Industry 4.0 and eCommerce – Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

24 Aug 2021
Mike Patel
Mike Patel
Industry 4.0 and eCommerce – Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

Today, Industry 4.0 is embracing an entirely new and improved way of doing business with the use of innovative digital technology in the B2B world. And, one of the most significant improvements among them is the introduction of eCommerce on a B2B level.

In the manufacturing world, the eCommerce trend is growing very quickly. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, eCommerce accounted for only 18% of manufacturing shipments in 2000; whereas, in 2016, the contribution of eCommerce was 64.8% in manufacturing shipments.

eCommerce has become one of the primary ways of generating revenue for many manufacturers. According to a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.1% of companies generate 50% of their revenue through eCommerce transactions. 

In the 21st century, the factory is no longer the center of manufacturing. In fact, it’s often the furthest thing from it.

Modern factories take advantage of ideas like flexible space, mass customization, and mass production, while also incorporating social media and hardware/software innovations such as 3D printing, drones, and robotics into their daily operations.

Let’s have a look at how eCommerce is shaping the future of manufacturing, and how your business can embrace these trends – affecting the way people shop, and the goods they produce.

eCommerce for Manufacturing

Innovation and technological advances have changed the way we do–well, everything. From education to socializing, the world is embracing living in a digital world. Manufacturing companies have arguably been one of the last industries to fully embrace the digital marketplace. Retailers were quick to jump on the e-store bandwagon; it was less clear how manufacturers could benefit from moving parts of their businesses online. 

Not to mention, it can be overwhelming to think of changing standard operating procedures or expanding our business in unfamiliar ways. Even with these issues, there has been a rise in manufacturing companies using eCommerce to serve the needs of consumers directly.

The benefits of using eCommerce for manufacturing are vast and varied. eCommerce increases your company’s visibility simultaneously creating brand awareness. Manufacturers who rely strictly on distributors are largely invisible to consumers. Having a digital presence allows consumers to know exactly who you are and how to interact with you directly. The direct relationship retailers have with manufacturers translates into profit retention and customer loyalty. As a manufacturer, you are in full control of how your brand is represented and how your customers are served.

An added advantage of eCommerce is scalability. Many of the processes you use daily can be automated and digitally collected data can be updated in real-time. This is yet another benefit of eCommerce. You have access to and can make use of analytics to better serve your buyers. Analytics will not only increase profitability but help you provide customized products and services to your customers.

Engaging Website

One of the disadvantages for manufacturers using distributors is the inaccessibility of their target market. Manufacturers sell to distributors who sell to consumers. This can make it difficult for manufacturers to retain brand loyalty and identity. When manufacturers decide to use eCommerce to directly serve buyers, they eliminate the blind spot in their business.

Maybe you know exactly what you want in the design of storefront space, but designing a website is quite different. You’ll have to think like a consumer, not a manufacturer. What do you look for when you shop online? What frustrates you about the online shopping process? It is imperative to do research on what users look for (and avoid) when conducting business virtually.

Navigating your site should be easy enough for almost anyone. Convenient features like an auto-reorder tool and parts replacement platform will simplify the buying process and promote customer retention. When considering the elements of your eCommerce store, it’s also important to provide user-friendly tools such as buyer’s guides, customer reviews, and product comparisons.

Furthermore, nothing will kill your eCommerce business faster than an inoperable website, so schedule site maintenance regularly and update software as often as prompted to avoid site disruption. Lastly, ensure that your checkout page is secure and easy to navigate. Use a checkout page that allows buyers to review their orders before purchasing. This will eliminate returned products and will ultimately result in profit retention.

Personalized Catalog

Trying to provide the best products for your buyers is impossible without first identifying their needs.  Once a manufacturer identifies the needs and purchasing patterns of its buyers, it is exponentially easier to customize their buying experience. Personalizing your catalog will streamline the buying process for your customers.

The first way to accomplish this is to use surveys. Surveys are a great way to understand each individual customer’s needs and preferences; this need not be a long questionnaire. There are several immediate benefits to personalization–both for you and your customers. Designing a catalog that highlights what the buyer is interested in will make them feel seen and heard by your company. Consumers are more likely to buy from companies where they feel valued. As mentioned before, this creates customer loyalty.

