A couple of years ago, Florian Wegener, newly installed as the vice president in charge of global e-commerce at life sciences products supplier Qiagen, encountered doubts about his plans to move aggressively into e-commerce.
“When I started, people told me ‘No one will ever buy regulated products—including instruments costing $10,000 or more—online,’” he recalls. “I said ‘I bought my Audi online without driving it—because it’s an Audi and I know it’s a good product.’”
Wegener figured Netherlands-based Qiagen could take the same approach—take a respected brand and grow sales to a growing base of customers who prefer to buy online—even if it’s a $10,000 instrument a team of biomedical scientists needs for their DNA research.
Wegener, who is also a doctor of cardiology, turned out to be right. After kicking off a new e-commerce initiative in early 2015—including devising a new digital marketing and social media strategy and launching a new e-commerce site—Qiagen has gone from doing less than 10% of sales via e-commerce to close to 20%. And that percentage is growing. “We’re now selling instruments of $10,000 each on Facebook,” he asserts.
Last year, Qiagen’s e-commerce sales amounted to more than $200 million, and Wegener expects e-commerce to account for much more sales this year, as customers benefit from a new e-commerce site launched last fall on software from SAP Hybris, a unit of business software company SAP SE.
Qiagen, which also operates SAP enterprise resource planning software for managing inventory, customer activity and financial records, chose hybris for at least two major reasons, Wegener says: It was happy with SAP’s ERP software, and it believed Hybris offer reliable technology to support the highly complex products and product configurators it offers its scientific and medical customers.
For example: Qiagen offers its customers a GeneGlobe tool for configurating products containing liquids that can be prepared in more than 2 million ways. “It’s really crazy,” Wegener says. “And we had to combine that configurator with the web shop.”
Although the configurator was built in-house, Qiagen relied on the hybris technology platform to integrate all of those purchasing options into its new e-commerce site at Qiagen.com, he adds.
That kind of website functionality has Wegener figuring that Qiagen will continue its sharp rise in e-commerce sales. With a highly useful website, he says, he can expect more new and existing customers to increase their online buying. “We call if the ‘shift and grow’ strategy,” he says. “What we have seen is that once a customer orders from the e-commerce channel, sales from that customer grow faster.”
Most of last year’s growth, however, occurred on Qiagen’s old e-commerce site, which the company built in-house about eight years ago. “It was very complicated for customers to go through the online buying process—it was not easy to buy online,” Wegener says. The company nonetheless spiked its online sales last year by building out a new social media strategy that uses Facebook and other social media channels to build traffic and sales. Combined with the new hybris e-commerce site—and team of some 80 e-commerce, web analytics and I.T. experts Wegener has hired—Qiagen expects strong growth in online sales this year, he says.
Qiagen, as a growing company, is also still hiring sales reps, who assist large clients in purchases of complicated, government-regulated products. But the sales reps—who receive a commission on all sales within their geographical delivery areas, including web orders—have learned to recommend the e-commerce site to customers if self-service ordering suits their needs.
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