B2B E-Commerce Overstated

An international study of corporate Web site performance says that companies fail to cash in on the benefits of business-to-business e-commerce.

“The Missing Link 1999” by Shelley Taylor & Associates analyzes 100 Global 1000 Web sites representing a cross-industry sample from 10 countries. Companies in the sample were evaluated in seven areas: site entry navigation, home page, company information, content for customers (business-to-business e-commerce, business-to-consumer e-commerce, general), content for potential employees, and content for shareholders.

According to the study, predictions of the boom in business-to-business e-commerce are overstated because most of the boom is the conversion of existing land-based customers to Web-based order processing and customer service. Although 90 percent of companies in the sample sell products to other businesses, only 9 percent allow new customers to initiate transactions online. Further, only one in nine of the companies with new customer shopping capabilities provides customers with the ability to create a purchase order online.

“One of the myths of business-to-business e-commerce is that everyone is doing it,” said Shelley Taylor, the study’s author. “In fact, most business-to-business e-commerce is only an extension of traditional land-based channels. Few new customers are actually acquired through the Internet. Cisco, for example, only allows transactions on its Web sites from existing customers.”

The study also found that many companies are restricting access to their sites by employing bells and whistles. Nineteen percent of sites in the survey require plug-ins for optimal viewing of the page. Only 4 percent of the companies provided a reduced-bandwidth or text-only option.

Only 44 percent of the sites in the survey have primary links for prospective employees on their home page, and only 22 percent have information about their corporate culture.

The efforts of a few companies were also recognized in the survey. Cisco Systems was recognized as having the best overall practices and the best navigation and recruitment content. Porsche ranked on top for site entry in terms of software and technology requirements. Dell Computer ranked No.1 for general customer content, business-to-business e-commerce, and business-to-consumer e-commerce.

Overall, however, many of the sites in the survey can use some work.

“Business-to-business sites leave much room for improvement,” Taylor said. “Online shopping may be a new medium but shopping is not a new human activity. Companies that do not sell to businesses online should therefore take a few lessons from both land- and Web-based retail wisdom.”

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