As a manufacturer, you may not have considered implementing eCommerce – until recently. Since you primarily sell to distributors who work directly with your sales reps, why would they need eCommerce? With the greater ease and lower cost of online buying, consumer behaviors have shifted dramatically. This trend includes your distributors, who are regular B2C shoppers outside of their 9-5 and have grown accustomed to the convenience of purchasing online. Comparatively, placing orders by email or phone is now seen as outdated, costlier, and more time consuming.
Dramatic and unpredictable changes in the market are destabilizing your supply chain and squeezing your profit margins, while also rendering your once-reliable forecasting data all but useless. Counteracting these uncertainties and maintaining control over profit margins are the primary reasons some manufacturers are starting to sell Direct-to-Consumers (D2C) through their own eCommerce channels. By allowing manufacturers to access their customers directly and build a brand experience, this new sales channel gives them more control over their business’ future , and the ability to secure better profit margins.
Has the time come for your manufacturing business to implement eCommerce? Continue reading for a few things to consider.
eCommerce benefits: Your customers (distributors)
Improved buying processes
An eCommerce site provides your buyers with a 24/7 storefront that they can access anytime. Your busy distributors no longer must depend on sales reps to respond by email or phone. They have the ability to place orders, provide payment, and access services whenever the job requires it.
Product catalogs and real-time, custom pricing
eCommerce gives you the ability to easily present your full product catalog to your customers by digitalizing your products. Offering filters like product categories, features, pricing, and more, can make the versatility and value of your products easy to appreciate. Customers can utilize search and sort options to navigate the site and locate exactly what they need based on product specs. In addition, customers can find you more easily online thanks to better visibility on search engines (SEO).
In the B2B world, wholesalers and distributors often have custom pricing based on their volume, contract terms or other factors. By using integrated eCommerce, you can offer them user-specific pricing straight from your ERP system so they can plan and build their own real time quotes.
eCommerce benefits: Manufacturers (YOU)
Grow your sales, and expand your reach
For manufacturers, the main benefit of eCommerce is increased sales. eCommerce is the most rapidly growing sales channel, and for those not already employing it, it represents a huge opportunity for sales growth. While other approaches might also increase sales, eCommerce can have a more widespread impact. In fact, it can alter the very nature of your business model.
An increased online presence will provide you with a much more extensive sales reach. Your business can now be found online by new customers and markets, and they can transact without ever speaking to a sales rep. Envision a world where customers are finding you, onboarding themselves and making purchases. All while you sit back and watch the numbers. It’s not unattainable at all, in fact, it’s the new way of doing business.
Decrease your transaction costs and overhead
eCommerce can also reduce your selling costs. According to Forrester Research, by directing customers to an online self-service environment, B2B companies can decrease selling costs by up to 90%. This happens in a couple of ways.
Offering detailed product information, support resources and self-service features online reduces the number of inquiries that have to be handled by customer service and sales staff.
Integrating with your ERP allows you to automate sales orders directly from your website, reducing manual data entry and the possibility of human errors.
Efficiently manage and distribute your product data
All eCommerce systems come with the ability to manage product data to display on pages. But not all eCommerce systems come with a sophisticated Product Information Management (PIM) solution built-in. As a manufacturer, there is a great deal to gain by choosing an eCommerce platform with true PIM or integrating your existing PIM with your eCommerce site.
A PIM solution provides a single place to aggregate and augment all your product information, and then efficiently distribute that data to various channels—for example, your eCommerce site, third-party marketplaces (like Amazon), printed product catalogs, partner portals, sales reps, and more.
PIM offers a better, more efficient way to manage your product data, with features like language versioning, rules, workflows, bulk editing and dashboards.
Make your customer relationships stronger with personalized marketing
If you’re a manufacturer new to D2C selling, you’ll want an eCommerce solution with built-in marketing. They don’t all have it. Remember, selling direct to customers poses a whole new set of challenges and costs. You’ll now be accountable for marketing, selling to end-consumers, and even vying with your own distributors for market share.
You can easily create “Amazon” style brand experiences by automating and personalizing communications at scale with a built-in digital marketing module. Equipped with your eCommerce and customer data, marketers can design highly targeted campaigns and promotions based on website behavior, purchase history, product preferences, abandoned shopping carts, and other behaviors that are only available in the digital environment.
Manufacturing eCommerce best practices
Here are a few recommendations to reflect on as you begin your manufacturing eCommerce journey. These best practices can make or break your strategy and should be taken into consideration throughout your entire evaluation process.
Focus on efficiency and reliability. An eCommerce experience that isn’t simplifying things for your customers, isn’t working. Your eCommerce store should encourage your customers to come back, and not miss the “old way” of doing business. Some products and buying processes do not work well in a classic eCommerce “shopping cart” experience, and might necessitate something more tailored, like a Configure-Price-Quote/Product Configurator, or a custom ordering process. If, however, it is simple enough to be sold in a familiar eCommerce fashion, do it! Ultimately, your store may use a combination of classic B2C best practices and custom ordering requirements to meet the needs of your B2B customers.
Advanced self-service. Make your customer portal worth it. See things from your customers’ viewpoints and try to solve their problems. What features do they need to manage their relationship with your business independently? These could be wide-ranging depending on your industry. Consider everything from order history, document sharing, previous communications , payment terms, user rules, and even the ability to kick off workflows to task your internal staff as needed.
Leverage promotions and loyalty programs. Classic B2C retail has set the stage for B2B industries with best practices, conversion rate optimization, promotions and loyalty programs that they can use to accelerate success. Just like retailers, manufacturers can grow sales volumes and gain customer loyalty by differentiating themselves and staying top of mind with perks.
Some strategies to consider might be:
Discounts on online orders , for example, 10% off your first 5 online orders
Limited time offers to sell older inventory
Free shipping offers
Order reminders based on previous purchases
Abandoned shopping cart campaigns
Loyalty programs, like point redemption
Related products and recommendations
Learn more about D2C eCommerce for Manufacturers
If implementing a D2C eCommerce model is under consideration, there are even more factors to keep in mind – like internal sales and marketing expertise, change management, and potential channel conflict. Download our free whitepaper on D2C eCommerce in Manufacturing to learn more and find out if D2C is right for you.
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