Implementing eCommerce sales channels, the adoption of supply chain digitization and IoT technologies, and providing pricing transparency on websites are current, digitally-focused trends in manufacturing that are relevant to customer experience and websites. These trends were identified by exploring articles and reports published by industry leaders, consultancies, government websites and academic institutions. For each trend, an explanation of the trend and its value in the manufacturing industry has been provided, along with hard data showing adoption rates of the trend. A deep dive of these findings is presented below:
1. Implementing eCommerce Sales Channels
- B2B buyers are increasingly becoming more like B2C buyers in terms of their expectations and buyer journeys. However, with the business models being quite different in B2B vs. B2C, it can be quite difficult for B2B companies to meet these expectations. For many B2B companies, turning to eCommerce platforms can give them a leg up in meeting these demands, because it allows them to better meet the needs of consumers who desire a B2C experience without disrupting the entire B2B business model nor their existing sales channels.
- Saltworks and Samuel Hubbard are examples of manufacturers who have transitioned to an eCommerce format for their websites.
- “In 2019, U.S. manufacturer B2B ecommerce sales grew by nearly 21% to $430.0 billion. That growth rate is nearly 20 times faster than the growth in total U.S. manufacturing sales.”
- In 2019, B2B eCommerce had a 7.1% share of all manufacturing sales in the U.S. and was noted by many manufacturers as being their fastest-growing sales channel.
- This trend has been growing over time. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “E-commerce shipments of U.S. manufacturers were $3,729.5 billion in 2017, up 7.5 percent from $3,469.6 billion in 2016. Total shipments were $5,588.0 billion in 2017, up 4.4 percent from $5,354.7 billion in 2016. E-commerce shipments were 66.7 percent of all manufacturing shipments in 2017, up from 64.8 percent in 2016.”
2. Adoption of Supply Chain Digitization and IoT Technologies
- Whereas traditional supply chains rely on a series of independent and largely separate steps, digitization transforms the chain into more of an integrated ecosystem where transparency between each step and all players involved can be achieved, thereby resulting in improved better customer experience outcomes, since real and potential issues in the chain can be for effectively and efficiently perceived, projected, and mitigated. Achieving digitization requires the use of numerous technologies and insights, including integrated planning and executions systems, logistics visibility, autonomous logistics, smart procurement and warehousing, spare parts management, and advanced analytics. This developing trend is of key importance to manufacturers, who gain value from it by coming more competitive in their market.
- One way in which the digitization of supply chains adds to the competitiveness of manufacturers is by allowing more flexibility in terms of product and service personalization while also being able to manage a larger inventory. IoT technologies such as autonomous vehicles, enhanced product/pallet/container tracking, and real-time analytics can play a key role in reaching this level of competitiveness.
- Supply chain digitization also makes it easier for potential buyers to conduct research about a company, its products, and its operations. This is an important factor for manufacturers to consider because, while IoT is known to lower costs overall, it also provides insights about other areas of the business that customers are increasingly demanding to know about. This is being driven by the desire of end-users to buy products that are manufactured responsibly, which they hold the manufacturers themselves responsible for, rather than just the retailers of these products.
- Insights published by MPI Group note that 70% of manufacturers say IoT has increased their profitability.
- According to data published by PwC in 2017, “a third of the more than 2,000 respondents say their companies have started to digitize their supply chains, and fully 72 percent expect to have done so [by 2022]. […] Companies with highly digitized supply chains and operations can expect efficiency gains of 4.1 percent annually, while boosting revenue by 2.9 percent a year.”
3. Providing Pricing Transparency on Websites
- In 2019, the number of manufacturers who show their pricing prior to login was at 74.4%, up from 71.8% in 2017.
- The number of manufacturers who show their pricing upfront on their website is expected to continue rising due to customer expectations. Providing B2B buyers with pricing transparency helps to simplify the shopping journey, thereby bettering the customer experience. While some manufacturers have pricing models that are not compatible with listing prices upfront, experts have suggested numerous workarounds for these situations. For example, providing a ‘starting price’ before encouraging customers to get a more specific price from a sales representative. It can be logically assumed that the implementation of such practices/recommendations will spur further adoption of this trend.
- 25% of B2B buyers say that cost transparency is the most important characteristic of a B2B company’s website and that providing this information upfront helps foster trust with the company.
- According to insights published by UCLA, “When it comes to disclosing what they pay for raw materials, labor and transportation, businesses tend to clam up, and with good reason. Revealing costs can give an edge to competitors, limit a firm’s ability to set higher profit margins and create an impression among customers that prices are unfair. Yet, research suggests, consumers like the practice and will reward cost transparency with greater loyalty.”
- Price transparency is highly important to manufacturers if they wish to acquire new customers because B2B buyers have long been searching manufacturing websites in hopes of pricing information. Numerous studies and surveys have been conducted over the years which verify this importance. For example, United Business Media reported results of a survey of engineers which found that 61% say pricing information is among the primary reasons they visit a vendor’s website (the second highest answer next to getting product data information). Meanwhile, ThomasNet found that 74% of industrial buyers say they go online to find pricing information, but at the time of the study, only 23% of manufacturers had this information available.
4. Advanced Robotics
- The adoption of advanced robotics in the manufacturing sector has been increasing. Swarm robotics, autonomous mobile robots, and cobots are among those increasing in adoption.
- Advanced robotics are poised to transform the industrial sector due to their superior capabilities in the areas of perception, integrability, adaptability, and mobility. These capabilities allow the robots to be developed, deployed, and reconfigured more efficiently and this trend is being driven by the decreasing cost of advanced technologies used to develop them, such as the cost of sensors and computing power, which is making these technologies more affordable and therefore more accessible.
5. Industrial Automation / Smart Manufacturing
- “Major manufacturing companies have implemented industrial automation solutions to elevate their production capacities and productivity. The growing shift towards automation solutions to eradicate human errors in the production process will significantly benefit the market in the forthcoming years. For instance, giant automotive companies such as BMW, Audi, Tesla, Volkswagen, jaguar, and others have embraced industry 4.0 in their manufacturing units. The smart factory solutions leverage organization’s proficiencies to reduce manufacturing costs and improve productivity.”
- In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, manufacturing industries are adopting automation more rapidly, as doing so helps to balance the decline of their human workforces due to social distancing measures. According to insights published by Forrester, many manufacturing companies are focused on investing more money in automation rather than investing in the rehiring of workers.
6. 3D Printing Technologies
- “The global 3D printing market size is estimated to be USD 9.9 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach USD 34.8 billion by 2024. Factors such as ease in development of customized products, reduction in manufacturing cost and process downtime, government investments in 3D printing projects, and development of new industrial-grade 3D printing materials are driving the growth of the 3D printing industry. Currently, the trend in the 3D printing applications is shifting from prototyping to functional part manufacturing in various verticals, such as automotive, medical, aerospace, and consumer goods.”
- Although 3D printing technologies are not brand-new to the world of manufacturing (by 2014, adoption levels were already at 11%), the technology has increasingly become more mainstream in the industry over the past few years. Currently, a lack of consistency in 3D printing outcomes is a barrier companies in this area are working to address. Although the current levels of consistency are acceptable for some products, there is large-scale opportunity for technological advancement that would significantly increase its applications and therefore its adoption levels.