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US Manufacturing Production Up, eCommerce Up Even More

Based on the latest Federal Reserve report, Bloomberg this month noted a sustained rebound in U.S. Manufacturing Production. It has risen for six straight months! Additionally the back to back performance over the last two months is the best in 3 years and according to the Institute of Supply Management, US manufacturing expanded more than expected in February. The monthly purchasing manager’s index jumped to 57.7, the highest since December 2014 and more than economists’ forecast of 56.2. Orders rose at the fastest pace since February 2013. “Growth is being driven by robust domestic demand, stemming in turn from buoyant consumers and increased investment spending by the energy sector in particular,” said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit.

How are these good market conditions translating to eCommerce business performance?

Here is some recent manufacturing industry eCommerce research and a couple of newly released public company eCommerce results:

MDM eCommerce Research

eCommerce percent of total revenue

In MDM research published this month, Jonathan Bein, Managing Director of Real Results Marketing said, “Manufacturers lead distributors in the eCommerce journey” in adoption and in achieving higher percentages of total revenue. He also characterized eCommerce adoption in manufacturing as, “now in the ‘early majority’ of the adoption life cycle” because 29% of surveyed manufacturers and distributors have achieved at least 10% of total revenue from eCommerce (recorded webinar).


eCommerce sales as a percentage of total sales at Grainger (the largest U.S.-based industrial distributor, and 3rd on Industrial Distribution’s Big 50 List) have grown continuously in recent years. In 2015, 41 percent of Grainger’s total sales came from online channels. In 2016, that figure jumped to 60 percent and the company expects continued strong online growth over the next five years. CEO D.G. Macpherson,referring to Grainger’s eCommerce sales as a percent of its total sales said, “I would be surprised if five years from now it’s not 80 percent.Grainger Product Page

HD Supply

Not to be outdone, eCommerce investment is paying dividends at HD Supply (2nd largest U.S.-based distributor, and 6th on Industrial Distribution’s Big 50 List). CEO Joe DeAngelo told analysts on this month’s earnings call that online sales now represent about 60 percent of orders, up 5 percentage points versus the prior year. “We made significant investments in our digital foundation across all areas of the business as well as the customer’s daily e-experience.

Here’s our take and a key question for you:

  • It’s great to see this 6 month sustained rebound in US manufacturing production though we expect it to lead to some attempted price inflation that may, in turn, moderate supplier order pipelines.
  • Industrial eCommerce percentages of total revenue are increasing as sales continue to move online. That transitional process seems to be accelerating too, partly because of demographics as the digital shopping and buying preferences of Gen X and Millennials takes over.
  • Industrial suppliers are investing more in online sales platforms. This is to support the transition to online sales and to achieve cost reductions in traditional sales channels (for example, Grainger has gone from 420 US branches to 250).
  • In the MDM research Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has moved from the 4th to the 2nd most effective marketing to drive eCommerce adoption. This is a dramatic change and shows industry recognition of the importance of SEO. We recommend you ensure all your online catalog pages, product detail pages, 3D CAD models and 2D CAD drawings help achieve the best SEO possible for your domain.
  • Are you happy that your company is well positioned in this transition to eCommerce?
    • If you have modernized your business (integrated eCommerce is part of that) is your eCommerce growing fast enough as a percent of your total revenue?
    • If you have not yet modernized your business have you researched your customers’ shopping and buying preferences and aligned your plan and CAPEX to deliver it?
    • If you have done neither of these yet, you are likely running multiple risks including demographics changing buying preferences, new online competition (for example, Amazon) and, for distributors, disintermediation by manufacturers. We recommend that distributors create ‘destination’ eCommerce sites that, from an integrated user experience point of view, are superior to manufacturers’ eCommerce sites and highlight their particular differentiation. Significant eCommerce adoption (>10% of revenue) takes several years to achieve so don’t delay getting started!

Let us know your take by commenting below, call us to discuss how your company can build up its online industrial B2B sales, click either button below or simply try for yourself some industrial suppliers’ online catalogs here (they also include 3D CAD model downloads).

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