Originally published on Total Retail.
Gone are the days when commerce was a simple process of exchanging products and services. Now, it’s all about interactions that rely on technology to move goods and strengthen customer relationships. Companies need to evolve their interactions to support the buyer’s path to purchase and be fully integrated in digital commerce in order to survive.
An issue many manufacturers face is that there are so many digital innovations, it can be difficult to know where to begin. It may be tempting to some to jump on any new tech trend that sounds cool, but not all digital innovations are relevant for each business. To survive the changes in the market brought on by digital disruption, manufacturers need to consider how they can survive at the speed of innovation and what current trends will allow them to thrive.
Why Do Manufacturers Need to Innovate?
Digital disruption has created an explosion of new commerce opportunities for manufacturers. Those that are winning today are building and selling their products direct to consumers in a highly automated fashion. However, many manufacturers aren’t digitally mature yet, as they often lack the internal resources necessary to focus on digital strategy, design and implementation. In 2017, U.S. manufacturers across industries spent $61 billion in outsourced IT implementations, a 4 percent growth from 2016.
There’s also a massive skill gap. More than 2 million jobs may go unfilled within the next 10 years. As a result, manufacturers are looking to revolutionize how they do business by using digital solutions and automation to fill that gap. Leveraging innovative technology solutions, like artificial intelligence, and creating fluid commerce experiences are critical to remain competitive in global markets.
The 7 Trends to Pay Attention to in Manufacturing
Commerce is now the core of a manufacturer’s business. Manufacturers are investing in solutions that increase revenue and deliver improved, personalized engagement with end customers. Here are a few key trends happening in the space:
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1. Digital commerce: Manufacturers must be close to their customers and go beyond a passive website. Digital commerce, product catalogs and self-service portals are enabling manufacturers to deliver better customer engagement and personalization, which leads to higher share of wallet. This also allows sales and customer support reps to do more strategic things than handle routine requests and take transactional orders.
2. Building smaller factories that are highly automated: Manufacturers are using data and analytics to optimize factory operations. Equipment utilization, product quality, supply chain and energy consumption can all be improved with automation. Several aspects of product merchandising don’t need to be run by humans — e.g., customer service, inventory control, data mining, content, and dynamic pricing. Highly connected factories can automate many processes, without people and paper taking up space, enabling manufacturers to downsize to smaller spaces that are easier and cheaper to maintain.
3. Acquiring for expansion, growth and increased sales: Big brands are buying other brands that focus on specific niches for expansion and sales purposes. However, after doing so, they end up with numerous different websites and channels. How can they best engage with the end customer? They need digital engagement to get to know the customer and maintain a strong relationship through the customer’s preferred channel.
4. Emphasizing product technology and innovation: We’re seeing new types of innovation like pop-up manufacturers, among others. Manufacturers are realizing that they can start by reaching a very targeted market through digital, resulting in great cash flow. From there, they can expand by opening retail stores. The startup cost is lower than ever with digital, so we anticipate new consumer companies to continue popping up and further disrupting the space.
5. Personalized merchandising: Customers expect a personalized experience that includes relevant content and promotional offers. Sellers must ensure that they understand their customers and deliver the right content in the right place at the right time, and build products their customers really want.
6. Fluid customer experiences: Customers are in control of the buying process. It’s crucial that sellers support their customers’ paths to purchase, regardless of their chosen directions. Half of purchases are made on mobile phones rather than online websites, and some bold brands are already exploring the transition into conversational AI by offering voice interaction through Amazon Alexa and other voice-controlled devices. Commerce players are also exploring micro-services in order to shift from unwieldy infrastructure to a flexible and agile framework, which allows them to move quicker in response to market shifts.
7. Tribal knowledge to data driven: Rather than focusing solely on their customer relationships and industry knowledge, sellers need to make leveraging data a priority in order to guide their sales pursuits. Manufacturers have a huge amount of data available to better market their products to their customers. They need to leverage AI and machine learning to inform conversations, digital experiences, product offers, and pricing across all sales channels. Relevant reports should be available to all direct sellers and translated into actionable insights that can be used to deliver product offers that customers are most likely to purchase.
What’s Next for Manufacturing?
In a digitally driven age, there will always be new technology innovations. The key to surviving turbulent market changes will always come down to figuring out which innovative trends fit with your business and customer needs — and how to leverage technology to keep a brand thriving through any period of innovation.