Ask manufacturers and distributors how they feel about current business conditions and a common answer might be: “We’ve had better years.”
Through the first three quarters of 2023, the combined sales of B2B manufacturers and distributors declined to $11.010 trillion. That’s down 1.5% from $11.182 trillion in the first three quarters of 2022, based on a Digital Commerce 360 estimate using monthly B2B sales data from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
For the period January through December, manufacturer sales grew 0.3% to $5.010 trillion in 2022. At the same time, sales for business distributors and wholesalers declined 3% year over year to $5.986 trillion from $6.171 trillion.
Manufacturers, distributors examine ecommerce performance
Many distributors are seeing slowing sales from repeat customers as they scale back orders due to a softer economy. A case in point is MSC Industrial Supply Co.
MSC reached a milestone during its 2023 fiscal year ended Sept. 2, surpassing $4 billion in annual net sales for the first time. But ecommerce sales, which account for more than 60% of total sales, slid by 3% year over year in the fiscal fourth quarter. The distributor attributed the drop in digital sales mainly to public sector sales occurring in non-ecommerce channels.
But MSC, like many other B2B distributors, continues to double down on expanding digital commerce as the business markets shift to accommodate even bigger waves of digital-first customers.
“Looking forward, we expect improvement in our ecommerce sales, particularly through MSCDirect.com, as we start rolling out enhanced capabilities, including improved search and navigation functions,” said MSC chief financial officer Kirsten Actis-Grande in the company’s most recent earnings call with investors.
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