Ecommerce sites are for people looking to buy things like books, gadgets, and clothing, right? Actually, that’s too narrow a definition of ecommerce. It’s grown to encompass much more than just digital retail in the past decade.
One of the areas ecommerce has grown into is manufacturing. A push for more convenience, efficiency, customer satisfaction, and cost savings is creating evolving supply chains and sales mechanisms that are eroding the line between B2B and B2C business lines.
Manufacturers who aren’t investing in ecommerce may not be positioning themselves as B2B companies leading within their industries now and in the future. They’re also giving up critical foundations that might be relevant, as more companies sell directly to consumers. Find out more about ecommerce for manufacturers and how your company can use technology to create a lasting competitive advantage.
What Does Ecommerce Look Like for Manufacturers?
Ecommerce for manufacturers can mean providing controlled online environments where downline business partners can buy products and materials. But it can also mean closing the gap between B2B and B2C and offering some products to end users directly.
Manufacturing companies and supporting organizations are starting to take note of the benefits of doing both. According to Statista data, ecommerce-related shipments make up about half of the value of all manufacturing purchases, and ecommerce among wholesalers grew by more than 187% from 2000 to 2018.
One of the major drivers of this change is newer generations growing into manufacturing leadership roles. Baby boomers and Gen X buyers were used to traditional methods that involved dealing with suppliers in person and via phone. By contrast, Millennials and upcoming Gen Z professionals are accustomed to a predominantly online experience.
Younger generations aren’t opting for one-size-fits-all impersonal buying environments. Instead, they’re used to highly customized, personal ecommerce solutions like Amazon and Netflix, and they expect that same innovation from their business partners.
Benefits of Manufacturers Having an Ecommerce Site
Catering to younger generations who might have preferences for online buying and services aren’t the only reasons to launch an ecommerce site for your manufacturing business. Here are some others.
1. Direct access to customers.
Ecommerce gives you direct access to customers and full control over the customer relationship. That increases your customer base, gives you more control over enforcing MSRP, and lets you get faster direct feedback to improve your product offerings.
Manufacturers are choosing a wide variety of paths in this modern market. Some are still working solely with supply chain partners and retailers via ecommerce platforms. Others are developing dual product lines for selling both direct-to-consumer and via retailers and vendors.
2. Opportunities to innovate.
Embracing ecommerce offers a chance to create more innovative customer service, marketing, and sales solutions. By taking some of the traditional elements out of the manufacturing and supply chain, you can change the way customers deal with you in positive ways.
For example, traditional methods might require customers to order in bulk quantities. That leaves smaller retailers and direct consumers unable to buy from you. Ecommerce makes purchase on-demand possible, widening the number of customers who can shop with you.
Ecommerce relies heavily on digital automation, making it easier to scale sales, order, and fulfillment processes. Work that might previously have been handled by an inside sales rep can be done via self-serve digital portals, for example.
4. Improved efficiencies.
Ecommerce drives conveniences, efficiencies, and cost savings for everyone. It’s easy to see an example of this when you consider catalogs.
Outside of ecommerce solutions, manufacturers must print catalogs for business partners, which takes time and money. Yet, almost as soon as the materials are mailed out, they’re likely to be outdated. Traditionally, manufacturers have issued catalogs at least once a year, repeating the inefficient process.
On the client’s end, someone has to keep track of and consult the print catalog before making an order. They might also have to call the manufacturer sales rep to clarify information that isn’t in the catalog or might not be updated. Print pages, after all, are limited when it comes to space.
In an ecommerce situation, individual product listings can be updated in real-time, and customers can access them any time and often via mobile devices. This is just one of the many ways ecommerce saves people time.
5. Brand awareness.
Ecommerce sites also create an automated marketing machine that increases awareness of your brand and opens you to new markets. Clients consulting Google about product options may find you in the search results, helping you score more visibility and ultimately increase sales.
And even if you don’t plan to sell to end users, showing up for them online for relevant searches can influence them to buy your products from others.
6. Use of analytics.
Data is a critical resource for any business. It helps you make the best marketing, development, and customer service decisions. Ecommerce solutions gather data for every interaction, including site visits, quote requests, and sales. Good ecommerce platforms provide some tools for analyzing the data and let you export the information into other programs for the same purpose.
