Supplier Web sites: The pain and the promise

One of the most astonishing findings of a survey we conducted earlier this year is that packaging buyers are still slogging through general Web search engines to source packaging suppliers.

None indicated any knowledge of specialized packaging portal sites like,, PackagingNetwork .com and scads of others that are popping up by the minute. Not to mention our own searchable archive at, which contains more than 8ꯠ one-click-searchable packaging-specific articles, consisting of everything we’ve published since 1994.

All this comes from a phone and Web survey conducted by Packaging World earlier this year on what buyers seek in packaging suppliers’ Web sites. In this space in May, we focused on the quantitative results of the telephone survey (see This column will focus on the eye-opening verbatim comments from both surveys.

Suffering search-engine hell

Given the availability of the portal sites mentioned above, consider the following complaints from respondents that still rely on general search engines to source packaging information:

“Enter the word ‘packaging’ along with, say, ‘changeover’ and see how many unrelated sites you get,” was the complaint of a maintenance technician at a medium-sized food company.

“Being unable to find the right information using common search engines and reasonable search terms,” said another R&D professional at a large food company.

“I wish there were a directory with all companies and their locations and phone numbers, like a Yellow Pages,” said a manager with a midwestern pasta company, unaware that not one but several such sites already exist, notably the ones named above.

But these providers of online packaging information simply haven’t done a good enough job of telling buyers in plain English what the sites offer and how they can help sidestep getting mired in search-engine hell.

Lack of detail hurts

When respondents were asked their biggest frustration with packaging on the Web, they unanimously criticized suppliers for skimping on critical product details. Suppliers do this presumably to keep their competitors away; however, what’s actually happening is it’s driving customers away.

“They don’t have enough information, like horsepower of the machines, who makes the motors or gearboxes, etc.,” commented the maintenance supervisor at a southeastern pharmaceutical company. “It should be the same as in the manual and usually it’s not.”

Other respondents offered similar comments:

“Not finding specific product specifications.”

“Finding sites with enough content to decide if I should contact them.”

“Finding the right company to fit my needs...more specifics needed.”

“Insufficient information.”

“Need clear pictures that really show the equipment.”

Though repetitious, these comments are mentioned to drive home the point that buyers simply aren’t seeing enough specs, photographs, drawings or even video clips that show machinery in action. Respondents say they must have this level of detail to move toward a buying decision. And please, they pleaded, make it clear who buyers should contact for more information.

Other frustrations endemic to the Web and Web-site design centered on the slowness of the Web, either due to slow connection speeds or graphics-heavy sites with excessive download times. And just plain bad site design with poor navigation that makes it too difficult to find what buyers are looking for was cited again and again.

Several respondents complained that pricing information was almost universally absent from machinery and material sites.

Other sins that incurred the wrath of respondents were suppliers, often smaller ones, who aren’t yet online; suppliers who don’t return e-mail inquiries quickly enough; or sites that lack current information or frequent updates.

Web saves time

On the brighter side, respondents were asked, “How do you anticipate the Web helping you in your job as it relates to packaging?”

The most frequent answer by respondents was the time saved by using the Web to research packaging sites quickly to make better buying decisions. In fact, many verbatim comments were variations on the theme of Web-as-fast-research-tool. “It allows me to get a broad perspective on what companies are out there, what options for equipment are available to me and the general price categories they fall into,” said the director of packaging at a midwestern food ingredient company.

Others like the immediacy of the Web, which eliminates waiting for callbacks or brochures by fax or mail. The round-the-clock nature is especially important to busy manufacturing executives. “It’s nice to be able to look things up from home when you have a few peaceful minutes,” said a production manager at a midwestern bakery.

Another huge benefit mentioned by a great number of respondents: “It opens up the volume of vendors we need to look at,” commented the plant manager at an east coast pharmaceutical company.

Shedding paper & sales reps

A few respondents were elated at the idea that Web sites “have catalogs of information, and no paper is needed. It’s easier to click on sites than shuffle through papers.” That’s according to an engineer at a southeastern dairy foods company. Another respondent said, “Now I can get rid of these books [directories] and book services.”

Many respondents liked the fact that the Web allowed them to bypass packaging salespeople.

An engineer from a well-known consumer products company said the Web “gives a vast array of information without phone calls from sales reps. It lets you gather information without someone assuming they have a sale.”

Another respondent noted, “Some reps will tend to steer you in the direction they want you to go. With the Web you can steer yourself.”

Clearly, Web sites are beginning to take over the role of the salesperson—for better or worse—in the minds of some buyers.

Other ways the Web will help packaging professionals, mentioned by several respondents: the Web makes it easier to compare different products and prices, keep current on packaging news, and procure machinery parts online.

Stay tuned next month for the results of our exclusive e-procurement intentions survey, consisting of the quantitative survey results and verbatim feedback on e-procurement plans of more than 250 packaging buyers. That report will be published in our new Net Sourcing supplement, which will accompany the September issue of Packaging World.

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