There are about 243,000 manufacturers in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. And across all channels of digital sales, including electronic data interchange (EDI), ecommerce sites and apps, B2B marketplaces and e-procurement these manufacturers fared well in 2021.
All in, U.S. manufacturers grew their combined electronic sales by 12.9% to $4.104 trillion in 2021 from $3.634 trillion in 2020, according to data and analysis contained in the forthcoming 2022 US Manufacturing Report from Digital Commerce 360.
Electronic sales, which are dominated by EDI, now accounts for 68% of all 2021 manufacturing sales of $6.036 trillion, estimates Digital Commerce 360. That compares with the same percentage — 67.9% — of $5.354 trillion in total sales in 2020.
Collectively, manufacturers are embracing and growing digital sales despite bucking strong headwinds from challenges related to COVID-19, supply chain disruption, labor shortages and related problems.
But individually, many manufacturers are still wrestling with where digital commerce fits in within their overall business strategy and how it integrates with key partners — particularly customers, suppliers, and distributors, says B2B ecommerce analysts.
“Many manufacturers are now rethinking about their initial B2B digital commerce approach,” says Perficient director of ecommerce strategy Karie Daudt. “We are seeing many manufacturers realize they are not seeing the results they expected and taking a more strategic look.”
In particular many manufacturers are wrestling with what their digital-first customers want for fast, efficient, and convenient ecommerce, she says. “We are also seeing manufacturers take a deeper look internally to understand what they are doing and need to rethink in order to enable customers,” Daudt says. “They are thinking about the harmonization of their internal business to digital customer expectations.”
B2B buyers have big ecommerce expectations for B2B sellers these days. A survey of 700 B2B commerce decision makers from B2B ecommerce technology and services provider Episerver (now Optimizely) finds that buyers want more online pricing among other website features, while many ecommerce businesses deal with channel conflict and a company culture resistant to change.
To better meet the expectations of digital buyers, manufacturers need to make ecommerce as transparent as possible, says Perficient director of ecommerce strategy Justin Racine. “The largest area (for improvement) is through transparency of product availability and substitutes, while adding in new features and services that make it hard for customers to completely leave,” he says. “In these un-certain times, you (manufacturers will inherently run out of inventory—if you are proactive with inventory (meaning, giving customers advance notice of out-of-stock items before they add them to their cart and submit their order)—you will at least hold good standing with them.”