuable: first, their ability to view shipping costs before placing an order; second, their ability to see product availability in real time is it becomes available in a warehouse.

The overall implications for B2B e-commerce shows up in the study’s data on the percentage of annual spending on industrial supplies: 54% of respondents say they spend half or more of the industrial supply budgets online, and 39% say they plan to increase the amount they spend online, while only 4% say they plan to decrease the amount spent online.


Following are the percentages of respondent citing criteria as either “very important” or “extremely important” when choosing a supplier of industrial supplies:

Product quality, 95%

Product availability, 93%

Product price, 92%

Delivery time, 91%


Shipping costs, 84%

Return policies and procedures, 80%

Online product information or e-catalog, 78%

Contract pricing, 75%

Online purchasing on supplier’s web site, 74%


Value-added services like repairs and technical support, 71%

The supplier’s overall web site features, 70%

Payment options, 69%

Word of mouth recommendations from co-workers or peers, 59%

Sales representatives, 56%


Printed product catalog, 54%

Following are the percentages of respondents listing their preferred purchasing channels

Web site, 40%

Phone or fax, (including print catalogs) 32%

In-person, 32%


E-mail, 27%

Electronic data interchange, 2%

Following are the percentages of respondents citing the importance of suppliers offering the ability to purchase products on their web  sites:

Extremely important, 29%

Very important, 38%


Somewhat important, 25%

Not important, 7%

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