In the spring of 2012, online retail giant Amazon quietly announced the launch of its new website,, which — far from clandestinely — aimed to offer “Earth’s largest selection of essential products for businesses, labs, workshops and factories.”

On the surface, the launch appeared to be a simple re-tooling of the e-commerce site, 
a fairly innocuous web portal the Seattle-based company had acquired and had been operating since 2005. 
But the extension of the site that sold mainly parts for research labs was more than a strategic rebranding: it was a clear crossing of the line.  

Unlike Amazon’s numerous consumer retail acquisitions — such as Zappos, Shopbop, or, or its more proprietary brands like the Kindle — the launch of marked the company’s official landing in the B2B market.

The site offers more than one million products in 16 industrial categories, including office supplies, foodservice, and janitorial and sanitation, with the convenience of its consumer brand. In little over a year, the site has attracted nearly 175 million users. And Amazon isn’t alone.

Earlier this year, Google announced the beta launch of its B2B e-commerce site, Google Shopping For Suppliers. Although the site currently offers products in just three categories — electronics and electrical, mechanical components, and test and measurement — it’s no secret the king of search is gearing up to go head-to-head with the competition.

Why the sudden interest? Amazon, Google and other e-tailers are after a piece of the $570 billion business-to-business pie, the estimate calculated by Forrester Research. In comparison, the consumer market is estimated at about $170 billion, so it makes sense that the companies are going after bigger fish.

With Amazon’s online shopping model nearly upending traditional booksellers and other brick-and-mortar businesses, and Google’s powerful wielding of the search algorithm, the companies are angling to conquer the B2B supplies market much in the same way they did on the consumer side — with technology.

This technology is ever expanding. Not only do these companies offer a suite of e-commerce solutions, they also offer customers the convenience of fully optimized mobile sites and downloadable apps, accessed through smartphone and tablet devices.

It’s a smart move considering a recent report on mobile usage from global market research firm, Nielsen, found nearly one-third of American mobile users regularly shop on their phone and more than 53 percent have downloaded shopping and retail apps.

Though, it’s unclear how many distributors have jumped on the mobile bandwagon, analysts say it is the clear next step in the technology chain; after all, the B2C model has already trickled into the B2B market.

In a blog post for Forrester, senior analyst Andy Hoar writes: “B2B companies can no longer stagger their online and mobile development; they must now implement online, tablet and mobile strategies in parallel.”

How distributors can achieve that goal can feel like a long, complicated road, but tech experts say it shouldn’t feel like a path to doom and gloom. 
“There should be less focus on the names in particular, but on the services that they bring,” says Guy Blissett, wholesale distribution lead for IBM and the author of “Facing the Forces of Change.” “Distributors need to ask themselves: ‘How am I going to re-imagine the customer experience over the next 12 to 48 months? It’s no longer an option.”

“If you’re not already taking steps to be in the e-commerce space, you will very quickly be out of business,” he adds. 

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