Another way to personalize your catalog is to provide product comparisons that are directly related to your buyers’ needs. Seeing several options side-by-side helps simplify and expedite the purchasing process. Additionally, use email marketing strategies to keep the lines of communication open between you and your buyers. Provide them with personalized electronic sales materials, but be sure not to inundate them with emails too frequently. The more concise and useful to the customer, the better.

 Configure Products Online, Real-time Pricing

Being overwhelmed with options can be frustrating to any consumer. Storefront manufacturers are there in person to help with product purchases. However, shopping online presents a customer service challenge. To eliminate the obstacle of physically absent salespeople, use a product configurator to simplify the process.

Using a product configurator empowers buyers to customize their options and get exactly what they want. They can sort their choices according to any number of variables (i.e. color, make, model, brand name, etc.). You can then use that data to manage your inventory and provide products that your buyers will be looking for. However, you don’t have to be an expert in coding to add or manage this feature on your website, and it will be an invaluable tool for your business.

Consider using software that allows you to customize your configuration preferences. This may require some knowledge of coding, but it gives you the power to tailor the experience to your unique customer base. One important feature of product configuration is real-time pricing. Real-time pricing allows the customer to work within their budget without any guesswork. They can also compare the prices of similar products to help them make decisions.

 Establish Visibility of Spare Parts

Inventory management can make or break your business. It’s important to have strategies in place to provide what your customers need when they need it. If a buyer is looking for a specific product and has to wait for it to come in, chances are they will go looking for it somewhere else–most likely your competition. Use software that allows you to collect and consolidate data in one place so that it’s easily accessible to your customers. Buyers can see what spare parts are in your inventory, the price per unit, and the product description.

Repairs are also where you can lose a buyer; be sure to have an automated system that monitors product history and their replacement schedules. This way, customers receive service notifications and can anticipate when service to their products will be needed. You can also configure your site to send specific prompts for specific instances. Send email suggestions personalized to your customer’s purchase history as a marketing tool. Oftentimes, we don’t know we need something until someone makes a suggestion. This is another great way to foster connection and trust between you and your buyers.

Train Staff

To optimize your company’s effectiveness, you’ll want to assemble a sales team to manage your eCommerce store. An effective sales team will have comprehensive knowledge of all products offered in the e-store. They will provide support to buyers at every stage of the transaction; the sales team will anticipate the customer’s needs. The sales team will understand that after-sales support is equally as important as pre-sales assistance. Buyers want to know that their needs are being met before, during, and after their purchase. An exceptional sales team will have sales materials and access to inventory levels. The more information buyers have upfront, the easier it will be to establish trust and build relationships that will, of course, convert to increased sales.

When selecting and training your sales team, they should know how to access a customer’s purchase history. A well-trained salesperson will know industry purchase cycles and best practices. Ensure that your sales staff is knowledgeable about your direct competitors. They should know how to communicate your company’s advantages over your competition. Failure to do so will result in loss of customer confidence and loyalty. Training your sales team is not a one-time event; be sure to provide opportunities for continued learning. Your team should be empowered to stay abreast of changing trends, the latest technology, and newly developed sales strategies. Most importantly, train your sales team to take pride in providing quality customer service. A smile and going the extra mile for a buyer reaps untold benefits. 

Conclusion

Manufacturers no longer need to go through distributors to generate revenue; eCommerce eliminates the middle-man and puts you upfront in the marketplace. Moving your manufacturing business forward requires you to stay current with the ever-changing times. Technology is moving full-speed ahead and businesses have to stay informed in order to stay competitive. By taking the necessary steps to establish an online presence, you will create brand awareness and increase your profitability. Add to that, a well-designed and properly functioning website, and you have what you need to get and stay ahead in your industry. Knowing your audience and how to best meet their needs is worth its weight in gold. Serving them in a way that is fast, easy, and convenient is priceless.

Mike Patel
Mike Patel linkedin

Mike Patel is a digital marketing enthusiast, innovator and President of a leading Digital and E-commerce Development Agency in Dallas, Texas. Mike holds a BS, Computer Science degree from Wayne State University and is a key player in the E-commerce development and digital marketing industry since 2004. The scope of technology in his extensive experience of more than 15 years ranges from Magento, Shopify, BigCommerce SEO (Search Engine Optimization), PPC (Pay Per Click) management, E-commerce SEO, Google Shopping Ads and more.

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