The amount of digital transformation that manufacturing companies have undergone in the last 5 years alone has been staggering. Yet, while much of their back end operations have transformed, many manufacturers are hesitant or have struggled to invest in the way they are evolving their customer-facing experience, particularly in offering eCommerce.
There is a core difference in strategy between manufacturers and their buying audiences and vendors, who typically do not have as defined of relationships with their potential consumers.
This points us toward the heart of this blog post: why manufacturers need to be thinking about, and investing in, eCommerce for their buyers, and their buyers specifically. Global developments over the past three years have driven consumers toward digital interface in droves, changing the standard dynamic of D2C, B2B and B2C sales processes.
Here, we’ll take a look at some main areas of consideration for manufacturers as they establish and expand their eCommerce presence.
In the current market, a quality eCommerce experience is quickly becoming a non-negotiable for buyers and businesses alike.
Deloitte’s 2022 Manufacturing Industry Outlook noted that manufacturers with pre-pandemic eCommerce options, or those that accelerated digitization during the pandemic, had higher levels of resiliency in the aftermath than their non-digitized counterparts. As such, the new industry perspective is that “digitalization…and e-commerce can be vital for a more sustainable and competitive future in manufacturing.”
It seems that manufacturers are picking up on the trend toward eCommerce, with a 2021 PwC survey showing a 65% response rate for businesses ranking digital marketing and sales as either a “high” or “very high” priority in the following 6-24 months.
With the market majority in agreement that eCommerce is paramount to the continued success and adaptation of manufacturers, now is as good a time as any to solidify strategy and get ahead of the curve. With so much of the market quickly moving to align with consumer desires, the rough third that chooses not to prioritize eCommerce expansion will fall behind in equal pace.
A Forrester forecast report projects eCommerce will account for 17% of total U.S. B2B sales by 2023, at a rough valuation of $1.8B. The upward trajectory is supported by the increase of digitization options, alongside the existing shift in buyer personas and the favoritism toward self-service capacities.
In the manufacturing industry in particular, the difference between a company with 3 years of investment toward eCommerce and a company with 3 months of investment will be stark.
When buyers have expectations that are easily met or exceeded by the majority of the market, what draw will the fledglings have in 24 months’ time?
“Consumerization” refers to the expectation by B2B consumers of a sales experience similar to that of a consumer purchase. Looked at through the lens of manufacturing, the PwC survey also helps correlate consumerization to buyer assumptions of:
- Configuration choices and logic
- Visualization kits
- Customer-specific pricing and promotions
- Real-time inventory
Buyers want to be guided through their sales experience, with the system itself leveraging product knowledge and configuration logic to help hone in on the optimized purchase. For manufacturers especially, allowing a visual representation of the configuration at hand helps provide a personalized, realistic experience for buyers that protects the self-driven core of eCommerce.
Manufacturers tend to have standing relationships with their customers, often in the form of contracts and repeat orders. With this knowledge, we have to take into consideration that 86% prefer to reorder online instead of speaking to a sales representative, per PwC.
Providing an eCommerce experience that provides the same depth of knowledge and customization as a direct sales representative is imperative to a notably high percentage of key audiences, and can serve as low-hanging fruit for immediate, positive impact to the bottom line.
BigCommerce data confirms these assumptions, with 58% of surveyed B2B buyers ranking the inclusion of up-to-date and accurate online product information as the single action most likely to improve customer experience.
The next most highly recommended CX improvement, with a 44% response rate, was to make the eCommerce site itself more user-friendly. Here, we see proof of the growing desire for self-service options. Interestingly, this point correlates with another data set provided in the same study.
Looking at a trio of age demographics – Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers – and how they research new products, there was unanimous agreement across all age groups that a company’s website was the primary source of information during preliminary research.
Improving the immediate eCommerce functionality on the website itself then opens doors at the first point of contact for nearly any customer.
Knowing exactly what it is that target audiences find value in can help manufacturers divert the most appropriate amount of time and resources into eCommerce development.
It’s not without a true investment, though. Harking back to the 65% of manufacturers with a high or very high priority attached to eCommerce expansion, 40% of the same respondents marked such efforts as a top business challenge.
Not everyone who faces a challenge will want to do so head on, or in a timely manner. Some may not know how, or think they have the resources to do so.
But, as the old adage goes – fortune favors the bold. Establishing a strong, solidified eCommerce presence now will allow you the most time and room to tweak, customize and settle into your new normal, while still maintaining sales.
Sow Now, Reap Later
Simply put by the Manufacturing Industry Outlook, “the here-and-now challenges can create an advantage tomorrow.” Taking the time presently to research, select and implement a proper eCommerce structure sets the stage for a successful future, or “future-proofs” your business.
You’ll see us use the term “future-proof” in discussions about business development relatively often. What that means to us is creating a scalable, maintainable, efficient structure that can accommodate growth and update along with your own. Systems should work for you, not the other way around.
Trying to create intricately customized, single-use, or non-scalable solutions may provide an immediate lift or surge to business operations, but inevitably comes back to bite down the line. The last thing you – or your customers – will appreciate is a system that breaks under increased volume, takes incredible amounts of time to update, or stalls in progression with the rest of the pack keeps on.
What they will gravitate toward, and reward in loyalty, is a system as agile as they are. We strongly believe in the success and value of headless eCommerce options to help you get ahead of the standard eCommerce options of yesterday.
Our full breakdown, What Is Headless eCommerce: 5 Powerful Ways it Outperforms Traditional eCommerce, highlights the fact that headless eCommerce ties into omnichannel potential, which can increase conversions by up to 25%. With a boost like that as an option, leaving eCommerce options on the table would be nothing more than a nail in the coffin.