E-commerce is booming in Germany – also in the business-to-business sector. Many companies are faced with the question of whether they should or even must expand their sales channels to include an online store. Getting started in e-commerce is an undertaking that holds a lot of potential, but also challenges. We have summarized the 10 Dos and Don’ts for you.

1. structured approach

Don’t make a hasty decision. Getting started in e-commerce requires a structured analysis of potentials (business case) and even under time pressure it makes sense to follow a methodical approach.

2. analyze the business model

First, the business model, including customer and item structure as well as business processes, should be analyzed and evaluated in terms of potential for digital sales channels.

3. define channel strategy

Depending on the customer and article structure, the next step is to define the medium- and long-term channel strategy (e.g., single channel, multi-channel, omni-channel, no-line channel). This involves deciding which product is to be sold to which customer group via which online channel.

4. define scenarios for business development

For articles, orders, deliveries and system users, the quantity structure for the future business volume in the corresponding sales channels must be estimated. Since fluctuations in demand can always occur due to different risks, it is advisable to derive scenarios for different business developments. This is necessary on the one hand for the design of future IT components, and on the other hand for the definition of the required new business processes.

5. Investment in digital technologies

Before the implementation of the channel strategy can begin, the digital technologies required for this (e.g., marketplace, online store) and the corresponding implementation partners or agencies should be selected and compared. Since this is an extensive and far-reaching investment decision for a company, the costs and benefit aspects must be compared technically and commercially before a final decision is made. A calculation of all cost items associated with the introduction of a new channel strategy should be made in advance.

6. consider direct and indirect costs

Total Cost of Ownership consideration is the key buzzword. Do not neglect the direct and indirect costs of using and operating digital technologies.The cost analysis must not be limited to one-time acquisition costs, but must take into account all costs over a longer period of time. Only in this way can you realistically estimate the expenses.

7. Integrate digital technology into sales channels

Once the decision has been made in favor of a solution package consisting of digital technologies and implementation partners, this must now be implemented in the relevant processes in accordance with the previously defined channel strategy. In addition to the offer to the customer, this also includes the adaptation of internal commercial and logistical business processes. Processes such as invoicing, labeling, etc. should be considered at the same time.

8. changing business processes in forward and reverse logistics (returns)

Particularly when switching from a purely stationary business model to digital offerings in e-commerce, the impact on the processing of customer orders is very large. Business processes must be adapted in advance to ensure that order management functions smoothly.

9.no simultaneous conversion of multiple sales channels.

Less is sometimes more. The parallel conversion of several sales channels is a very complex task. That’s why a gradual adjustment makes sense, especially for small companies.

10. Communication to customers (communication concept)

For certain customer groups, the changeover of the sales model can mean a significant change in their buying habits. It is therefore important that all changes are communicated transparently in customer communications. Involve your customers right from the start so that they can get used to the new situation step by step.

You can find more information in the free market study “Online store systems for the digitization of retail – overview of providers and functions”.

Our Expert:

Dietmar Ebel
leader of the team ERP-Logistics des Fraunhofer-Institut für Materialfluss und Logistik IML and Author of the Study