Companies like 3M and Arrow Electronics are moving ahead with B2B e-commerce

Distributor Arrow Electronics Inc. may not have a whole lot in common with diversified manufacturer 3M Co., but the two industrial giants share much in a trend that is disrupting how business operates.

That trend, of course, is business-to-business e-commerce, where companies like Arrow and 3M are perfecting how they reach, sell to and take care of customers—while helping their operating efficiency and growth prospects. Welcome to the world of B2B e-commerce, where companies that “get it” are more likely to thrive than those that don’t.

And welcome to B2BECommerceWorld.com, where we promise to bring readers information on how e-commerce is changing the way manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors sell to other businesses, government agencies, health care organizations, schools and other institutions.

Staffed by journalists who have been covering B2B as well as B2C e-commerce for Internet Retailer, the leading business magazine and web site for news and strategies about retail e-commerce, B2BECommerceWorld, or B2BecWorld, will address the topics pressing on the minds of executives who realize they must meet the challenge and opportunity e-commerce presents—or be left behind. With B2B e-commerce sales in the United States alone projected by Forrester Research Inc. to hit $780 billion this year—and surpass $1.13 billion in just five years—e-commerce presents both a goldmine of sales as well as new opportunities to cut operating costs through customers’ self-service transactions and other digitally enhanced methods of more effectively managing inventory, marketing products and servicesand managing other operations.

The challenges are formidable. B2B e-commerce technology is complex, and it must be deployed in a way that meets the demands of each selling company’s buyers. And such demands are only increasing as the buyers who are purchasing industrial products are the same ones experiencing the sophisticated offerings that Amazon and other leading B2C retailers are providing. They increasingly want that experience in their work buying, where the stakes can be higher than in consumer buying, and expect manufacturers and distributors to take online buying to a new level. Buyers may want rich 3D imaging of products to ensure that the electronic component they’re looking to buy is the right one for the job; they may demand a configure-price-quote feature that lets them request a price online for a custom-configured product; and they’re likely to need a workflow process for routing a pending purchase to superiors to get purchase authorization.

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And there are field sales reps concerned about keeping their jobs and offering value—a concern many companies are handling by equipping their reps with mobile devices that let them help customers research and place complex orders—while leaving simpler orders to self-service e-commerce.

As we report on these trends, we’ll drill into what particular companies are doing—companies like business and industrial products distributor Grainger and Proto Labs, a manufacturer of customized industrial parts—and what industry analysts are saying about trends. We’ll cover how companies are using the latest in e-procurement systems to control employees’ spending , and how companies are buying and selling through a growing number of B2B e-marketplacesincludingAmazon Businessand a number ofstart-ups. We also invite practitioners and gurus of B2B e-commerce to present fresh insights in contributed blogs that we’ll present in our Industry Voices section. 

We hope you’ll find value in our content. We want to hear from you. Please send any comments to me at [email protected], or associate editor Nona Tepper at [email protected]. We both thrive on exploring new developments and sharing insights in the evolving world of B2B e-commerce.

It’s quite an evolution. Check out how Arrow Electronics is doing with an upgraded e-commerce site to expand its market for selling electronic components—and how 3Mexpects to ride the wave of B2B e-commerce far beyond its already over-$7 billion in annual online sales.

Paul Demery is managing editor of B2B e-commerce for Vertical Web Media, the publisher of this web site, the newsletter B2BecNews and other publications of e-commerce news.

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