August 28, 2019
The internet has quickly become the go-to marketplace for every industry. E-commerce sales grew at their fastest rate ever and topped $1 trillion in 2018 — and most experts predict that the rate will continue to rise sharply in the coming years.
Given the widespread shift toward a world where e-commerce runs the show, it’s shocking that 60% of manufacturers still don’t have an e-commerce website. While the majority said they planned to launch a site within the next two years, getting started with e-commerce is something that’s already long overdue. Two years is too long to wait.
Two types of roadblocks keep manufacturing firms from committing to e-commerce. They either plan to move online and then get cold feet about disrupting operations, or they start work on e-commerce and encounter internal obstacles, like a lack of executive buy-in or insufficient technical expertise. Both problems stem from the same source: a lack of understanding about what e-commerce really involves.
In either case, manufacturers are left without an e-commerce presence, and that’s detrimental to business. With no e-commerce capabilities, even an established manufacturer is sitting at a significant competitive disadvantage.
Why E-Commerce Has Failed to Move Forward
There’s a reason this problem is so pervasive. Most manufacturing leaders have floated the idea of investing more in e-commerce but quickly discovered that with internal teams maintaining their current websites, there weren’t enough resources left over to build an e-commerce platform from the ground up.
They also face pressure to stay on track and follow timelines. CEOs often come back at the 11th hour after being absent for months expecting the launch date to be the same as originally planned and for everything to be going smoothly. In the interim, though, their teams have made decisions — often good ones — that changed the scope of the project.
If the timeline is inflexible, development teams rush and scramble to launch the site, and testing gets compromised. Timelines are obviously important, but people always remember a bad launch more than a late launch.
The fear of failure and of making waves with partners, employees, and sales channels has left many manufacturing companies with an e-commerce presence that’s outdated at best. But as B2B buyers increasingly expect to buy online, they’ll choose to work with manufacturers that make it easy to do so.
Embracing E-Commerce in 3 Steps
E-commerce is critically important to the success of your business. Follow these three steps to ensure that success and overcome any hesitation you might have about committing to it:
- Clearly define your goals.
It’s not helpful to have abstract goals like “improve sales.” Instead, goals should be measurable and tied to clear targets, like “improve sales by 20% with new customers.” The more granular the goals are, the better. That way, every aspect of the e-commerce site can be fine-tuned to meet your objectives.
It’s worthwhile to care about things like getting more website visitors and social followers, but sales goals are key when it comes to e-commerce. Having the right objectives take priority is the best place to start.
- Set realistic timelines — with a little bit of wiggle room.
It takes time to develop an e-commerce site and populate it with product data, images, content, and other elements that make it feel complete. For that to happen, you have to have some wiggle room in your timeline.
Ideally, working on the website should be a priority for everyone involved. When that’s not possible, try to get 50% to 75% of your main stakeholder’s time, whether it be your e-commerce manager or CMO; 25% to 50% of your main developer’s time; and at least 10% to 25% of your creative specialist’s time. Resources have to be allocated well if the goal is to keep timelines from shifting.
- Track and adapt.
No e-commerce site is ever perfect right out of the gate. Be proactive, and learn where problems exist by tracking site data in depth with the help of your marketing partner. Look closely at visitor demographics, how they utilize and navigate the site, and which products are grabbing their attention and selling.
Examine keywords to see what visitors are searching for on the site itself, especially words that do not lead to products when they should. This data will make it possible for you to learn the voice of your customer, immediately correct any problems, and see where there’s room for improvement, which will drive sales.
It’s true that e-commerce involves a big upfront investment, but the long-term returns make that investment more than worth it. Don’t be late to the game. If you haven’t gotten on board yet, commit to making it a priority — you’ll be glad you did.
Michael Bird is the CEO of Spindustry, a digital agency focused on e-commerce, SharePoint portals, and enterprise websites. He has almost 30 years of experience in interactive development, user behavior, and business solutions.