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E-Marketing and E-Commerce in the Chemical Business
In recent years, e-commerce and e-marketing have begun to gradually expand into the new areas of import-export wholesale operations. In the past, these were very conservative and catalog sectors, with links between companies developing over years or even decades, and the markets being divided between several big names. New emerging trends, as expected, have a number of teething problems and poor solutions, where business models are either based on B2C e-commerce schemes or morph into a “catalog-in-the-moment” system. line”.
Let us discuss in this article the specifics of the chemicals market and what kind of changes it brings to the existing e-commerce business models.
Many small business enterprises think, “I want a website like one of the big multinationals, so customers can see that we are a serious business.” It sounds like a simple and straightforward concept, but it’s utterly wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t take into account how customers actually come to their e-Venture. With large companies, it’s simple: they are NOT sought after, they are approached directly. I call this a “key-in” system, for example, you know what you are looking for and you just type in the name and then .com. And that’s actually their entire e-commerce program. Once the visitor has reached the website, it is up to the site owner to present the information and guide the user through the system. But what if you are not a big brand but a medium or small manufacturer or trader? Do you think this system would work? No, it wouldn’t, so you’d have to use a completely different approach. Either way, making your own e-commerce business look like someone else’s is a bad idea. you just become a pale copy of the original.
The second common approach is: “Let’s put our catalog online”. Well, no problem, it’s easy. As a result, you just get a cheaper version of the catalog and … that’s actually it, nothing exceptional.
There is also a third approach or a mixed approach, combining an online catalog and an external supplier. By external suppliers, I mean a large number of chemical “marketplace” websites, which have sprung up in recent years in different countries. Being a very good idea, it unfortunately has a serious downside – customers and suppliers are not “verified” and therefore this opens the way to many inauthentic, “price hunting” or simply fraudulent claims. I usually call this “another agent jumping” and these types of requests are often easy to recognize because they request unreasonably large amounts of shortage materials and come mostly from free email addresses. Unfortunately, many companies will notice that up to 99% of all inquiries received from these marketplaces fall into the above category. Moreover, signing up to such websites creates a huge amount of unrelated spam due to the high activity of address hunters.
So what does a business need to do to get on the e-commerce ladder? First of all, you need to take into account all the specifics of the current market situation and modern trends. Let us give a brief description of the current situation so that the objectives become clear.
In recent years, manufacturing has actually moved from the “old locations” to the new, large, well-equipped sites in the Far East and Asia. Just to mention that the majority of multinationals today retain their facilities in countries like China and India; or even completely shut down their manufacturing units and use contacted companies to produce chemicals. But at the same time, these contracting companies are increasingly concerned about “margin injustice” where their products are sold at prices much higher than those bought from them by their larger partners. Therefore, they are becoming much more active in the market and instead of using multinationals as their sales and marketing arms, they are trying to launch their own campaign and trade directly or through their own agents. This is creating a change in many areas of the market, especially in the areas of industrial chemicals. Brands are being replaced by generics creating a new feature of the modern chemical market – “generic wars”. Large, well-established Western companies are beginning to worry and are trying to tie their old customers to fixed-term contracts by granting them increasingly longer deferred payment terms, providing technical services with the product, and so on. At the same time, their customers by doing the simple math begin to realize that:
- The product they get (regardless of brand) is actually exactly the same as the generic version and in many cases made in the same country and even by the same factory. It is much more cost effective for a company to keep an in-house, locally trained chemist for all technical and formulation needs.
- Even the best credit terms could not be compared to the price given by other sources. So businesses now prefer to pay for the product immediately and get the money elsewhere (e.g. from the bank) where even with the interest payable on the loan it is cheaper than it was with the terms of usual credit.
- The above has created a large flow of information to previously closed and conservative markets. The information is often chaotic and does not provide customers with a solid basis for switching providers. But at the same time, it creates a backwater of buyer-seeking requests for new suppliers and manufacturers.
E-Marketing sites properly placed between these two torrents are destined to thrive and create the best ROI in the industry while implementing the new e-Marketing strategies.
So let’s introduce some common misconceptions and possible ways to eliminate them by making the most of the new B2B chemical e-marketing.
- Attract potential customers. Most businesses create a single “entry point” (website) to attract customers through links and searches. This system I usually call single-core navigation. Here, the website is a “core” and finding the required product involves navigating through the core itself, layer by layer. Thus, the idea is to take the customer from the general information pages through the navigation system to the desired location – almost like a one-way street. This is a very common concept but has several drawbacks. For example, something you might call a three-click rule. In fact, over many years of designing e-commerce solutions in a B2B environment and analyzing website logs, I’ve come to the conclusion that most visitors tend to leave the website after the third click on the link. So if you could get your visitor to the required information in three clicks, you would keep them in your space, but if not, they might leave. For companies with a large number of products and complex naming systems, such as in the chemical sector, this is a daunting task.
- Misguided cross-platform e-commerce tricks or “not hiding information”. Several times I noticed a simple but really off-putting method used on chemical websites. If the visitor needs simple information like a typical COA or MSDS, there is a link to “please use this form to contact us for information”. Unfortunately I know where it comes from. This happens when you use B2C specialists to build B2B systems. In B2C you work with a large number of customers and usually need their contact details for secondary marketing, for example sending a newsletter or other (in many cases unwanted) materials hoping that 0.1 % will answer. In B2B, you don’t usually have that luxury of thousands of potential buyers, so trying to get their contact details at this point is completely wrong. The reason is simple, by hiding common information, you are using a technique that is off-putting to up to 25% of visitors and probably earning 0.1% because professional visitors often want here and now information to compare with their needs before you contact. The objective would therefore be: not to ask for anything, even contact details, for the information that should be freely accessible to your visitors.
- Geographic distribution. This is an approach that is mostly associated with large corporations such as multinational corporations creating separate entries for almost all languages and geographies. For small businesses, this type of distribution is neither feasible nor profitable. In the meantime, it is worth knowing that certain steps must be taken to create a comfortable experience for all your visitors from potentially important regions. In this case, you should focus on the following points:
- What type of information would visitors to a particular region be primarily interested in? You need to consider geographic differences in the market and provide the fastest navigation in your space.
- Which search engine is the most popular in the region? This is essential because optimizing your system for some search engines affects positioning in others. So this is very important knowledge and you need to adjust specific pages in your information space to a specific search system.
In fact, real e-Marketing in chemical distribution is just starting to gain momentum and this is probably one of the best times to take advantage of its very rapid development.
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