More companies are using electronic purchasing systems than ever before, according to a study by Visa U.S.A.

The card association said 57% of 250 companies surveyed are using Internet software in their purchasing departments-a 50% one-year increase.

The surveys were distributed to purchasing managers and financial executives at a National Association of Purchasing Management conference in San Diego last May.

Of the companies that use electronic purchasing systems, 32% said they are using a purchasing card to pay for goods and services ordered on-line.

"There is increased recognition in the marketplace that electronic purchasing doesn't mean simply browsing suppliers' Web sites for competitive prices," said Michael Burns, senior manager for purchasing cards at Visa U.S.A. in San Francisco. "It involves a fully integrated system linked to a purchasing card."

Fifty-nine percent of the survey respondents said they have had a "major supplier" ask them to establish an electronic purchasing system, Visa said. Of that group 80% said they would prefer using a purchasing card for their transactions.

Cory Gaines, vice president of emerging markets at Visa, said Web merchants "see a great opportunity to reduce their accounts receivable and collection expenses" when buyers use purchasing cards.

The cards save companies an average of nearly $100 per transaction because they eliminate invoice paperwork and allow for timely approvals, Mr. Burns said.

Of the companies not doing electronic purchasing, 14% said high up-front installation costs were the deterrent, and 45% said they lacked support from senior management.

Visa said it wants to help purchasing managers get the information they need to write proposals for automation. "We need to be consultative knowledge experts in the field," Mr. Burns said.

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