Establishing direct-to-consumer relationships is more important than ever for branded manufacturers — many of whom hesitate to embrace eCommerce for fear of alienating retail partners. But with the right order fulfillment software in place, manufacturers can both establish strong direct relationships with customers while also driving business to their partner networks.
Branded manufacturers are considered definitive product resources. Superior product content was the leading reason shoppers would choose to purchase directly from a manufacturer’s Web site, according to consumers surveyed for the Kibo Consumer Trends Report 2018 Given that some 85% of shoppers start their research online before visiting stores, offering a robust online catalog is crucial.
But perhaps surprisingly, survey participants also favored branded manufacturers because of their enhanced inventory and fulfillment capabilities. Fully 45% of shoppers said they expected manufacturers to offer a wider assortment of products and 40% expected more products to be in-stock than could be found at local retailers.
Furthermore, close to a third of respondents said they expected manufacturers to offer the broadest array of order fulfillment options when compared with retailers — signaling that manufacturers should invest in robust omnichannel fulfillment software with capabilities such as real-time inventory visibility, Buy Online Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) features, and connectors to order management software.
Adding these capabilities to match modern eCommerce standards needn’t conflict with manufacturers’ existing retailer partnerships. Instead, implementations can leverage — rather than cannibalize — these relationships to create a broader network of fulfillment options. For example, manufacturers who implement omnichannel fulfillment software can use retail partners’ physical locations to fulfill BOPIS orders. By inviting customers into local outlets to pick up orders, manufacturers hand retail partners an opportunity to win additional purchases. That opportunity is a growing one: during the recent holiday season, for example, leading retailers such as Kohl’s, Target, and Lowe’s reported that anywhere from 20% to 40% of BOPIS customers go on to buy more in-store, and add an average of 25% to the order total.
Similarly, partnering with retailers to provide ship-to-store services enables manufacturers to offer another free fulfillment option to consumers. And manufacturers who adopt distributed order management processes can rely on retail partners to pick, pack, and ship orders from stores for home delivery, speeding order completion for the customer and potentially realizing a cost savings compared with shipping direct from the manufacturer.
To seize the opportunity to build direct relationships with customers, drive sales, and benefit partners, manufacturers should:
Facilitate accurate inventory with real-time inventory feeds.
Nothing is more frustrating for shoppers than researching online to find where a product is available locally, only to discover upon arrival that the item is actually out of stock in the store. Manufacturers should avoid that scenario at all costs by ensuring that omnichannel fulfillment software can support constant updates to inventory feeds from multiple retailer sources.
If need be, manufacturers can step gradually into broadening their fulfillment options, keeping in mind that delivery speed is increasingly of the essence for shoppers, 63% of whom say delivery within three days is now the norm. Manufacturers may want to test the fulfillment capabilities of their retailer network by offering free site-to-store shipping, then attempting ship-from-store home delivery before launching BOPIS.
Develop deep product content.
Shoppers have a keen appetite for robust content from manufacturers, who should deliver by offering deep-dive technical details, notes on product sourcing and development, comparison guides, and interactive fit and sizing tools. Customer reviews are important to shoppers, 61% of whom they expected manufacturer sites to have them, while customer Q & A, expert or celebrity testimonials, media mentions, and other endorsements from authoritative sources can also be aggregated and displayed.
Such investments not only satisfy shoppers’ expectations, but can help manufacturers earn visibility in natural search results — especially if content is presented in mobile-friendly format, which boosts rank in Google’s algorithm. An eCommerce software solution that supports responsive design can help manufacturers make the most of their content storehouse, as handbag maker HOBO did on the Kibo platform. The manufacturer has boosted visitors’ time on page by 24% with engaging features such as the Look Book, which renders equally well on desktop computers and mobile devices, and has seen revenue jump 62% year over year.
Smooth the path to (immediate) purchase.
Regardless of to what extent they integrate with retail partners, manufacturers should aim to move site visitors from research and consideration to immediate purchase on their own eCommerce sites. With Amazon and other industry giants setting high expectations for frictionless transactions, 78% of shoppers in Kibo’s survey reported that a simple, smooth checkout helps sellers win sales — so manufacturers should avoid bouncing visitors away to complete transactions. Instead, they should integrate retailer partner options together within their own branded hub, with orders routed to the order management system after purchase. In so doing, manufacturers cement their status with consumers as definitive information hubs for both product content and product distribution and availability.
By leveraging their dealer networks and implementing robust order management, omnichannel fulfillment, and eCommerce capabilities, manufacturers are well-positioned to earn sales and loyalty through direct customer connections.