How Manufacturers with B2B eCommerce are Managing Change in the Midst of COVID-19
by Kris Harrington
Manufacturers are coming to the realization that COVID-19 presents a very real threat to their organizations and downstream partners.
In the wake of the global epidemic, manufacturers are adapting their B2B eCommerce strategies to address the sudden change in market circumstances.
Adapting to Uncertainty
As the COVID-19 epidemic continues its disruption of global economies, digital commerce has both persevered and asserted itself as the new normal. The reality is that manufacturers with eCommerce already in place are managing better than those without. The unexpected influx of customers due to COVID-19 is making it increasingly difficult for companies that failed to invest in a digital sales strategy in the past, “I was speaking with the CEO of a manufacturer a few days ago who has made considerable investments in their ecommerce and Amazon channels, and he believes these investments are the reason his company can sustain through this as their traditional channels have largely shut down,” says Brian Beck, a manufacturing eCommerce expert. This doesn’t mean that manufacturers within B2B eCommerce have it easy―they’re reprioritizing specific areas of their business models to accommodate the new demand while also addressing buyer uncertainty―something that’s easier said than done.
The use of eCommerce has drastically increased due to COVID-19 requiring people to remain indoors. MSC Industrial Supply Co, a Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO) product supplier that carries an inventory of over 1.7 million products is now scrambling to find more inventory due to the drastic increase in purchases, “Like other suppliers, we are experiencing a back-order situation for these items, but we are working with our supplier partners, who are working diligently to get product back in stock as quickly as possible to address current and future demand,” says an MSC spokesperson. Despite this positive trend however, some eCommerce sellers are providing subpar buying experiences. Things such as delivery instructions, purchasing limitations, supply chain disruption, and handling regulations have impacted the overall buyer experience. One of the largest challenges manufacturers utilizing B2B eCommerce will need to overcome is directing support for new delivery protocols that have never been needed in the past. A newly emerging trend in both B2C and B2B is contactless deliveries. Buyers are now requesting non-contact deliveries to limit unnecessary exposure, which is something that some manufacturers will need to account for within their eCommerce platforms.
Manufacturers have been adapting to the circumstances by developing new strategies. According to DigitalCommerce360, 85% of employees are now working remotely. What this means for the broader market is an unprecedented shift to a remote workforce. With this in mind, manufacturers need to remain proactive by placing their focus on accommodating buyer concerns. Actively communicating new developments to buyers through email campaigns, website announcements, and even offering more flexible payment terms―just to name a few tactics.
Companies big and small are composed of a diverse set of employees, all with their own concerns and uncertainties. Organizations that have been most successful managing the impact of COVID-19 have acknowledged this fact and are addressing their customers in the same way. An individualized and personal approach to communicating with buyers has helped mitigate some of the anxieties present in the current market, but manufacturers will need to continue developing new strategies to both retain, and grow their customer base in these troubling times.
Overcoming New Challenges
Though manufacturers are faced with many challenges, they can still produce positive outcomes and increase market penetration. Establishing an eCommerce presence can be a daunting task, but the increase in digital sales brought on by COVID-19 presents an opportunity for manufacturers to enhance their current offering that will become a standard post-outbreak―here are the most prevalent challenges with strategies to address.
Disruption can manifest itself in many forms for manufacturers; unprecedented decline in revenue, increased demand, extreme buyer uncertainty or a rapid change in business models. Focusing on digital marketing, communications, customer experience, and eCommerce user experience will allow manufacturers to overcome these new disruptions. Adapting customer support models to be more effective in addressing the influx of buyers will reinforce a sense of stability and reassure customers that they are still a top priority.
With a large majority of the population staying at home, dealers have become increasingly anxious about staying afloat. A manufacturer should strategically shift their support beyond just buyers, but to downstream partners as well. Supporting dealers by offering more generous payment terms on original equipment and providing drop ship options for parts (shipments made directly from the OEM to the dealer’s customer) will allow them to feel less pressure and continue promoting a positive brand image.
The New “Normal”
New buying behaviors are being prioritized given current circumstances, causing buyers to drastically shift the way they make purchases. Those buyers who have been reluctant to transition to online shopping, have in some ways been forced to shift their preference to digital sales channels. Manufacturers should better position themselves by aligning with buyer needs under these circumstances. Not only will this strategy be useful in the coming months, it will prepare them for a better digital sales offering in general. Whether they like it or not, buyers are using eCommerce more than ever―providing an efficient and seamless purchasing process will show them what they’ve been missing. Shift channel preferences by maximizing the customer experience and enhancing purchasing support.
The Silver Lining
Though COVID-19 has abruptly changed the way manufacturers carry on day-to-day operations, B2B eCommerce allows them to push forward and assert their organization’s stability. New opportunities have been created that require organizations to adapt to survive. A significant portion of buyers have transitioned to digital purchasing, and aligning with buyer needs has never been more important. While it can be difficult to have a positive outlook given current events, manufacturers can use this opportunity to their advantage and grow their customer base. Developing an approach that addresses the current influx of buyers will better position manufacturers for the future. Remaining positive and developing strategies to cope with new obstacles will serve to better address buyer needs and uncertainties. If anything positive can come from such negative circumstances, it’s the ability for manufacturers to serve their buyers more effectively than ever.