An uneven growthManufacturing e-commerce is a market on the rise. In China, the biggest manufacturing country worldwide, the B2B e-commerce market of industrial goods is set to double by 2025. Data on Europe and the United States suggests a milder growth and a significant difference in online procurement channels across world regions. While a very limited share of European manufacturers generated sales from electronic data interchange (EDI), this type of procurement between manufacturers and buyers is more widespread in the United States. B2B companies’ commitment to innovation and e-commerce adoption also varies among countries. Compared to China or Japan, a higher percentage of U.S. B2B professionals reported their firms would prioritize digital manufacturing platforms over the next years.
Manufacturers go onlineIncentivized by increasing online demand, many manufacturing companies have launched their own e-commerce platforms. The U.S. industrial distributor Fastenal combined e-commerce and EDI channels, both accounting for over 16 percent of its net sales, an increasing figure since early 2021. Likewise, the UK-based industrial appliances provider Ferguson has seen online sales exceed 20 percent of its total revenue.
If online, then on marketplacesOnline marketplaces offer manufacturers undeniable advantages: efficient customer service, user-friendly online and mobile interface, more reliable shipping schedules, and clear product information. This is the case of Amazon and Alibaba, two e-commerce giants which dominate the business-to-consumer (B2C) market and are attracting more B2B customers. But they are not alone: they join an already populated constellation of generalist online marketplaces such as IndiaMart in India and Mercateo in Europe, which supply a broad range of B2B companies.
Other players have shifted to the third-party level. Platforms such as Zoro.com offer a wide assortment of multi-brand listings. This industrial equipment marketplace, launched by Grainger in 2011, has recently hit over 700 million U.S. dollars in annual sales. It has also doubled the volume of its stock-keeping units (SKUs) in only a year. Some platforms are specialized in offering manufacturing services within their segment. For instance, Xometry reproduces on-demand prototypes through different techniques, including 3D printing, while the unicorn startup Zetwerk provides the technology needed for production and end-to-end supply chain solutions.