Business-to-business transactions have always been personal and based on relationships. The maritime world relies on reliable, long-lasting partnerships, collaborations and trust. When an order is placed for a spare part, a line of communication is initiated through a salesperson, and a PO (purchase order) is sent as a commitment to buy today and pay tomorrow.
How often does this behaviour happen to us as customers? Can you remember the last time you needed to buy something and it didn’t happen instantly? The truth is, our daily interactions as customers have changed with technology. We go online to research a product we need, what the price is and how soon it can be delivered to our door.
The question is: what makes our maritime clients’ buying behaviour so different? Actually, not much. Business transactions in the maritime world are quickly moving towards e-commerce, alongside the shopping habits of consumers.
The internet has revolutionised how we purchase everyday personal items. At work, we expect the same level of convenience when buying goods from our suppliers. We don’t want to wait until the next business day (which differs with each time zone) to deal with a long sales process or follow endless email threads. We’ve become used to the idea that transactions should be smooth and fast.
Besides being available 24/7, an e-commerce platform allows customers, wherever their location, to place orders. In the maritime industry, some restrictions may apply; however, the vast majority of people have access at all times.
REMOVING MANUAL PROCESSES
Many aspects of the sales process can take excessive time and resources. Imagine that your vessel is down and you are in desperate need of a spare part. You know which part you need and you need it now. Rather than placing an order, you get dragged through a long manual process.
Depending on how busy the seller and the buyer are, this process could take 10 minutes or possibly even a week to complete. If the part you are missing needs to be manufactured or is not in stock, your vessel’s downtime will have a serious impact on your business.
Wouldn’t it be great if this process could be automated to allow you to find the part you need without all the ‘back and forth’ actions that prevent you from receiving your purchase sooner. E-commerce platforms allow precisely that: streamlining the buying process to ensure that customers accurately place an order without the manual document exchange. The order is instantly sent to the ERP system for immediate fulfilment.
Building, maintaining and renewing an e-commerce platform is a costly and time-consuming process. It requires a strong technical foundation, logistical infrastructure and shipping methods designed for items that could weigh as little as one gram or as much as 1.5 tonnes. Maritime equipment – and especially its worldwide distribution – requires a complex infrastructure, immense technical knowledge and strong partnerships.
E-commerce platforms in the maritime world are usually protected by a login screen. If a potential customer would like to buy spare parts online, see the available assortment and find out more information about prices, his account must be approved by the e-commerce platform.
Waiting to be approved becomes another step in the long and tedious process of placing an order. The reality is that if you need to order different parts and are lucky enough to get approval from every available e-commerce platform, managing your orders is tantamount to neverending manual work.
For over two years, the ShipSupport team has been investigating various ways to solve the complex issue of building an e-commerce platform for the maritime world. On 2 November 2018, ShipSupport.com was launched. Anyone can view the rapidly growing maritime online catalogue, see all the various brands, calculate delivery times and understand exactly how much items will cost.
Visible, transparent pricing and estimated delivery times available to everyone have been the first steps in a new and exciting journey. Beforehand, customers looking for quality parts for their vessels did not have easy access to the right equipment. Suppliers, providing high-quality equipment, but with geographical limitations, were given an online channel allowing them to reach wider audiences.
ShipSupport.com has eliminated these boundaries, offering any customer the opportunity to have a single point of contact for their maritime equipment. However, an e-commerce platform of such complexity has to have a strong foundation in the maritime industry.
For centuries, Royal IHC has been listening to its customers’ growing needs and providing innovative solutions. ShipSupport’s variety of products, strong logistical network and extensive network of global experts, has brought the maritime industry one step closer to an effortless and easy way to minimise downtime.
The variety of products keeps on growing based on our customers’ needs. New suppliers are also joining ShipSupport as they see the great potential in this partnership, while new customers discover how they can secure equipment previously not accessible due to their location.
The journey is still long, and there is much more to be developed. The customer need for a more effective and easy online experience will guide the team to further improve the e-commerce platform while adding valuable integrated solutions for the maritime industry.