Velinda Cox, senior vice president of ecommerce, tells how the global manufacturer of digital imaging products and systems is deploying digital commerce technology to build a better customer experience and open new opportunities.

With corporate roots going back to 1873 and annual sales of more than $6 billion, Konica Minolta Inc. is well known as a global manufacturer and marketer of digital imaging products used in corporate and institutional facilities worldwide.

But the company is ready to reach and engage more customers more often, which is why it’s forging into B2B ecommerce.

There are a lot of extensions in the way customers want to do business with us, and we're going to deliver that.
Velinda Cox, senior vice president of ecommerce
Konica Minolta

The Tokyo-based manufacturer’s products range from office copiers and printers to diagnostic imaging equipment used in the healthcare industry and industrial measuring instruments designed with internet-of-things (IoT) technology.

VelindaCox-KonicaMinolta

Velinda Cox, senior vice president of ecommerce, Konica Minolta.

To sell all those products, Konica Minolta relies on an international network of distributors and dealers that produced 911.4 billion Japanese yen (US$6.7 billion) for the most recent fiscal year, which ended March 22. But it figures there are more sales to be gained – and more services to offer – by deploying an ecommerce platform and related technology ecosystem designed to meet customers’ changing needs 24/7.

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“We are in a position of transition, change and transformation,” says Velinda Cox, senior vice president of ecommerce at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc., in Ramsey, New Jersey, where she is spearheading the global company’s ecommerce strategy.

Over the past several years, Konica Minolta noticed changing customer demands and set out to plan a more relevant customer experience. Its new ecommerce strategy is addressing the growing desire of customers to research and order products in a digital self-service mode.

The COVID-19 experience, and related work-from-home trends accelerated the company’s digital progress. Konica Minolta recently launched a new ecommerce site designed to be flexible and scalable to support the company’s goal to grow its ecommerce channel and make any necessary adjustments to how customers want to buy online.

“There are a lot of extensions in the way customers want to do business with us, and we’re going to deliver that,” Cox says.

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Crawl, walk, run

Konica Minolta is taking a “crawl, walk, run” approach to building out its ecommerce technology and developing a better customer experience — “first, learning through interviews and surveys how channel partners and customers want to interact with the company, then building it out to suit their requirements with a most-viable-product start approach,” Cox says. “Meaning we want to start with less and iterate, so to bring some functionality to market and run a Scrum framework approach to constant improvement and continuous release schedules.”

“We’re starting first with interviewing and having a dialogue with our customers, showing them what we’re doing and asking for their feedback — also understanding what the website data is telling us,” Cox says. “We’re already seeing some insights we hadn’t seen before and understanding the demographics, the geographies, the timing of who’s coming to our site and doing what — and we can maximize that information and react to it very quickly.”

“Two key things that jumped out to me when I looked at the analytics system the first week was how many people were shopping on weekends and how many people were engaging with us in the evenings,” Cox says. And with traditional sales forces typically off-duty during those times, building an engaging ecommerce presence is enabling the company to add value to customers it had never done before, she adds.

“Our aspiration is to deliver what the market demands. And in doing so, we’re going to augment the sales we have today by reaching a market originating on the web that our direct physical sales organizations and dealers are not touching today.”

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Why a flexible ecommerce platform matters

That strategy required a highly flexible and scalable platform on which to build Konica Minolta’s commerce technology and ecosystem. The company’s legacy technology platform was not designed for commerce transactions or any online interactions with customers. But Konica Minolta wanted more than just the ability to begin processing online customer purchase transactions and communications; it also wanted the ability to modify how it interacted online with customers and channel partners without having to do extensive changes to software code.

The company’s new ecommerce site, at shop.konicaminolta.us, is starting out with a limited product catalog, including Konica Minolta’s Dispatcher Phoenix workflow document management system and third-party products; customers log in to view pricing and place orders. But as Konica Minolta learns about how customers want to buy online, the company will expand the site’s products and services.

