The evolution of B2B web sites

The design of B2B web sites is critical (Evans and King,

1999). More specifically, Shoemaker (2001) stipulates that relationships between sellers and buyers can actually be damaged by offering a poorly developed web site. According to Ling and Yen (2001), such sites have evolved from first being developed as general (public) internet web sites, moving on to include new levels, such as employee-only intranets. Not only are the web sites themselves evolving, but the B2B marketer is evolving right along with them (Sharma, 2002). One of the main opportunities with web site design according to Honeycutt et al. (1998) is with regards to how the company and/or product are communicated online. They found that one of the downsides of these B2B sites included the development of what can simply be viewed as dull (i.e. static) web sites. Yet little research has been done on establishing models and frameworks for maximizing the interaction between an organization's web site and its stakeholders (Fink and Laupase, 2000). Many studies on web sites in B2B settings to date have focused on what type of content the site should have (e.g. Perry and Bodkin, 2000; Bauer and Scharl,

2000), the overall web site design (e.g. Lord and Collins, 2002; Kim et al. , 2003) or the stages in its development (Arnott and Bridgewater, 2002). Only recently have studies started to look at what truly makes a B2B web site more valuable, such as Chakraborty et al. (2003), who asked customers what factors were the most important in using B2B

web sites. They found that wile organization of the web site was most important, nontransaction-related interactivity, privacy/security, and how informative the site was were also important. Of relatively little importance were factors such as transaction-related interactivity, personalization, and entertainment.

Yet so many of these studies look at web sites as if there was a single layer, when there are actually three broad layers: First, there is the general (public) web site mentioned by Ling and Yen (2001), which can also be viewed as the "entryway" or online portal into the organization in cyberspace. Following this is the extranet level, often used for specific, pre-approved stakeholder groups, such as suppliers, partners and/or customers (Lamb, 2003). Finally, there is the innermost intranet level for employees within a specific organization (Ling and Yen, 2001; Lamb, 2003; Chaffey et al., 2003). In a study that looked at web site use from several of these perspectives, Hoey (1998) developed one of the first frameworks focusing on the use of web sites throughout a (virtual) supply chain in a B2B setting. Hoey showed that such a supply chain provides its members, through a web site, a framework where each member of the value chain not only provides but is also provided information through its own resources (information) and the resources of other members. Through this interaction, the web site provides a form of web connectivity. Sharma (2002) shows a similar internet connection between suppliers, the selling firm, and its customers, referring to it as a "common information platform" (p. 80). However, it was recognized that "web connectivity" according to both Hoey (1998) and Sharma (2002) meant that such a connection existed on only one level. Scholars such as Vlosky et al. (2000), Lamb (2003) and Chaffey et al. (2003), feel that different stakeholders within such a value chain require different access points at the internet (public), extranet (specific third parties, e.g. customers, partners, suppliers), and intranet (employee-only) levels. By combining the work of Hoey (ibid.) and Chaffey et al. (ibid.), Foster (2004) developed a framework that looked at the use of the internet (specifically B2B web sites) from the perspective of all three levels across the entire value chain in what can be referred to as the I-E-I framework (see Figure 1).

The I-E-I Framework can be investigated as a whole but, like an onion, can (and should) be peeled, level-by-level, and within each I-E-I level, layer-by-layer, focusing on the value created for stakeholders across the entire supply/value chain. This study will do just that, focusing on those parts of the framework shaded in grey in Figure 1, namely the extranet level and the use of it by a selling organization and its buyers.

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