Buyers want the convenience of self-service e-commerce, but they spend time looking for the websites with the best prices and most useful features, a B2BecNews survey finds.

Former Chicago retailer Marshall Field once said the best way to satisfy customers is just: “Give the lady what she wants.” In B2B e-commerce, business buyers, also want—and expect—a lot from the e-commerce sites they use (or may use) to make an online purchase quickly, easily and efficiently.

Today, business-to-business e-commerce is a $900 billion market in the United States alone, where B2B online sales could reach as much as $1.1 trillion in about two years, says Forrester Research Inc. With e-commerce as a growing sales channel, B2B buyers, including  corporate procurement directors, are frequently purchasing online. For example, a B2BecNews recent survey of 110 business buyers at companies in a diverse range of industries, ranging from automotive and healthcare to food and beverage to consumer products, found that nearly half of companies (48.3%) purchase products online at least once per week, including 16% that do so multiple times each week.

B2B buyers are also shifting much of their corporate purchasing online. The B2BecNews survey found that just about one-half of all companies—48.6%—now conduct 50% to 74% of all their corporate purchases online, including 23% that do at least 75% or more using B2B e-commerce.

“We’re seeing a shift away from more traditional procurement methods such as phone, fax and paper catalogs by corporate buyers that prefer the ease and convenience of e-commerce,” says Paul Miller, founder and CEO of Chicago e-commerce consulting firm PMA Digital Solutions and former president, global e-commerce, innovation and big data, at maintenance, repair and operations products distributor W.W. Grainger Inc. “E-commerce is taking hold because a lot more companies of all sizes see it as a better and more efficient way to do business.”

But even though B2B buyers are shifting more of their total buying online, that doesn’t mean that they are giving their e-commerce business to manufacturers, distributors or wholesalers with just an average or below-average website. B2B buyers have high expectations for the B2B e-commerce sites they like and use the most—and they do lots of research before making purchasing decisions.

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The B2B buyer at many organizations is the manager and director in charge of purchasing, but also an executive who often interacts with other managers and departments within their organization to research and buy products online. The B2BecNews survey found that at 43.2% of companies, the executive in charge of making purchases online was the executive vice president, senior vice president, vice president or director of purchasing. At about 30% of other companies, researching, selecting and making B2B e-commerce purchases was handled by the senior procurement manager.

Purchasing and procurement managers also get lots of input from within their organization before making a purchase. They spend significant time researching B2B websites, looking for the best price, readily available and custom products, and the best user experience before placing an order. For nearly three-fourths of the companies taking the B2BecNews survey, at least two to three managers were involved in the online purchasing process at their company, with 11% of managers involving four to five other departments or staff members before making a decision. 60% of companies also research and evaluate two or three sites before making a first-time online purchase, while 30% of organizations will look closely at between four and seven websites before making a final online buying decision.

B2B buyers aren’t prone to making hasty decisions when purchasing online. Only about 2% of companies make a purchase on a B2B website on the same day they complete their final research and internal discussion and approval process, says the B2BecNews survey. That compares with 27% of business organizations that purchase online within two or three days and 37% that take anywhere from a week to a month. “B2B is typically not an impulse buy, but rather a considered purchase, says Lauren Freedman, president of e-commerce research firm The E-tailing Group and author of the B2BecNews B2B buyer’s expectations survey. “Buyers do their homework in order to be confident they are making the right decision.”

Sign up for a complimentary subscription to B2BecNews, a newsletter published four times a week with coverage of technology and business trends in the growing B2B e-commerce industry. B2BecNews is owned by Vertical Web Media LLC, which also publishes DigitalCommerce360.com, Internet Retailer and Internet Health Management. Follow Mark Brohan on Twitter @markbrohan.

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