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Industrial buyers cite lack of Web information

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A recent survey by Thomas Industrial Network tracked the online sourcing habits of industrial buyers.

The survey concluded that 55% of industrial buyers surveyed found a lack of specific product information on supplier Web sites. Of the buyers surveyed, 52% said they would move on to another supplier Web site if specific product information was not available. And 59% found a lack of pricing information.

The survey was conducted randomly within Thomas’ pool of more than 1 million opt-in online users. The survey respondents represented many different industries, including manufacturing and engineering, wholesale trade, distribution, service providers and government agencies.

According to Thomas, online sourcing is the solution to the problems facing buyers seeking specific information on sellers’ sites. With more purchasers turning to the Web, fast access to the right information is more important than ever for the bottom line.

Web must be a priority

"Survey respondents report real savings and increased productivity that demonstrate that online sourcing has had a real impact on ROI and that industrial suppliers need to make their Web presence a top priority," said Eileen Markowitz, president of Thomas Industrial Network.

According to Linda Rigano, director-strategic alliances at Thomas, the search for unavailable content is a major source of frustration for buyers. It is referred to by many at Thomas as the "back button bonanza."

"It’s all about content," Rigano said. "It’s not just about putting up a Web site … it’s about putting up sites with the content people are looking for."

Purchasers who find what they’re looking for on a supplier Web site save time and money, according to the survey.

Thomas found that 21% of buyers estimated they saved their companies more than $501 per month through online sourcing; 18% said they saved their companies more than $1,000 per month. In terms of time saved, 51% of buyers said their companies saved at least 51 hours per month through online sourcing while 21% said their companies saved 500 hours per month. Thirteen percent of survey respondents estimated their companies saved more than 1,000 hours a month.

Rigano said the survey’s findings "reinforce what we’ve been seeing in the marketplace." It is the push by buyers for access to more product information.

Not all information equal

Mike Sheehan, director-marketing and strategic alliances for Top Line Systems, a business consulting firm, agreed. "Internet presence is important for all manufacturing companies," he said. But, he added, what kind depends on the type of company and its products.

Sheehan said different buyers have different needs. For example, he said custom or contract manufacturers are often looking for capability and ideas rather than pricing. He said all buyers are "looking for information but a different type." He agreed that companies must anticipate the needs of buyers when structuring Web sites. "A lot of [Web sites] are woefully thin and irrelevant. … It’s almost a disgrace," he said.

In anticipating buyers’ needs, Rigano said it is important to look to current customers. "They are a gold mine of information," she said.

Mike Hugos, chief information officer at Network Services Corp, a janitorial and sanitation supply company, said that although "content is the water we all swim in," being in the b-to-b world puts different spin on the relationship between buyers and sellers. He said expectations on pricing and product information are unique for each company and "the more you can do to wrap information around a product, the more valuable that product becomes." Looking at it from a b-to-b angle "implies prearranged contractual relationships," Hugos said.

The Thomas survey also found that search engines and online directories were the top resources for buyers. Eighty-five percent of industrial buyers choose the Web for sourcing needs, the survey found. This didn’t surprise Sheehan, who said, "Search engines are where you go first."

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