The B2B e-customer experience

If you’re scouting for success stories on the transition to B2B online purchasing, begin with the experiences of three of US Office Products’ Akron customers.

At the corporate offices of FirstMerit Corp., Category Leader Doug Wofsey doesn’t hesitate to praise the benefits of Web-based purchasing.

“Orders are being handled quicker and more efficiently,” says Wofsey.

Like many companies considering the migration to Web-enabled transactions with their B2B vendors, FirstMerit has placed a premium on characteristics like reliability and security. According to Vice President and Divisional Controller Stan Hujarski, “Security is a big issue because of access to other areas in our system.”

In the process of planning its adaptation to e-transactions with US Office Products, FirstMerit made sure data security meetings were involved and “we were satisfied with the security” of the site, Wofsey says. Because of the design of US Office Products’ site, FirstMerit has not been required to invest in extra security measures.

One of Wofsey’s favorite features is the drop-down menu of frequently used items that evolves with the patterns and changes in customer use. Purchasing limits outlined in contracts between vendor and supplier are built into the authorization functions in the online process.

Prominent in FirstMerit’s future phases of B2B e-commerce is the plan to more completely “migrate our purchasing from a paper to an e-based process,” Hujarski says.

The bank also anticipates Web-enabling aspects of its RFP processes, particularly because of its expense modification and reduction capabilities.

Even at this stage, when it adds up reductions in inventory, handling, communication and processing, FirstMerit has realized a 10 to 20 percent cost savings with some vendors and 30 to 35 percent with others.

At the law firm Stark & Knoll, e-purchasing with US Office Products is a profitable approach to time and dollar savings. Convenience of partners and staff also factors largely into the equation.

It’s quick, it’s reliable, and we get immediate feedback on when we will get delivery,” says partner John Krajewski.

Like many companies moving to e-business as a business customer, Stark & Knoll maintains four priorities in assessing the effectiveness of design: speed, security, real-time status information and confidentiality.

Stark & Knoll has also begun innovating with B2B e-business as a provider. Its extranet facilitates communication, document editing, due diligence and scheduling with its partners, clients and peers in merger and acquisition deals.

At United Disability Services, Associate Director Howard Taylor finds the Web an invaluable tool for procuring products, services and information. Whether tapping into US Office Products’ inventory online or mining the growing number of purchasing consortiums online, UDS is a satisfied benefactor of this new media for managing purchase quality and costs.

Beyond procurement impacts, e-business provides the company with fast access to governmental and industry resources for research into laws, innovative practices and new ideas for growing its business.

Jack Ricchiuto is a management consultant and author.