Robert Bosch ToolCorp. is no stranger to manufacturing—and B2B ecommerce. Bosch Tool is part ofRobert Bosch GmbH,amultinational engineering and electronics company headquartered in Gerlingen, near Stuttgart, Germany, with annual sales of 79.90 billion euros (US$90.52 billion). Bosch Tool is part of Bosch’s consumer division, a business unit with 2018 revenue of 17.80 billion Euros (US$ 20.17 billion).
Bosch Tool, based in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, has been drilling down into and refining B2B ecommerce in North America for a dozen years. Ecommerce sales are approaching $60 million annually and more than 1,500 customers use its two B2B portals.
Bosch Toolhas aggressive growth plans in store for B2B e-commerce—and for digitally transforming how the company is using artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT) to interact with its dealers and customers.
In this question-and-answer session, Bosh Tool mobile and IoT leadEli Shareand ecommerce specialistMeghan Jonesdetail why and how Bosch Tool made ecommerce a strategic priority and what the future has in store for running a more digitally enhanced business.
Q: Why is B2B e-commerce a priority for Robert Bosch Tool Corp. and how is that priority accelerating?
Meghan Jones, ecommerce specialist, Robert Bosch Tool
MJ:There has been an incredible shift in demand and usage of online resources over the past years, and we see that demand increasing exponentially, now and in the future. As the demand for online resources increases, we must continue to develop our B2B ecommerce and digital products and strategies to stay relevant and beneficial to our customers.
Q: When did Bosch Tool first launch a B2B e-commerce program and why?
MJ:Bosch first launched their B2B North American program in 2007 with an e-commerce portal for internal sales. This portal was expanded to our customer network the next year—now known as Boschlink.
It was an identified need that Bosch needed to develop a digital relationship with our customers to supplement our existing relationships with them. Boschlink was created to address this need and to provide our customers with a destination for all things Bosch—a centralized and personalized resource for all our brands, products, innovations and promotional opportunities.
Q: How many B2B websites and portals does Bosch Tool operate? What are they and what type of business buyer is using each website or portal? Boschlink, for example, is primarily used by dealers.
MJ:We are currently offering two B2B portals with a third on the way. We have Boschlink, which is our B2B ecommerce solution for our dealers. We also have a portal dedicated to Bluehound, Bosch’s asset management system.
Eli Share, mobile and IoT lead, Robert Bosch Tool
ES:Bluehound is designed to address concerns of the general contractor managing multiple jobsites and warehouses. This is a software system designed to allow companies to manage their individual inventory. It was a portal with an IoT component to give last-seen location.
MJ:Boshlink allows us to be in contact with our power tool purchasers. It streamlines our purchasing process, allows for transparency of our product, customized pricing and creates a direct channel of communication for Bosch to our dealers.
Q: How many products and in what categories does Bosch Tool carry online across all its B2B websites and portals?
MJ:We offer online essentially any product that can be purchased from Bosch in North America—which is upwards of 20,000 active products spread across all our brands. Our product assortment ranges from tools, measuring tools and accessories to replacement parts for those products.
Q: Who are your primary online customers and how many of them are there?
MJ:Our online customers are primarily made up of our professional and industrial contracting suppliers, spread out across the U.S. and the Caribbean. Annually, we grow in customer usage every year. At the end of 2018, we had over 1,500 customers actively using Boschlink.
Q: Are B2B web sales growing for Bosch Tool? If so, what were B2B web sales in 2018, how much did they grow and what percent of total sales do web sales now represent?
MJ:We reached $57 million in web sales for 2018, which was 7% growth from our dealers on Boschlink. This represents 35% of our total sales that are suitable for Boschlink (we exclude sales from our large retailers, as we have alternate order placement solutions for them).
Q: What are the latest features you’ve added to your websites or portals such as Boschlink. Why were these added?
MJ:A few of our most recent features include:
- A complete overhaul of our order history and tracking pages, with live tracking links to our shipment carriers.
- Streamlined the ability to initiate returns online.
- Added in promotional checks earlier in the purchasing process.
- Compliance with California Proposition 65 on appropriate products.
- Updated and digital cooperative and rebate information that our customer network can directly access.
Several of the features were implemented based on direct feedback from our users and customers—enhancements that would improve their experience and relationship with Boschlink (and Bosch overall). Alternatively, we also added new features to be legally compliant, such as adhering to California Proposition 65, or to showcase dealer programs that our user base participates in.(Editor’s note:Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify California residents about significant amounts of chemicals in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or that are released into the environment.)
Q: What new updates are planned for 2019 and why?
MJ:2019 enhancements for Boschlink will be light, focused on promotional content displays and implementing tools to increase personalization for our users. We are focused on re-platforming Boschlink in the next two years, so anything new that is brought to today’s Boschlink in that time will be focused on enhancing the user experience.
Q: Digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things—are they being rolled out by Bosch Tool? If so, how are you using these new digital technologies and why and where?
ES:Bosch sees connectivity as a guiding principle that can be accelerated with IoT and artificial intelligence. Bosch Power Tool exhibits the feelings of the whole organization by implementing these solutions as well.
Today we have several solutions rolled out to the market. These include our smart-connected cordless tools and our asset management system, Bluehound. These products utilize IoT technology to create efficiency and transparency for the construction site.
The construction site today is not as advanced as it could be, and Bosch is addressing this head on. We are utilizing our expertise in the manufacturing space to bring similar mindset and technologies out into the wild on commercial construction sites. This is technology with a purpose.
We believe nothing we produce will be used unless we enhance productivity, increase efficiency, and provide technology with a singular focus on the user. It is this combination of Bosch’s innovations that will be the game changer in the connected construction site of the future.
Q: What are your biggest challenges for B2B e-commerce and how are you overcoming them?
MJ:Our biggest challenges consist of having a complex, customer-specific pricing and promotions set-up that challenges our ability to cleanly and concisely display this information to our customers. We have made a concerted effort to simplify our pricing and standardize our more common promotions, as well as ensure that our B2B portal has a live connection with our enterprise resource planning system (ERP) to see the best and truest pricing for a customer in real time, which has improved the site’s performance and the consistency of pricing.
With user experience, we are still delivering a B2B portal that doesn’t always meet user expectations, especially compared to B2C shopping experiences. We’ve addressed this by making our prices more transparent during the buying process, improving our product data offering and others. However, we know that there’s still a long way to go to provide a better overall experience.