Four51 Unveils Manufacturing Commerce and Technology 2020 Research

The study found that manufacturing commerce is largely offline, indicating missed revenue for manufacturers

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MinneapolisMarch 17, 2016Four51 released its Manufacturing Commerce & Technology 2020 report, a study examining sales and order management methods, technology usage and areas of planned investment for North American manufacturers.

Commerce Today Conducted Largely Offline

The study of 200 manufacturing leaders, primarily manager level and above, found that 54 percent of respondents currently utilize offline methods—sales representatives (33 percent), phone/call center (18 percent) and fax (3 percent)—as the primary means to manage customer orders. Twenty-five percent of manufacturers say they’re still relying on fax for at least some of their orders.

This stands in contrast to the only 29 percent utilizing e-commerce as the primary order management method today with the majority (61 percent) using e-commerce for less than half of orders.

Missed Opportunities

A full 45 percent of manufacturers aren’t using e-commerce at all today, indicating a missed opportunity to tap this channel for sales and order management. Twenty-two percent of respondents don’t have or don’t know if they have a five-year business plan that contemplates the year 2020. Taken together, these data points raise concerns that North American manufacturers may be ill-prepared to adopt e-commerce and its benefits in the near future. More broadly, this indicates a blind spot in strategic planning for manufacturers that aren’t thinking as far out as 2020 yet.

The need for a greater focus on mobile also surfaced in the research, with nearly 38 percent of respondents noting they don’t have or don’t know if they have an e-commerce site that’s optimized for mobile devices. Respondents did, however, indicate that they expect to invest more in mobile app strategies in the future, with 53 percent acknowledging plans to do so by 2020.

On the need for mobile, Justin King, a 20-year e-commerce veteran and founder of, said, “Forty-two percent of business-to-business (B2B) buyers use a mobile device at some point during their research and purchasing process1. Simply put, expectations have changed. Just take a look at your analytics and you will see that it is not enough for manufacturers to only sell online; offering a mobile-friendly buying experience as part of the overall experience is critical. Mobile is not for 2020, it’s for now.”

e-Commerce Leads the Way by 2020

Respondents indicated that offline methods will fall from 54 percent to 34 percent as the primary means to manage customer orders by 2020. The percentage that envision e-commerce as the primary method will rise from 29 to 45 percent, and 56 percent believe more than half of their sales will be done via e-commerce by 2020.

“A greater push for e-commerce should be a priority for all manufacturers given its well-documented benefits,” said Ian O’Brien, chief solutions officer at Four51. “Data from Forrester indicates 47 percent of B2B companies believe profitability per online order is increasing2. Another report from Forrester found B2B companies can slash the costs of serving and selling to customers by 90 percent via self-service e-commerce3. Given these key points, to see in our research such low levels of e-commerce adoption and that more than a quarter (25 percent) of manufacturers are still using fax for some of their orders is alarming. They need to know there’s a better way.”

Top areas for future technology investment by 2020 as noted by respondents showed similar results: online commerce (42 percent), big data and data science (42 percent), mobile commerce (40 percent), digital payments (38 percent), the Internet of Things (35 percent) and predictive intelligence (31 percent).

Data from the report reveals other interesting points in areas such as channel prevalence, and research and development (R&D) budgets. For additional findings, download the report here.

1 Think With Google, “The Changing Face of B2B Marketing,” March 2015:
2 Forrester Research, “Measuring Up: Benchmarking your B2B eCommerce Performance,” February 19, 2016:
3 Forrester Research, “US B2B eCommerce Forecast: 2015 To 2020,” April 2, 2015:

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