The world of material supply and demand is shifting fast into the digital sphere. This is making sales and purchases easier for a more productive system than ever. This is the fourth industrial revolution.
Most consumers have already made the shift to eCommerce with the likes of Amazon, which in 2016 had been visited by 82 percent of the UK’s internet users in one month. B2B eCommerce is also making the shift with a value of $780 billion in 2015 and a projected growth to $1.2 trillion by 2020. That places it at four times the current B2C spending.
Why is an online presence needed?
According to a study by United Parcel Service Inc. 63 percent of industrial supplies buyers say they are now purchasing online. In the same study buyers were asked what is most important to them when making a purchase and 74 percent said that it was the online purchasing supplier’s website.
Thanks to consumer buying sites like Amazon, a similar level of ease, product information, pricing and shipping transparency are expected on business to business buying websites. The problem for businesses occurs when trying to create this buying platform alone where integration of financial, inventory management, sales and communications systems becomes challenging. As a result businesses are moving online to marketplace platforms.
In 2015 a study by UPS Industrial Buying Dynamics found that distributor websites were the top channel used by 66 percent of industrial product buyers making industrial purchases.
How can the materials industry benefit?
Material buyers have a very specific requirement when making purchases. For this reason the way online search tools work make them ideal for finding that particular material. For example, buyers on the platform Matmatch are able to search for exactly what they’re looking for and have results paired to them so that they find the best seller for the job. On the flip side this also means that sellers are finding new buyers more easily.
Since this connection can be made at the speed online information sharing allows, that means companies, designers, engineers plus research and development teams can be working with the material supplier right from the inception of a project. Thanks to specific search term narrowing it’s now possible for buyers to find exactly what they want. Filtering options on Matmatch include application of what the material is for, properties like melting points, categories like metal or ceramic, shapes like bar or sheet, and supplier details like location.
Another benefit of moving to these marketplace platforms online is the ability to promote products. Suppliers are able to create public projects which allow them to share expertise and even point buyers towards use cases that show their material is ideal for the job.
What do buyers want from the online experience?
According to a UPS study buyers that use online platforms expect to have full product descriptions backed up by detailed specification sheets and instruction manuals. There is also often the option to read reviews left by other buyers as well as how-to videos. For the materials industry a platform that allows sellers to explain their product and show off its use is an ideal way to fulfill that online need of buyers.
Ever since Google’s Panda search engine algorithm was updated to negatively mark sites that weren’t mobile optimized nearly all websites have shifted to offer that. Since online marketplaces rely on Google search they are nearly always optimized for mobile browsing. This also means buyers can purchase items at any time, from anywhere and even be notified of new materials that become available. Websites that haven’t updated to mobile friendly versions not only suffer on the Google search ranking but will also prove difficult to use from a smartphone or tablet which can lead to frustration and ultimately losing customers.
Inventory lists need to be up to date. A massive 93 percent of buyers in industry rate product availability as highly important. This is one of the benefits of using online platforms to buy materials as they can be live, allowing the buyer to access what they need immediately. This applies both to deliveries but also to collections if that is an option, depending on locality. This is another reason that search filters which prioritize location are useful.
The buying process is different for businesses and so too are the digital platforms that facilitate them. There may be an expectation from buyers to have negotiated prices, volume discounts, credit terms and use of corporate procurement systems to work with invoicing and receivables management. Supply chain control, shipping mode and delivery speed are all also areas where businesses may want online data or control.
Liquid Metal as an example of eCommerce benefit
When a new discovery is made in the materials industry there may well be coverage in the press. But it is down to the companies that supply the materials to be up-to-date enough to offer the option for buyers to find and purchase what they offer, all online.
Liquid Metal was recently revealed as a breakthrough material for the future of hydrogen cars. Until recently expensive palladium membranes were used to carry a supply of pure hydrogen through a fuel cell to power a car. Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute found that gallium is a far better liquid metal for the job and it’s also more affordable.
Gallium has a melting point of 29.76 Celsius and has 98 percent applied to semiconductors in high-purity form. Gallium is also the least reactive and toxic when compared with similar liquid metals. The problem with Gallium was a lack of protective material around it, which has been solved using a liquid metal membrane of silicone carbide and graphite.
Using online eCommerce platforms like Matmatch sellers and buyers are able to find each other and make sure materials like Gallium are getting to and from the right places to help push industry forward for faster and more efficient progress than ever before. This has been called the fourth industrial revolution and anyone not joining in yet is in danger of being left behind.