Alibaba.com has announced a new program to accelerate the digitization of manufacturers in the U.S., looking to arm SMBs in a traditionally analog segment with the right tools to thrive in the $23.9 trillion global B2B e-commerce market.
Dubbed the “Digitization Sprint for U.S. Manufacturers,” the program will offer a curriculum led by the Alibaba.com team and industry experts and feature coaching sessions tailored to participants as well as a community to continue the network and share experiences, at no cost, to qualified manufacturers. Leaders of manufacturing companies with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to apply for the program starting today.
“U.S. manufacturers have huge potential to grow their online business and recover from this pandemic better-positioned for the future. Our first-ever Digitization Sprint will give manufacturers the education, community and tools needed to accelerate their digital skills,” said John Caplan, President of North America and Europe of Alibaba.com.
A Closer Look: Manufacturing Enters a New Era
Manufacturers are a small, but powerful, driver of the U.S. economy, and 98.6% of them are small businesses with fewer than 500 employees, according to SCORE, a nationwide network of business mentors. Last year, manufacturing accounted for 11.4% of U.S. economic output and employed 8.5% of the U.S. workforce or 12.8 million workers, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
Until recently, many American manufacturers have been slower than companies in other sectors to adopt online sourcing and selling tools, according to a new survey from Alibaba.com released on Tuesday. But the pandemic has changed that.
The recent Alibaba.com U.S. B2B Small and Medium Business Survey found that manufacturers’ online B2B trade grew at twice the rate of the overall industry average since the pandemic and is tied with retail as the sectors with the most digital growth. This is a noticeable change from the previous survey in Janauary, which showed that U.S. manufacturers’ online trade volume lagged all other industries, except construction.
“Amid all the disruption of 2020, manufacturers increasingly see the power of e-commerce as a channel for reaching new markets and growing their company,” said Anderson. “The Digitization Sprint will give industrial entrepreneurs a step-by-step curriculum for making e-commerce work hard for their business.”
Taking the Pulse of B2B SMBs
The Alibaba.com survey also looked at the broader landscape of U.S. B2B SMBs, finding trends identified in the December survey gained significant momentum during the pandemic.
“Our research finds that digitization is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have for companies in every industry to bridge from surviving to thriving in the next era of business,” said Caplan.
- SMBs pivoted to digital. Some 93% of B2B companies are now conducting some portion of their business online, up from 90% in December, and 43% are using e-commerce, an 8% increase over the same time period.
- B2B companies are staffing up to support their e-commerce operations. Some 56% hired and retained new staff to support their e-commerce operations since the start of the pandemic.
- SMBs are finding opportunities internationally. Even with supply chain disruptions during the pandemic, 63% of B2B companies report conducting some amount of cross-border B2B trade, up from 59% in December.
- The shift to digital is helping drive more cross-border trade. Cross-border business has increased in importance for B2B companies, with international trade now making up an average of 25% of their business – an 8% increase from 17% in December. And B2B companies identified key benefits of e-commerce as helping SMBs access international markets (24%) and built-in translation services that help communicate with trading partners in different languages (16%).
The Digitization Sprint program builds on recent Alibaba.com U.S. online trade shows, which have featured U.S. manufacturers in specific industries, like food and beverage, exhibiting their products and capabilities virtually to tens of thousands of business buyers. The next three-day trade show kicks off today and focuses on beauty and personal care with exhibitors that are all private-label U.S. product manufacturers.