Historically, eCommerce for manufacturers hasn’t been a "thing." Typically, you sell to distributors through your sales reps, so eCommerce hasn’t been necessary. However, with the accelerated move to online buying, consumer behaviors have shifted—including your distributors, who are also regular B2C shoppers in their personal lives and have grown accustomed to the convenience of purchasing online. Comparatively, placing orders by email and phone is now seen as outdated.
Dramatic and unpredictable changes in the market are destabilizing your supply chain and squeezing profit margins, in addition to rendering your once-reliable forecasting data nearly useless. To counteract these uncertainties and get control over profit margins, some manufacturers have begun to sell Direct-to-Consumers (D2C) through their own eCommerce channels.
This new sales channel provides manufacturers with more control over their future as they can now access customers directly, build a brand experience, and secure better profit margins.
Should eCommerce be a part of your strategy moving forward? If so, are you ready to implement it? Continue reading for a few things to consider.
eCommerce for manufacturers: Customer (your distributors) benefits
Better, more convenient buying processes
An eCommerce site provides your buyers with a 24/7 storefront they can access any time. Now your busy distributors don’t have to wait 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.
A complete product catalog and real-time, custom pricing
You gain the ability to easily expose customers to your full product catalog by digitalizing your products and offering them in an eCommerce experience., Offering filters like product categories, features, pricing, and more, can make it easy to appreciate the breadth and depth of your products. Customers can utilize search and sort options to navigate and locate exactly what they need based on product specs. In addition, customers can find you easier 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. With 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.
Benefits of eCommerce for manufacturers
Grow sales and expand reach
Obviously, the main benefit of eCommerce to manufacturers is increased sales. eCommerce is the most rapidly growing sales channel and represents a huge opportunity for sales growth for those currently not employing it. While other approaches might help push the needle, eCommerce can have widespread impact. In fact, it can alter the very nature of your business model.
With increased online presence comes an increased sales reach. Your business can now be found online by new customers and markets and 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 improbable at all, in fact, it’s the new way of doing business.
Reduce the costs of transactions 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 allows for a reduction in the number of inquiries that must be handled by customer service and sales staff.
Integrating with your ERP allows you to automate sales orders right from your website, reducing manual data entry and the possibility of human errors.
Efficiently manage and distribute product data
All eCommerce systems come with some way 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 much 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 customer relationships stronger with personalized marketing
If you’re a manufacturer just starting out in D2C selling, you’ll want an eCommerce solution with built-in marketing. They don’t all have it. Remember, selling direct to customers comes with a 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 outside of a digital environment are unavailable.
eCommerce for manufacturers: Best practices
Here are some important best practices to consider begin your manufacturing eCommerce journey, particularly throughout the entire evaluation process:
Keep the focus on efficiency and reliability. If your eCommerce experience isn’t simplifying things for your customers in your specific industry, then it isn’t working. Your eCommerce store should make your customers want to come back, and not miss the “old way” of doing business. Some products and buying processes simply don’t fit into a classic eCommerce “shopping cart” experience, and might necessitate something more tailored, like a Configure-Price-Quote/Product Configurator, or a custom ordering process. On the other hand, if it’s 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.
Provide advanced self-service. Make your customer portal worth it. P yourself in your customers shoes and try to solve their problems. What features do they need to manage their relationship with your business independently? This could be wide-ranging depending on your industry. Consider everything from orders history, document sharing, previous communications , payment terms, user rules, and even the ability to kick off workflows to task your internal staff as needed.
Don’t forget 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 piggy-back off to accelerate success. Just like retailers, manufacturers can grow sales volumes and capture customer loyalty by themselves apart and staying top of mind with perks.
Some strategies to consider:
Discounts on online orders , like 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 for manufacturing 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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