The B2B online buying process continues to move online, but how buyers get from product search to purchase is an ever-changing route, says Forrester Research analyst Andy Hoar.

Not long ago business buyers were fairly predictable online. They usually researched and purchased products on websites offering the broadest selections, says Andy Hoar, vice president and principal analyst for B2B e-commerce at Forrester Research Inc.

But that’s no longer the case. Over the past three years a broader number of site characteristics have begun to influence buyers’ final purchasing decisions, Hoar says.

38% of buyers still begin their research for work-related products and services on websites where they find the broadest product selection; 24% on sites with the most credible product details and information; and 22% on sites that are the easiest to use, according to results of the 2017 B2B Buy-Side Online Survey that Forrester conducted in association with B2BecNews. The survey contacted more than 150 e-business professionals in the first quarter of this year.

But there are other factors besides selection in play that determine where buyers finish the process of making an online purchase. 26% of survey respondents purchase on websites that are the most credible source of product details; 17% on sites they consider the easiest to use; 15% on sites that offer the fastest delivery or shipment times; and 14% on sites that consistently provide the lowest price.

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Over the four years that Forrester has conducted the annual buy-side survey, the top reason buyers have given for purchasing on a particular website has been consistent: it’s the most credible source of product information. Broadest product selection has steadily declined as a key factor in the final purchase decision, Hoar said in a late March webinar hosted by B2BecNews and sponsored by CloudCraze, a provider of e-commerce software. “Broadest selection has consistently fallen over the years and is now only 7%,” he said.

While a seller conceivably could have the broadest product selection or the best product information, the best scenario “is to be a combination of the two,” Hoar said. “That’s not always possible. If you are a company that optimizes for credible information but not selection, the challenge is that you may never get buyers to come to your site to begin with.”

Online sellers will have plenty of opportunities to attract those buyers in the future. The Forrester study notes that 64% of buyers research half or more of their work purchases online, up from 53% last year. And 38% of respondents to the latest survey said they make half or more of their purchases online, up from 32%. Forrester projects that at least 55% will buy online by 2020.

And where will business buyers make most of their online purchases? Consumer sites (eBay and Amazon) led the way, named by 30% of 188 buyer respondents, followed by brand manufacturer websites (28%), industry distributor websites (16%) and AmazonBusiness.com (9%).

Hoar said the most alarming number referred to a sharp drop in the number of survey respondents this year who said they finished their product purchase process on distributor websites, a rate that dropped by almost half in the latest survey from 30% a year earlier.

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“That’s not a statistical anomaly, that’s a significant percentage and is something well worth considering for an industry distributor,” Hoar says. “People are flocking to sites that are easy, have broad selection and don’t force them down paths they don’t want to go down, like logging in and registering. These are the things that consumer sites have done well.”

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