“On the Internet, where else.” was the answer of the 12-year-old Milo, when asked where he could buy a tablecloth. If you are a producer (of tablecloths, or any other product) and did not yet develop e-commerce activities within your company, you are advised to start soon. At this moment, you might still be saved by the ’old’ buying behaviour of Milo’s parents – but what when Milo’s generation is controlling the euros spent? On September 22, Centexbel presented the Online Compass at the Fedustria offices in Ghent. The Online Compass is a tangible result of Centexbel’s IWT research I-TEX, that also involved the Arteveldehogeschool and Flanders Inshape.
The Online Compass is a tool that enables companies active in the manufacturing industry (including, of course, the members of Centexbel) to prepare a strategic plan for their e-commerce activities. The model is similar to (for example) a business model canvas, but specifically targeted at Flemish SMEs. The compass assists in the transformation from (traditional) B2B activities towards an EB2X offer. Thus, the outcome of the strategic exercise is focused on e-commerce (E) and can result in direct sales to end customers (X).
During the I-TEX research, the model was tested at nine companies and refined. One of the companies where it was tested is Lampe Textiles, from West Flanders. This producer of interior fabrics started from a traditional B2B offer. Recently, the company developed Squid, a sticky fabric to cover windows. The Online Compass helped Lampe Textiles to define its target group. Initially, the company assumed that Squid’s primary target group were students living in student accommodations. However, through the compass, Lampe Textiles discovered that it should focus more on consumers who are looking for a design alternative to conventional ‘plastic covers’.
In Flanders, people are often comparing their e-commerce activities with the Dutch neighbours, who are accountable for a large part of the Flemish internet sales. “Flanders definitely has a few serious success stories when it comes to e-commerce.” said Sander Vrieze of Centexbel during the event. “Take Nominette, for example.” Caroline Evers, responsible for Marketing and PR at Nominette participated in the event’s panel discussion and added: “We had to act quickly when in Flanders the so-called merceries disappeared almost instantly. We almost switched from traditional to web overnight.”
The experts present at the event concluded that management is playing a key role in the transformation towards an online business. If they do not feel the sense of urgency and dare to invest time and money, transforming is almost impossible. “How much does such an initial strategic exercise cost?” Someone from the audience asked. This varies depending on the ambition and scope of your activities. But the Online Compass does also give some examples on that. And: make sure you are receiving professional guidance, certainly in the beginning.