B2B e-Commerce — A New Age for Nutjobs

Anyone who thought about selling footwear or food online about ten years ago was the sure focus of ridicule and derided as a nutjob. But the nutjobs of yore have become today’s pioneers of B2C e-commerce: the Zalandos and Lieferhelds are now all worth billions. E-Commerce has turned Berlin into a digital hotspot. Glitzy shipping startups have delivered to the capital an almost magnetic appeal for founders and investors free of charge.

A New Age for Nutjobs

Though the story of clickable in-home delivery has most certainly not been fully told — after all, the next surge of technological innovations in the form of drones, automated mobility and VR applications are already in the starting position — a certain level of maturation has been attained. The gold digger days are over, not least of all because of increasing market concentration and intense competition resulting from the growing ease of market access. That said, in the shadows of footwear and food delivery services the next wave is already rushing in: B2B e-Commerce. The market is booming. And in the somewhat fossilized B2B business — like the steel industry, where deliveries are often enough still received via fax machines — there is the promise of massive efficiency gains and, plainly speaking, money. Prognoses indicate a 15% and rising annual market growth — a new age for nutjobs?

Industry Is Driving B2B e-Commerce
Materials4me from thyssenkrupp, the online steel shop from Kloeckner, Plexiglas by Evonik — this time around the innovations aren’t coming from hip Berlin co-working spaces, but from the country’s industrial heartland. It is German heavy industry that is driving B2B online trade. Still ridiculed as sluggish from the perspective of the Valley’s platform giants, it is now making digital headway. Gisbert Rühl said it most concisely in his highly regarded contribution “I am cannibalizing my business before someone else does”: “We want to beat Amazon to the chase before it becomes Amazon the steel trader.” In the meantime, with its Amazon Business, Amazon has also in fact thrown its hat into the ring. However, the baseline conditions for achieving a German Seat of Industry are not bad for swinging into the lead in the competition for B2B online trade.

Startups and Industry Must Pull Together

In order to make it work, there needs to be more than the current closing of ranks between startups and corporate types, the huge e-Commerce world and the industry giants. Zalando’s announcement about wanting to create nothing less than the fashion world’s operating systems reveals what kind of technological synergies are possible between e-Commerce grown-ups and industry tanks, and how ingenious an alliance between the startup scene and industry can be. If the connection of cumulative e-Commerce expertise with the industry giants succeeds, this could be a real trump card for the German Seat of Industry in the fight for the industrial Internet.