When the Hewlett-Packard Co. split its business in 2015 into two separate units, newly created Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. had to figure out an ecommerce strategy that delivered a “no-touch” buying experience that required little if any assistance from staff, but avoided cannibalizing sales of HP dealer partners.
The solution was to build a marketplace that showcased partner inventory through HPE.com, and allowed buyers to purchase from its channel partners without being transported to a partner website; HPE felt the latter made the buying experience disjointed.
Achieving that goal required more than one iteration of HPE.com, Sagar Bilgi, director of ecommerce, platform and capability for HPE, told an audience earlier this month at the B2B Next Conference and Exhibition.
HPE handles the hardware side of the old HP business, including servers, data storage and networks. Sister company HP Inc. retained Hewlett-Packard’s personal computer and printer businesses.
Avoiding the redirect to resellers’ websites
While the first version of HPE.com listed all available inventory from its channel partners, buyers were redirected to channel partner web sites to complete the sale.
“We knew this was not the model we wanted over the long-term, but we had to take the first step to attract buyers to our marketplace,” Bilgi said. “The long-range goal was to create a seamless purchasing experience in which buyers can purchase from a channel partner without leaving our marketplace.”
HPE achieved that goal in June 2017, when the next version of its website launched. By year’s end, HPE had added online configuration tools and price quotes for customized products, as well as simple product-bundling capabilities. In March of this year, HPE integrated its product catalog and buying capabilities onto a single platform to create a better customer experience. One benefit of this integration is that buyers browsing the site can click a Buy button at any time without having to go to a separate page to purchase an item.
The new site has been a hit with buyers, Bilgi said. Since the 2017 relaunch, HPE.com has seen monthly visits and average order value each increase two-fold. The amount of time spent by buyers browsing the site has risen 40%. In addition, sales leads have increased three-fold. Over the past six months, average monthly revenue has jumped four-fold from the same period a year earlier.
Keeping buyers coming back
Creating a purchasing experience that keeps buyers coming back involved more than just the technical evolution of HPE’s marketplace platform. “Partner ecommerce capabilities are important to the purchasing experience, too,” Bilgi said. “How advanced partners are at selling online, and what they can and cannot do in that channel, played a role in how we developed the marketplace.”
As HPE began building its marketplace, it sought partners with mature ecommerce capabilities that were compatible with its goal of providing a consistent buyer experience across channel partners. Doing so prevented customizing the marketplace for each partner. HPE also sought partners with a breadth of products and services that buyers wanted when looking to purchase through HPE.com.
Having a global presence was another desired trait of potential channel partners. “When it comes to selling globally, you need partners that not only know how to navigate ecommerce in a specific country, but how buyers in that country purchase through an OEM site, and what kind of buying experience they expect,” said Bilgi.
The lowest price may not win the sale
Another lesson HPE learned about creating a purchasing experience, and one that keeps buyers coming back, is that the lowest-priced seller does not always win the sale.
“Buyers come to a marketplace with a specific need, so they aren’t just looking for the lowest price,” Bilgi said. “Sometimes the need may be immediate, which means the buyer wants real-time inventory, shipping times and shipping cost. Some buyers may need to configure a product or chat with a sales representative. Partners should be continually evaluated on how well they meet buyers’ expectations.”
As important as partner performance is, platform performance is just as important. “Platform performance may be in the background to the buyer, but that and partner performance are what brings customers back,” Bilgi said.
Peter Lucas is a Highland Park, Illinois-based freelance journalist covering business and technology. `
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