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6 challenges of implementing an eCommerce engine in the electrotechnical industry

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The electrotechnical industry is one of the largest branches of the electromechanical industry and one of the largest industrial sectors in the world. It supplies us with electrical apparatuses, light sources, lighting fixtures, sockets, connectors, photovoltaics, heat pumps, cables, wires, switchboards, covers, and more.

You can sell these products on any eCommerce platform. However, keep in mind that many of them usually have multiple specialist attributes. In addition to the universal attributes, such as size and color, we’ll find voltage, power, resistance, and a number of other variations. In addition, electrotechnical products may be available in various storage units for suppliers and commercial units for end customers. 

Those aspects can be challenging. You have to consider selecting a capable product information solution (PIM) solution, especially with a large-scale store. The regular PIM system built into the eCommerce solution may not be sufficient to handle that.

How to work with a challenging product

Selling cables can be an interesting challenge. It seems to be an ordinary product sold by the meter instead of pieces. In practice, you can sell cables in two ways: packaged and loose.

Packaged goods are easy because we can treat them as goods sold by the piece. However, whether selling them as packaged or loose, the challenge is industrial cables’ size and weight. 

  • Some shipments will be sent in a standard package by courier. 
  • Some must be shipped on a pallet, disc, spool, or otherwise. 
  • The most extensive, thickest, and heaviest cables, especially in large quantities, for example, traction wires, should be sent by special transport, such as a dedicated truck. 

In addition, as a seller, you have to remember that you may end up with sections of cables that nobody might want to buy. If you purchased one kilometer of cable from the supplier and sold 990 meters in separate parts, you might have to sell the remaining 10 meters at a discount. When calculating the margin, assume that you won’t sell 100% of the goods at 100% of the price.

The takeaway? When selling a specialized and challenging product, you have to consider multiple factors and double-check if your PIM can handle it. In the case of cables, you need to consider the following:

  • Storage of cable attributes: number of cores, cross-sectional area, type of insulation, etc.
  • Selling in packages or by the desired length.
  • Method of transport.
  • Sale of remaining sections.
  • Selection of tools for transporting cables, like cable spools, based on the following parameters:
    • for cables:
      • diameter
      • length
      • weight
    •  for cable spools:
      • width
      • overall diameter
      • core diameter
      • maximum weight of the cable on it
  • The possibility to return tools for transporting cables, such as cable spools.
  • Additional costs of transporting.
  • Additional costs of preparing the cable for shipment, such as cutting a cable into pieces.

Handling returns and complaints

If you want to implement an eCommerce solution for the electrotechnical industry, preparing a well-functioning tool for returns and complaints is essential. It’s a widespread issue in the industrial sector because customers often buy different goods for different projects. It can often turn out that something doesn’t work as expected, has inadequate parameters, or was ordered incorrectly for the needs of the project due to a lack of knowledge or experience. You should allow for an easy and efficient returns process. Otherwise, the competitors will do it and challenge your market position.

An efficient returns mechanism can also be helpful in the logistic of transporting items sent to the customer. For example, as a seller, you want those cable spools back.

Building efficient configurators

Another challenge is to offer customers the right products. A good example is electrical apparatuses. An electrician should use specific products depending on the type of electrical network, planned electrical loads, operating voltages, and other parameters. 

Some of those products are compatible with each other, while others aren’t. You can’t always rely on the expert knowledge of your clients, which may be, for example, individuals or small installation companies. You can save a lot of time and money by helping those customers to choose the products they need. It can radically decrease the number of returns. 

To achieve this goal, we need to analyze the manufacturers' documentation to know in what conditions their products work and what equipment they work with. In the context of eCommerce, it’s worth preparing a comprehensive tool that allows users to configure the order based on entered data other than the names and designations of specific products. The system should choose products for the customer or propose a group so the customer can later decide what to add to the shopping cart.

It’s good to consider importing data into the configurator from a file or the clipboard and exporting an order or configuration to a file.

Creating wishlists and multiple shopping carts

Customers in the electrotechnical industry, particularly installers and resellers, often repeat their orders. Because of this, it’s worth considering the following functionalities:

  • Wishlists.
  • Multiple shopping carts are handy for customers whose accounts are used by many employees.
  • Importing products to the shopping cart.
  • Exporting products from the shopping cart.
  • The ability to copy and move products between wishlists and baskets.
  • The ability to integrate customer systems, such as SAP, with the eCommerce platform.

If your solution is convenient and responds to your customers' needs, you have a much better chance of succeeding in the market.

Sharing APIs

Larger customers will appreciate the possibility of integrating with the eCommerce platform. I have already mentioned the connection of the shopping cart with SAP. However, making an open API to allow for more integrations may be worth it. 

You can also make a paid API or make it free for only a selected group of loyal customers. This solution allows them to place orders, plan them, and monitor your inventory automatically. 

Maybe your clients are small resellers. When you share your data with them, they may develop their business and order more from your eCommerce shop in the future.

Splitting shopping carts and other facilities

Customers in the electrical engineering industry often buy products in large quantities. For example, they need typical overcurrent fuses, which they often use when building electrical installations. They often need a certain number urgently for a current project but also want to order more pieces for future use. 

It’s good to create the possibility of dividing the basket in such a way as to send unavailable products at a later date if the customer orders more items than you have in stock. In addition, it's useful to have the ability to select a delivery date and different addresses that are preferably saved in an address book.

It's also good to suggest alternatives. Customers may get used to specific products with disadvantages, such as they’re more expensive, less accessible, withdrawn from the market, or of lower quality. You should present substitutes to customers so that they can get to know your product offer better.

Resellers appreciate the ability to prepare offers on the eCommerce platform automatically. After entering a little data, such as the client's company name and margin, your eCommerce could generate a document that the client can present to his customer. Of course, this solution will also work in other industries with B2B stores.

Final insights

You have to consider factors that don’t occur in all industries. Managing product data in the electrotechnical sector usually involves selling specialized goods with many custom product attributes that customers use to search for the desired goods and compare them.

You can build an eCommerce platform in the electrotechnical industry even on the simplest solution. However, someone in your local market has probably done it with a more advanced platform and offers helpful and tailor-made solutions for customers. It’s worth putting yourself in the role of the client and understanding their needs to respond to them.

Published April 12, 2023