The manufacturer of products and systems used in biological research deployed a new e-commerce site that has resulted in customers buying more, and more frequently.

There’s not much that’s simple about the products biotech company Illumina Inc. develops and manufactures, nor about how they’re used. Its DNA sequencing kits and cancer genomics products are just two of the lines that scientists use in exploring the mysteries of biology and in developing clinical applications. “We are beginning to unlock the power of the genome—to transform healthcare and beyond,” the company, founded by scientists in 1998, says on its website, Illumina.com.

Riccardo Caruso, associate director of e-commerce, Illumina Inc.

But what it has made far simpler than in the past is the task of researching and purchasing products online. “E-commerce is an enabler,” says Riccardo Caruso, associate director of e-commerce. And as scientists search for the products they need to improve healthcare, Illumina wants to be a trusted, primary source. Yet to serve in that capacity, Illumina realized it needed to make it easier for scientists to find and learn about its products, Caruso adds.

“What drives me and my team: We want to ignite sales with long-term trust with our customers,” he says. “Then our customers will be in touch with our products and come back and purchase more and more.”

The new Illumina.com

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Illumina relaunched its e-commerce site early last year on a new technology platform—WebSphere Commerce from IBM Corp.—that was more scalable to accommodate higher levels of traffic and transactions. At the same time, it also provided customers with features designed to help them more quickly find and buy what they needed. Customers have responded with positive reviews of the site’s features and performance, coinciding with increases in the number of online orders and average order value.

“If you know your customers and what their needs are, you can build a solution for them,” Caruso says. The company, which reported $2.75 billion in revenue last year, up 15% from 2016, doesn’t break out e-commerce sales.

The benefits have extended to Illumina’s sales reps, Caruso adds. Although some reps were initially reluctant to promote customer use of the e-commerce site, they have come to recognize its value as a customer tool for ordering supplies that frees reps to concentrate on helping customers with complex orders. “When reps understand the type of value e-commerce delivers, they’re very happy. They can focus on bigger sales.”

Although Illumina.com doesn’t broadly promote discount codes to customers, it lets sales reps access promotional codes designed for high-value customers. “This gives the sales rep the ability to offer a promotional code to close a sale,” Caruso says.

Among other new e-commerce site features:

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● Delivery schedule details displayed in the shopping cart. “Scientists need to plan experiments, so the shipping of goods has to be timed right,” Caruso says. “So we built a delivery schedule.”
● A wish list comprised of multiple folders. Because a purchasing agent may need to buy products for multiple scientific labs, for example, the site now lets them set up a separate folder for planned product purchases for each lab. When they’re ready to buy, this lets them more quickly process orders in an organized way, Caruso says.
● Responsive site design. This renders web content to fit the screen of any device, enabling customers to more easily complete an order on a smartphone or tablet as well as a desktop or laptop computer.
● More consumer-like ease of ordering. These features include product recommendations, credit card purchases (permitted for up to $10,000 per order), and a special form of guest checkout for buyers not associated with an organization already approved for purchasing Illumina’s products. Such orders are placed on hold until Illumina’s customer support and finance departments vet the buyer’s organization; if approved, the order then flows to Illumina’s enterprise resource planning system to get fulfilled.
Illumina has also driven up average online order values among customers that use other special services.

White Gloves and punchout

These include its White Gloves service, which provides several areas of special customer treatment: a dedicated phone number and email address for getting support; and an online session that demonstrates the features of MyIllumina, a website where customers can learn more about particular Illumina products and services important to their business, and access such features as personalized product recommendations and delivery schedules. In addition, the White Gloves program will reach out to customers who appear to be overlooking Illumina’s online features and provide any assistance they need to become more active online.

Another special service is punchout, through which Illumina customers can link directly to Illumina.com from their company’s e-procurement software. The punchout link lets buyers access approved products from Illumina.com; purchases are automatically recorded on the buyer’s company’s financial management system. Illumina offers these buyers the same access to online features—such as product configurators and shopping carts—that it provides customer who directly access Illumina.com, Caruso says.

As customers have become accustomed to the site’s increased ease of finding and purchasing what they need, Illumina has recorded improved metrics showing the value of the website relaunch project. Since the new site launched in February 2017, for example, it has recorded three times as many million-dollar-sales days as on the prior site, and increased the average order value by 25%, Caruso says. Increased sales through the product recommendations covered the cost of the whole project in one year, he adds.

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In a survey of its customers last fall, Illumina found that 70% of respondents rated the new site favorably. Thirty-six percent rated their shopping experience on it as “very good,” 34% “as expected.” The remainder, 30%, said “it could have been better.”

Most of the negative comments were around website performance and some remaining difficulty in finding products, Caruso says. In 2018, Illumina plans to boost website performance by focusing on improvements to the site’s software code and user experience. It will also shift to the site products that have been available only offline, and improve such site features as search and product displays to make products easier to find.

“Product shift is particularly interesting: how can a customer buy a product online if it is not available online in the first place?” Caruso says. “For a company like Illumina that has historically sold offline, bringing all its products online will require rewiring many of its processes. The prize will be scalability: with a robust e-commerce platform and all products online, Illumina’s e-commerce transformation will be finally at reach.”

As Illumina’s website development shows, it pays to understand and work through the details of what makes an e-commerce site more valuable and useful to customers.
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