Signs looking up for B2B marketplaces

Business-to-business marketplaces started with a bang but enthusiasm has since fizzled somewhat as the difficulties of signing up enough buyers and sellers became apparent.

Business-to-business marketplaces started with a bang but enthusiasm has since fizzled somewhat as the difficulties of signing up enough buyers and sellers became apparent.

There is some thinking among analysts that we may be turning the corner again. IDC Australia is optimistically forecasting that B2B e-commerce revenues for procurement and distribution will reach $US66 billion by 2005, though other analysts called IDC’s statements “frivolous” in light of the relative infancy of the industry in Australasia and abroad.

Nevertheless, e-exchanges such as Wool trading site Woolnet and marketplaces such as Southfresh and Lignus are attracting investment, analysts note approvingly.

The company behind much of the technology that facilitates one of the most successful online B2B marketplaces is Unisys. Agriculture business website Fencepost makes heavy use of its ATG product suite, including the ATG e-commerce server. The site attracts as many as 8000 unique viewer sessions per day.

“Companies are adding value-added services,” says Unisys consultant David Sowerby. “They’re not just wanting to match up buyers and sellers. With Fencepost, they were going for a traditionally untapped market — rural businesspeople. And in a way you could say that the site itself is one whole marketplace, with classified ads, jobs and Live.ex, the ‘stock dating service’,” he says. Fencepost has been helped by strong bricks and mortar backing — the firm “inherited” 21 shops and a call centre.

Sowerby believes it’s time for companies to move beyond simply transferring retail models to the internet and building real “transactional hubs”. He predicts more mixing of e-commerce models. “I think there’s going to be lots of these sites, for instance in the chemicals, heavy industry and fertiliser areas.”

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