Long before it occurred to some of their major competitors, Bihl+Wiedemann began as early as September 2014 to construct webshops for customers all over the world. Marketing Manager Jan Melter spoke with ASi MASTER NEWS about important milestones, exorbitant sales increases, dealing with the trade embargo – and aboutelephants in the African rainforest who are getting refreshment with the help of AS-Interface.
ASi MASTER NEWS: Mr. Melter, the vast majority of your products and systems are used in production operations in industrial countries where they increase production efficiency in accordance with their purpose. But in 2016 one of your Gateways took over a rather exotic function: it’s involved in the refreshment and skin care of elephants in the African rainforest. How did this come about?
Jan Melter: This is probably the most unusual work location for any ASi Master that we have shipped through our webshop. The order came from a customer in Cameroon. They had a pump controller for an elephant pool in a wildlife preserve in the middle of Africa. And as far as we know everything is running as it should – at least, we haven’t heard of any issues.
ASi MASTER NEWS: From how many countries can customers order in your webshop?
Jan Melter: As of today there is access from 152 countries. The number fluctuates a bit, mainly because we have to take into account the current embargo list of the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control. Potential customers from any sanctioned countries cannot order from us either.
ASi MASTER NEWS: And from how many countries have you already received orders?
Jan Melter: At the moment the number is around 30. The vast majority of our webshop customers are of course from Germany. In general, these are mediumsize companies or dealers, since the special, often project-specific agreements with our large, long-term partners are difficult to show in this format.
ASi MASTER NEWS: Are such assistance- intensive products like components in automation technology actually appropriate for a webshop?
Jan Melter: The question as to how you solve specific technical challenges with an individual system concept is of course difficult to answer online. But this is not what our web customers expect: they are purchasing mainly replacement parts or software, which is for the most part self-explanatory.
ASi MASTER NEWS: In 2016 you increased sales from your webshop by more than tenfold compared with the previous year. Is there a secret to this success?
Jan Melter: It’s not really a secret. From my view there are mainly two things responsible for the great acceptance. For one there are the general virtues of a webshop: it’s open 24 hours a day, and when I order something here, I can cross this item off my agenda and don’t have to wait for the next steps. When I purchase a software package it’s delivered immediately by download. The second factor is that we offer our web customers the ability to assign their own notes or internal article numbers to their orders, which makes cumbersome after-the-fact association with orders superfluous.
ASi MASTER NEWS: Can this rate of growth be sustained?
Jan Melter: On one hand the growing degree of familiarization with our online offering will surely result in increasing demand going forward. On the other hand you have to remember that the 2015 figures were from a year when we were still building the platform.
ASi MASTER NEWS: How exactly did you proceed chronologically?
Jan Melter: When we kicked off the German webshop in September 2014 you could only download software products. Beginning in March 2015 we then expanded the offering to all products shown on our webpage. Austria and France followed in June of 2015, and in November 2015 the partnershops for sales partners around the world and the international shop for those countries who have no special country webpages. In December 2015 we added Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and the USA. Since January 2017 our US-American subsidiary has also maintained two additional shops in Canada and Mexico. Orders that come from there are shipped directly from the USA, and all others from our headquarters in Mannheim.
ASi MASTER NEWS: Since the opening of your first webshop for software in Germany around two-and-a-half years have passed during which you must have given much thought to optimizing. How does that look?
Jan Melter: We have always implemented minor practical improvements on an ongoing basis, and I don’t see that changing: it’s not a matter of making one big improvement for the sake of usability, but rather many incremental changes.
ASi MASTER NEWS: Mr. Melter, thank you for speaking with us.