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How SMBs can fight back in the digital age

Oscar Sanchez, President & CEO Kyocera Document Solutions America, Inc., discusses eCommerce.
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eCommerce has been the clear beneficiary of the global disruption we have witnessed over the past 15 months. This has been a period where corporate giants such as Amazon have been able to register record profits while SMBs right across the country have had to fight tooth and nail to simply keep their doors open.

While it would be unreasonable to compare SMBs with Amazon and the like, there are valuable lessons – from the importance of digital infrastructures and business agility to convenience for consumers and service reliability – that can be taken on board as we look ahead to an era where eCommerce is expected to ramp up even further.

Facing the reality

We are all familiar with the benefits of online shopping. At the height of the pandemic, we procured everything we needed with a few clicks and little wait.

Moreover, daily virtual meetings and webinars, virtual medical appointments, and even live entertainment via our screens during this time has helped further humanize digital platforms, thus increasing our trust in technology.

The McKinsey Global Institute have reported that the share of eCommerce in retail sales grew at two to five times the rate before the pandemic. They outline how three-quarters of people using digital channels for the first time during the pandemic say they will continue using them.

There is, quite simply, no turning back.

While B2B selling is still our dealers’ bread and butter, we cannot pretend that the eCommerce wave is not coming our way. Those who turn a blind eye to the reality of the world around us will be swept away. The ferocious rate at which technology is evolving means we have entered an unforgiving age – it is sink or swim.

It is inevitable that many customers who regularly buy anything for their homes online will look to do likewise when it comes to printers and copiers for their businesses. The benefits are clear as day – simple ordering processes, next-day delivery, easy returns, transparent pricing, and secure payment platforms – and everything points to more and more customers going down this route when it comes to investing in new devices.

Therefore, instead of denying this trend, or trying to fight against it, now is the time to use and build upon this momentum.

The ferocious rate at which technology is evolving means it’s sink or swim."

A unified strategy

The impending impact on our industry is apparent and, at Kyocera, we have begun to increase our online presence and develop eCommerce solutions in order to stem the flow of business we have been losing.

One area that immediately springs to mind is toner. In recent times, customers seeking a replacement toner for a printer without a contract have instantly looked online out of sheer convenience, as well as the limited value added a dealer can provide in such a transaction. This is business that is being lost and signals the clear need for a platform which facilitates the growing demand for purchasing goods online.

Dealers, too, have to face up to this challenge and embrace these new opportunities. Providing good quality products at a competitive price is no longer sufficient to remain competitive in today’s industry.

The old saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” feels particularly pertinent at this juncture. Now is a time for dealers to leverage the expertise and capabilities of their partners, and this is where I believe where we, at Kyocera, will rise to the fore.

We are currently putting the right pieces in the right places to create a framework that complements our product and services offerings while bringing together the expertise and know-how of Kyocera and the dealer community. Our dealers will be an integral part of the value chain and we are working on creating an eCommerce engine that can be used by the dealers to create their own independent eCommerce sites.

To build sustainable, long-term success dealers need to sell online. There is no need to try and reinvent the wheel right now; a basic platform is sufficient to get the ball rolling, and Kyocera is ready to support dealers with this technology. Our digital, yet dealer-centric transformation will help our partners add an exciting yet necessary new dimension to their business.

Like the digital transformation we kicked off in 2019, this too is a process. At Kyocera, we want to cover eCommerce from a holistic point of view, and we want to do it right. We know that Amazon is here for the long-haul and it is our duty to protect our brand. We must ensure that pricing is well governed and that our dealers are not adversely affected.

"To build sustainable, long-term success dealers need to sell online.

A winning formula

eCommerce success extends well beyond website landing pages. We must provide our customers with the best customer experience at every stage of the entire buyer journey.

Prior to the pandemic, the eCommerce Foundation revealed that approximately 88% of consumers research products online before buying in-store. The influence of online information and reviews on our final decision – be it choosing a restaurant or a hotel – is enormous. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have the best possible search engine positioning so that when customers are looking for information online, we are there front and center. This requires good SEO and a strategy driven by quality data.

Once users arrive at our website our information must be easily accessible and useful. Today’s customers are looking for valuable information – products and specs no longer cut it. We have to offer value and give users incentives to keep coming back to our site.

Just like in football, the more quality openings you create, the greater chance you have of scoring touchdowns.

We cannot hope for a lucky break in the Google algorithms; it is up to use to combine quality data and our expertise to ensure that we tackle eCommerce on our terms. That’s why we are dedicating time and resources to developing a solid content strategy and we will continue to produce and deliver quality whitepapers, videos, eBooks and other such assets in the coming months.

Creating quality openings is futile, however, if we are unable to execute and convert these leads. When we have potential customers in the position where they are looking to contact us to buy or willing to purchase online, we have to be great at executing. We need to give that user as many reasons as possible to make that crucial next step and this goes back to the need to integrate an eCommerce engine in our sites.

This applies equally to our dealers. eCommerce platforms need to be supported by a sound SEO strategy and powerful and consistent content. Those who don’t will fall behind those who do. To this end, we are also creating SEO and SEM packages to help our dealers use their Marketing Development Fund (MDF) dollars, as well as powerful content to be posted in their social networks.

Many dealers already have the capabilities to do all this by themselves, but we want to assist those who do not have the same levels of resources, by providing them with our expertise, technology and support. That is the way we understand our partnership with them – we are in this together.

Like football, more quality openings mean a greater chance of touchdowns."

The human touch

Over the years our dealers have consistently gone the extra mile for our customers and there is absolutely no reason why this hard-earned reputation cannot be translated to the digital world.

In fact, the prospects of combining that unrivaled human touch with the huge potential of eCommerce is extremely exciting and one that our dealers should be relishing. Those who get it right will see an incredible new chapter unfold for their business.

While customers may opt to purchase, say, toner online, many still seek the reassurances and expertise of an in-store expert when it comes to more sophisticated devices. It’s what makes us human.

When it comes to extending service or maintenance contracts or examining new product lines, businesses still want to meet sales reps in the flesh. That warmth, trust and personal touch, that person who listens and understands what we really need, is still so important.

Capturing customers online does not necessarily mean that the person will remain solely an online customer. I have discussed at length in recent months about hybrid working, and we are now contending with the idea of hybrid selling as the lines between the physical and virtual worlds continue to blur.

I have also argued that, when it comes to hybrid working, organizations cannot be split into two (i.e., remote workers and office workers). The same applies for eCommerce – there cannot be an offline and online business.

We are one organization, and we need to make life easy for our customers so that they can seamlessly move between the online and in-store worlds, and get what they want when they need it. Achieving this will demand business agility, complete transparency and impeccable communication across all teams and departments.

"Trust and personal touch, that person who listens is still so important.

The time is now

A recent Deloitte report outlines how “Digital acceleration” is an investment priority for 88 percent of executives in retail, a trend which is being reflected right across the board. We have entered a new era and there is no time to look back.

Instead, we need to build strong alliances to help each other, to come together to find ways to expand our mutual business. There are new markets, new products, and new channels – there is a wide world of opportunities out there.

The business world around us will continue to evolve and change quickly, and we must become better at living with uncertainty. As I have said before, this is the “new normal” in terms of doing business.

We have entered a new era and there is no time to look back."

Periods of disruption on this scale do not come along very often. The prospect of Kyocera and our dealers building a formidable digital presence and thriving online selling fills me with tremendous enthusiasm.

The internet isn’t waiting – nor are we. It’s time to roll up our sleeves.

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