It’s been a long road back digitally and otherwise for U.S. distributors for much of the past two years.
In the last 18 months, the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which literally shuttered manufacturing activity in some industries and drastically slowed productivity in others, has caused major—and permanent—shifts in how distributors and wholesalers conduct business.
Fading fast are the days when most sales will be handled offline strictly by phone, fax, e-mail, and manual order processing. Ecommerce and digital transformation are replacing those traditional methods in a broad shift driven by a younger generation of purchasing managers that prefer to do their corporate buying online.
Ecommerce adoption by distributors was on the rise prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2018 to 2019, U.S. distributors grew their combined total digital sales—comprised of ecommerce, e-procurement, and electronic data interchange (EDI) —by 8.4% to $2.57 trillion, according to data and analysis from the just-published 2021 Distributor 300 research report from Digital Commerce 360.
B2B ecommerce sales alone grew even faster—by 22% year over year, from $712.8 billion in 2018 to $870.0 billion in 2019. Distributor B2B ecommerce sales grew in 2020 but not nearly as fast as the pandemic roiled the U.S. economy.
In 2020, distributor ecommerce sales grew by 10% to $957 billion, even as total distributor and wholesaler sales declined by about 5% to about $5.80 trillion from around $6.01 trillion in 2019.
Digital sales grew even as total sales decreased as purchasing managers shifted to more online buying of business goods and services. As distribution branches temporarily shuttered or operated on shorter schedules and limited inventory, and other traditional sales channels closed because of the pandemic, the pace of B2B ecommerce picked up.
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