Best Practices in E-commerce for Manufacturers
The global B2B market is estimated to be at $6.7 trillion and accounts for 27% of global manufacturing sales. Digital e-commerce is expected to grow for manufacturers at an annual growth rate of 15% through 2020. E-commerce platform best practices for manufacturers include: omnichannel facilitation, deep back-end integration, personalization, mobile responsiveness, single page checkout, and SEO optimization. According to market research reports, manufacturers in the U.S. are the leading business segment choosing to invest in e-commerce technology solutions. Research firm Retail Touchpoints states that e-commerce is expected to positively change the way manufacturing companies operate their businesses in three significant ways:
1. Simplifying and speeding up the ordering process 2. Heightening the significance of sales channels that are “direct-to-customer” 3. Increasing customer expectations concerning pace, ease, and dependability of transactions
A widespread misconception among manufacturers is that because of needed customization, configuration, and inventory management, their products are “too complicated” for e-commerce platforms and online marketing. Although a manufacturer’s online establishment can be complex in the beginning, there are several important reasons for companies to take advantage of this growing trend. According to Forrester, by 2020 B2B e-commerce sales in the U.S. will rise to $1.1 trillion, and will represent 12.1% of B2B sales. E-commerce platforms have been proven to give manufacturers greater brand awareness, which leads to increased sales and provides data opportunities for higher efficiency.
Manufacturers that choose to invest in B2B e-commerce platforms are capturing greater profits than competitors who lack a fully operating e-commerce presence. Nearly 60% of the B2B sales cycle is already finished by the time a sales person is contacted by a customer. Even with purchases that are processed offline, 98% of B2B buyers research online first.
Greater Efficiency and Profit
E-commerce generates a “more efficient sales process” because of “enterprise resource planning (ERP)”, and other systems it is integrated with. Everything from product shipment to customer experience can be streamlined with technology to eliminate error and increase order capacity. Manufacturers that have a strong e-commerce presence are able to gather vital data, which used for strategic company decision-making on pricing, brand development, and new product lines.
The following is a summarized list of best practices specifically for manufacturers engaging in B2B e-commerce to create an online presence that most effective for growing their business. These best e-commerce best practices are divided into three areas:
operations best practices, customer-friendly ordering best practices, and other on-site best practices.
E-COMMERCE PLATFORM OPERATIONS BEST PRACTICES
1. Ability to Handle Multiple Sales Channels “Omnichannel” functionality is important because B2B buyers commonly place orders in a variety of ways. A potential buyer may use a B2B e-commerce platform, fax, email, in-person sales, or mobile. Most likely, no two customers will have the exact same ordering path. Some potential customers even switch platforms in the middle of a transaction. B2B e-commerce portals should allow for buyer flexibility. For example, a manufacturer's customer should be able to initiate an order on a desktop computer, and then seamlessly continue that order on a mobile device. A sales representative should be able to initiate an order on behalf of a buyer, that the customer can finish online. The reverse should also be true.
2. Deep Integration for Real-Time Updates
Manufacturers require instant access to real-time inventory levels. They also need firm knowledge of customer purchasing history and buying preferences. To achieve this, e-commerce portals should be deeply integrated with business back-end systems such inventory and ERP. Deep integration prevents costly mistakes such as shipping delays and backordering. Real-time updates and integration are also important for consistency. Customers should have an experience that is as frictionless as possible regardless of the channel they are using. This is not an easy undertaking, and it requires integration and communication between in-person sales processes, back-end systems, and the e-commerce system. 3. Mobile-Friendly Tools and Responsive Design
Recent surveys suggest that 78% of B2B companies believe that mobile where e-commerce is going. E-commerce platforms should be mobile responsive and work with all types of devices including iPads, android tablets, smartphones and of course desktops. Plugins are available to help with this and should facilitate busy buyers on the move. The shopping cart, shipping details, costs of freight, and postage should be easily navigable from every type of device.
CUSTOMER- FRIENDLY ORDERING BEST PRACTICES
B2B buyers commonly make bulk, scheduled, and repeat purchases. Any manufacturing e-commerce platform should make ordering and re-ordering as easy as possible. Some best practice features to accomplish this are:
Simplified processing and pricing allow for features such as recurring shipment, product configuration, recurring shipments, payment processing should be embedded in the platform and easy to compete. “Pricing transparency” is one of the top 5 factors that encourage repurchasing from B2B customers. Accepting purchase orders and other types of corporate payments through e-commerce is also encouraged. 2. Pre-defined Ordering Safeguards
Manufacturers can work with companies to facilitate custom purchases by configuring display of products according to client specific business rules. For example, a manufacturer can allow a specific business to select “pre-approved products” and determine limits of spending. 3. Personalization
Smart e-commerce platforms have the ability to use personalization to record previous transactions customers have completed online and offline. This information should be used to display products, prices, and shipping preferences in line with the customer’s previous behavior. 4. "Single Step/ Single Page Checkout"
For B2B manufactures, having checkout on a single page can increase sales. However, due to complexity, one page checkout should include more than simple credit card and shipping information. A simplified checkout page should also give access to terms of payment, various shipping options, expected ship dates, cancellation periods, and more. 5. "Do-It- Yourself / Self-Service" Allowing B2B customers the same kind of convenience they have come to expect from B2C platforms can help improve customer satisfaction rates and data accuracy. For example, the ability to save an order and complete it at a later time is important since many B2B purchases involve multiple decision-makers.
OTHER ON-SITE E-COMMERCE BEST PRACTICES
Other manufacturing e-commerce best practice strategies for manufacturers include:
1. Having real-time support connected on the platform to help the buyer overcome any ordering complexity or difficulty. 2. "Pricing variations" depending on visitor profile. 3. SEO Optimization — SEO facilitates being found online through targeted keywords that potential customers are searching for. Features such as “meta descriptions” page titles, and “structured data” should be included to help search engines analyze content better.
There are numerous best practices that manufactures can implement to facilitate sales from B2B buyers. Strategies such as omnichannel facilitation, deep integration, personalization, mobile responsiveness, single page checkout, and SEO optimization should be implemented for the best results. The B2B segment of e-commerce is the fastest growing segment, and this online platform is quickly creating significant changes in the way manufacturers do business.