How to Effectively Use Ecommerce for Manufacturing
Of course, gaining many of the benefits outlined above requires knowing how to put ecommerce to work for your business. Here are a few tips for effectively using ecommerce as a manufacturer.
1. Create an engaging website.
Your ecommerce site should draw people in and provide them with helpful information to support their buying journey. Include product descriptions with high-quality photos, blog posts, or articles to educate buyers, and easy contact methods for anyone who wants to reach out another way.
If you’re serving retailers or vendors but still want consumers to be able to see some of your content, consider creating a password-protected section for B2B clients. Clients who log-in might be able to see current price lists, more detailed product specs, or technical manuals, for example.
2. Equip sales staff.
Going digital doesn’t mean you’re taking people wholly out of your process. But it does mean sales staff may work with clients in new ways, including via email and online chat boxes. Equip sales staff with the right training to ensure they can close the deal via new sales channels like chat, or use ecommerce solutions alongside traditional ones.
3. Provide a personalized catalog.
Use client behavioral metrics and preferences to provide personalized catalogs when someone comes to your site or logs in. For example, if you offer products to hotels, restaurants, and campsites, your small café client is likely to be interested in different items than clients who are RV-site managers.
Personalized catalogs or products featured for specific users make buyers’ jobs more convenient. And in an age where everyone is wearing multiple hats and has too much to get done, that’s a great way to endear yourself to clients.
4. Ensure visibility on spare parts.
Make it easy for clients to find spare or replacement parts, tools, or accessories to go with their purchases. Ecommerce solutions make it easy to interrelate items via tags and links.
If someone pulls up a product page for a blue widget, they should be able to see all machines that the widget fits. And if they pull up a page for a certain piece of equipment, they should be able to click through to pages or listings for all individual parts.
5. Configure products online.
Add apps and customizations to your ecommerce store to support buyers who want to configure products online. They should be able to add or remove various options, seeing the price and image results change as they do so. This adds to the efficiency with which buyers can order and reduces some of the strain on your customer support staff.
Factors to Consider When Creating an Ecommerce Store
Before you as a manufacturer can start using your ecommerce site to gain market share and provide buyers and consumers with benefits like personal catalogs and custom configuration, you have to build your site. Here are some steps to get you started.
1. Identify your audience and their needs.
Are you selling to vendors and retailers, direct to consumers, or a mix? Are your products technical enough that buyers need some education to make the right decision, or are the options fairly straightforward?
Answering these questions and understanding your audience helps you build a site that best meets client needs.
2. Select the products you will sell online.
Decide which of your products you will sell via ecommerce. It’s not always possible to sell all your products online, as some may be too regulated or complex. Others might be so specific that there isn’t a market to support them digitally.
Create a list of all the products you want to include in your ecommerce store. Then separate them into categories to make them more accessible for clients to find and browse.
3. Build your ecommerce store.
Luckily, you never have to start this process from scratch. Instead, follow the steps below to use existing technology and customize it for your brand and needs.
- Select your ecommerce platform. Choose a platform that has experience in serving manufacturers. Ensure that all the functionality you want to support on your site is available, either as a built-in feature, an app, or an integration.
- Choose a store theme. Choose from existing themes that work for manufacturers or have one designed specifically for your store.
- Develop your store’s design. Work with a web developer or team to customize the chosen theme to match your brand and business needs. Remember that simple, convenient designs are typically best.
- Product descriptions. Add product listings, including unique product descriptions with images. These serve two purposes. First, they create SEO value, so your pages start showing up in the search engines. Second, they help customers make decisions about which products are right for them and work to persuade the customer to make a purchase.
4. Create your ecommerce team to support your store.
Finally, know that your job isn’t done just because you’re ready to launch your ecommerce store. While you can take advantage of a great deal of automation and DIY options, you still need a support team for your store. You might want to consider sales reps, customer service reps, account and billing reps, and technical reps to ensure full support for your customers, your store, and your business.
When people mention ecommerce, many people think of consumer-facing giants, such as Amazon and eBay. But even these industry leaders are getting involved in B2B ecommerce.
As a manufacturer, you have several choices. You can choose to do nothing and let the world eventually pass you by as it goes increasingly digital. You can choose to rely on third-party resources and markets to keep your products visible online. Or, you can take control of the future and launch your own ecommerce store today.