Bringing the Power and Flexibility of eCommerce to your Manufacturing Teams

March 15, 2022
Bob Black

Increase Total Revenue and Digital Engagement While Reducing Your Costs

As a manufacturer, especially if you’ve been in business for decades, manufacturing and eCommerce may not be words that go together. Indeed, eCommerce may not be on your radar. Or, if it is, it’s a small blip that is disregarded in face of other, more pressing matters, like getting your products into the hands of your customers through your tried-and-true distributor, wholesaler, and retail channels.

This isn’t to say you haven’t entered the digital realm. Your website is an informational (e.g., this is who we are, and this is what we do) but not functional (e.g., used as a selling portal) part of your business. However, suggestions of taking the website further, such as using it to sell directly to customers (DTC), begs the question, “Why fix that which isn’t broken, especially with an impersonal online selling portal?”

While a fair question, the digital economy and the COVID-19 crisis have sparked major changes in the marketplace. Manufacturers that don’t evolve with these changes may be left behind, especially as competitors offering an eCommerce option are already seeing the benefits, including an increase in their revenue, efficiency, and digital engagement (of which they had very little beforehand), as well as a reduction in their overall operational costs.

The Importance of Your Digital Experience

A 2019 study by the UPS found that different generations are using different methods for researching their buying options. Not surprisingly, research via in-person discussions with company sales reps is lagging behind research via a company website, an online search engine, and social media—by all demographics. This shift in research patterns mimics the shift in purchasing items online, which has been going on for some time—since the early 90s, to be exact. Amazon was one of the first eCommerce sites, and it has been joined by anywhere between 12 million and 24 million eCommerce sites across the globe, according to some estimates.

The convenience of shopping online skyrocketed eCommerce’s popularity, and the pandemic lockdowns made it a necessity for many. An Insider Intelligence article states, “Tech-savvy consumers looking for quick, seamless purchasing options will continue to lean on ecommerce throughout the next few years—and more consumers will jump on the bandwagon. We forecast US retail ecommerce sales will grow 16.1%, reaching $1.06 trillion in 2022.”

The importance of creating and providing a user-friendly, engaging digital experience for your manufacturing customers (while simultaneously optimizing your revenue) cannot be overstated. Keep in mind, however, that the digital experience isn’t limited to an eCommerce platform. You and your team will need to consider adding or improving upon your social media interactions, whether that’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or others. This is a topic for another day.

Creating Opportunities for Innovation

Making changes to manufacturing operations is never easy, but if you’re ready to become a manufacturing and eCommerce organization, then there are some steps to you’ll need to take, starting with researching your eCommerce platform options. You could start with an alternate platform, like BigCommerce, or with a comprehensive and modern ERP solution, like Acumatica, that provides both manufacturing and eCommerce capabilities.

If you implement ERP software that allows complete integration of your manufacturing, inventory, and office functions, you’ll have access to synchronized, real-time data, can manage inventory and production from a single system, and combine customer demand with production forecasts. Solution features should include Financial Management, Customer Management, Project Accounting, Advanced Inventory, Bill of Materials and Routing, Business Intelligence, Sales Order Management, Material Requirements Planning (MRP), and more.

For eCommerce purposes, the solution you choose should provide payment, order, fulfillment, and inventory tools that can be customized for your organization. A multi-channel ordering experience for your customers with order automation and warehouse management capabilities built into it is another requirement, as is a customer self-service portal.

A customer self-service portal allows customers to check orders, request support, and resolve issues online. And while the customers will enjoy instant service, you’ll be able to use their feedback to improve and personalize their experience.

It’s important to note that while having the foundational technology with manufacturing and eCommerce capabilities is critical, having a technical and sales team that can handle emerging needs as you move forward is, too. The ERP solution you choose should be provided by an ERP vendor and team that you can trust and rely upon for years to come.

Together, you’ll be able to create opportunities to innovate in the digital world.

Example of a Successful Manufacturing eCommerce Portal

According to a PwC article, 66% of U.S. manufacturers believe that implementing digital marketing and sales over the next two years is a “high” or “very high” priority, but there are manufacturers who already took the eCommerce plunge. Ray Allen Manufacturing is one of them.

The company manufactures canine equipment for military and police departments and has been since 1948. It bought a competitor in 2009 and then diversified by acquiring a company that makes products for dog training clubs, schools, kennels, and individual trainers. Ray Allen Manufacturing also operates Ray Allen B2B, which has an Amazon store. Though a thriving company, it was having challenges connected with its two different systems and inventories. The legacy system needed to be replaced, especially as it was unable to integrate with the company’s eCommerce software.

After researching for a year, former President Steve Cates selected Acumatica Cloud ERP. In Ray Allen Manufacturing’s customer success story, Cates says, “I had not heard of Acumatica but started doing some homework and looking at demos. I quickly realized Acumatica’s open platform was well-aligned with our company’s goals.”

The company implemented multiple editions, including Acumatica Manufacturing Edition and Acumatica Retail-Commerce Edition. In addition to streamlining their processes, gaining robust reporting, utilizing a central database, managing their accounting for various subcompanies in one place, eliminating manual, paper-based tasks, and being able to log in from anywhere, at any time, Cates says they’re able to manage their eCommerce needs easily.

“We chose Acumatica primarily because of its flexibility and its ability to integrate with an eCommerce platform,” says VP of Operations John Oakley. “[We] were able to integrate all of our websites directly into our ERP. It just really streamlined the whole process for us. We use it for purchasing, customer service—our inbound customer service agents are using it. It’s been a really solid back end [solution]. It essentially runs all aspects of our company.”

How We Can Help

As you contemplate the benefits of online selling through Acumatica, Aktion, a national ERP Value Added Reseller (VAR), IT infrastructure and cloud & managed services provider, would be happy to answer any questions about how they can help you embrace new digital trends through an eCommerce platform. Contact their team at any time.

And before you go, here are a few Acumatica eCommerce dos and don’ts for manufacturers:

  • Make checkout as simple as possible
  • Don’t forget that your business buyers are consumers at heart
  • Optimize your site for mobile users
  • Make sure you can be found by search engines
  • Don’t just focus on your brand but provide content that explains the content and what it does
  • Get buy-in from your sales team
  • Don’t try to build the complete site all at once
  • Make security a top priority
  • Don’t forget to test layouts, descriptions, and headlines
  • Simplify the buying experience
  • Don’t forget to monitor user behavior
  • Offer multiple payment options
  • Make your website your customers’ purchase management tool
  • Keep customers informed