I was just having a conversation with an executive of a manufacturing company that’s been doing business offline for nearly a century. His company builds giant machines with 40,000+ parts — not the typical product people purchase on the web. But the parts that bring those machines to life, well, that’s a different story. So their question is, “How do we best sell our parts online?”

Initially, we’d ideally want to provide loyal customers the ability to buy replacement parts online directly through the corporate website. Those brand loyalists on average spend about 18 hours online each week, and traditionally NOT in social media spaces, so having an e-commerce capability on the corporate website will suit their needs. And, since this company knows which of their parts typically are ordered more often than other parts, they can even proactively contact customers and drive them to the corporate site to buy new parts. This also becomes a great opportunity to sell accessories to keep the machine well-maintained and operating efficiently.

A recent Forrester Research study describes how the healthiest manufacturing companies are making money right now by selling their products via *other* websites. Reaching the folks who aren’t necessarily brand loyalists–but still need replacement parts that they’ll buy through their existing favorite retail parts replacement shops–makes sense. (And, this route could be pursued regardless of whether the company wants to offer its own shopping experience online as described above).

Finally, with technologies like Alvenda‘s product (a fully functional storefront in an embeddable widget), distributing that reach into existing social networks (and beyond) is getting easier than ever. Now, affiliate websites can host the storefront widget, earn a small referral fee while the company reaches more consumers, and everyone increases revenue.

I’m personally looking forward to the day I can visit my feed reader and, in addition to getting all the great content I consumer each day, be able to peruse all of my favorite shopping outlets (now including Alice–which you should check out if you haven’t yet–to save big bucks on my toiletries) in one place. And that day is not too far off!