To support its ability to modify the site, the company chose to go with digital technology infrastructure known as MACH — which stands for a blend of microservices, APIs, cloud and headless technology — in a “composable commerce” platform from Elastic Path. The composable commerce platform is designed to use all of the MACH elements to build out and integrate multiple technology applications as needed, from a “best of breed” selection of technology sources.

Cox says the new platform will help Konica Minolta manage the intricate details of B2B commerce, such as individual customer contract terms, pricing, and tax exemptions.

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For example, it can use microservices and APIs to develop online buying tools that pull data from multiple data sources and host these applications in scalable cloud technology. With the headless configuration — which separates the ecommerce engine from the customer-facing front-end interface and the back-end business operations software — Konica Minolta will be able to add or modify customer-serving technology features with API connections to increase speed for customer experience and to simplify workflow and system-to-system data transfers. “This impacts both front-end user experience/user interface and back-end order completion simplification,” Cox says.

Composing a global ecommerce system

As a global company, Konica Minolta operates multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems for managing information on such things as product inventory, pricing and customer order records.

“Applying their composable commerce technique to our digital ecosystem will provide us with a high level of flexibility to continue to innovate and meet the evolving needs of our customers,” Cox says.

The manufacturer’s new digital platform so far includes Elastic Path’s EP Product Experience Manager (PXM) system, which Cox  and her team will use to develop relevant online purchasing experiences for customers  on their new ecommerce site. The PXM system includes product information management technology, merchandising tools and product catalog management, which Konica Minolta has deployed to highlight document management and other products with product images, specifications, and pricing.

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Konica Minolta is also improving the online checkout experience by using Elastic Path Payments, which is designed to facilitate payments as Konica Minolta expands into new regions, Cox says.

In addition, it is featuring through microservices technology applications from third-party vendors, including site search, payment services, and sales tax-management software. “That’s a complexity layer in itself, and then we’ll go beyond that, improving the digital experience in supply chain logistics, and the customer-facing front end, returning insights and data on customer behavior,” Cox says.

Building customer personas

Using technology applications such as web analytics, live chat, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Konica Minolta expects to compile and analyze enough information on customer behavior “where we can touch customers with what’s important to them, and eventually getting to the point where we can address individual personas with exactly the experiences they want, because we understand that ‘A’ customer is different from ‘B’ customer is different from ‘C’ customer,” Cox says. “They may be buying the same things, but they want to buy them in different ways.”

The company will share such insights with distributors and dealers, “giving them insights on what’s happening with customers” so they can also learn how to provide more value in the overall customer experience, she adds. For example: the interest customers have in connecting with the Konica Minolta brand after usual business hours.

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Cox also elicited early on the input and support of some 200 Konica Minolta executives from throughout the company’s global operations who could attest to the worldwide market opportunities digital commerce offers. She has also involved professionals from the company’s marketing and I.T. departments along with her dedicated ecommerce team — both to get their expertise and their support for digital commerce.

“The biggest challenge in standing up ecommerce in a traditional organization is getting the mindshare and helping people understand that this is a value for the future,” Cox says.

A Center of Excellence

Going forward, Konica Minolta expects to extend what it’s learning in digital commerce to the company’s global operations and even to channel partners. “We want to create a Center of Excellence in the U.S. for the global operation around ecommerce,” Cox says. “We want to leverage that information and expertise to our dealers, distributors and direct organization.”

Over the next several years, Konica Minolta also foresees building more ecommerce storefronts and helping channel partners build their own.

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“We’re on a journey,” Cox says. “We’re starting with targeting a less complicated catalog and a more simplistic level of customer segmentation, and as we learn what customers want and how they want to buy, we will expand the value in our online digital catalogs and the services we provide in association with our digital technology ecosystem.”

“It  has taken a universe of dedicated, passionate people across the company who have given time, energy, imagination and hard work to get us this go-live point on our journey,” she adds. “I would like to send a thank-you from the company and me personally for their impact to realize this transformation.”

Cox will speak on developing a digital channel and digital technology ecosystem in a June 22 keynote address at EnvisionB2B 2023 in Chicago.

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