As the pandemic disrupts markets and supply chains, manufacturers face the challenges and opportunities of the “new normal” as buyers demand more online buying services.

Business buyers want manufacturers to give them more self-service ecommerce tools, a more personalized purchasing experience and greater access to bigger online inventories, according to data and analysis in the 2020 B2B Manufacturing Report, a new research report from Digital Commerce 360 B2B.

Business buyers also want manufacturers to give them greater pricing transparency and multiple ways to buy online.

Online performance varies among manufacturers

Some manufacturers—such as The Clorox Co., which grew ecommerce 35% in fiscal 2019 to about $500 million, and Proto Labs Inc., where all orders are done online—are well prepared and responding to COVID-19 ecommerce challenges. Clorox and Protolabs also are poised to grow and identify opportunities in the “new normal” brought about by the coronavirus.

But other manufacturers, not so much. Many manufacturers vary widely in their adoption rate of digital commerce and many companies still lack a cohesive strategy for ecommerce, says a new survey of manufacturers from ecommerce services provider Intershop Communications AG.

The survey of 125 manufacturers finds that 80% of companies still depend primarily on their internal sales force to drive revenue, and that nearly three-fourths of manufacturers—70%—don’t have a comprehensive digital commerce strategy in place. “An overwhelming majority does not have a clear strategy for digital after-sales—the required first step for many organizations,” the survey says.

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A look at the challenging year of 2020

B2B ecommerce sales grew at a healthy clip in 2019. Consider these metrics from the 2020 B2B Manufacturing Report:

  • Last year, the total sales across all sectors of U.S. manufacturers were flat at about $6.02 trillion. In contrast, in 2018, when the U.S. and global economies were still in growth mode, U.S. manufacturing sales grew by nearly 8% to $6.03 trillion.
  • U.S. manufacturers, a segment that includes about 248,599 companies of all sizes, based on figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce, braced for another and more pronounced slowdown in 2020.
  • U.S. total electronic sales, including electronic data interchange, ecommerce sites, log-in portals, marketplaces, e-procurement and related channels such as web-based private networks, grew about 1.4% to about $3.55 trillion.
  • Last year U.S. manufacturer digital sales that took place on ecommerce sites, log-in portals and marketplaces grew at a rapid pace. 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.
  • B2B ecommerce in 2019 accounted for about 7.1% of all U.S. manufacturing sales. But ecommerce is the fastest-growing channel for many manufacturers—and emerging as a strategic business priority.

B2B ecommerce will grow in 2020 for U.S. manufacturers. But the big question is, by how much?

Manufacturing B2B ecommerce growth this year will be schizophrenia. Some sectors will grow and others won’t.

But the certainty for U.S. manufacturers is this: The coronavirus will permanently accelerate the pace of B2B ecommerce, creating digital winners and losers in its wake.

The 2020 B2B Manufacturing Report gives all the players a chance to read the scorecard, get into the game in a bigger way—or get left behind.

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