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CEO Bol.com: “Our business model is like Alibaba’s”

Bol.com, the biggest online retailer in the Netherlands, is moving from being a traditional ecommerce player into a selling platform and fulfilment partner for third-party retailers. In an interview with Belgian newspaper De Tijd, managing director Daniël Ropers compared Bol.com with Chinese ecommerce giant Alibaba. “We are building a network of expertise, retailers, services and products.”

Bol.com is the most popular ecommerce player in the Netherlands. This year, expectations are online sales will be worth more than 1 billion euros. Part of that revenue comes from Belgium, where Bol.com is growing hard.

Belgian newspaper De Tijd recently interviewed Daniël Ropers, the managing director who once helped set up the Dutch ecommerce website, while it was still part of German publisher Bertelsmann. In the interview he responded to criticism from Jef Colruyt, CEO of retail group Colruyt, who said Bol.com’s business model isn’t sustainable and that free delivery can’t stand. Ropers reacted by saying Colruyt and others don’t really understand how Bol.com operates. “Mister Colruyt thinks it’s all about a ‘tour de force’ domination for us. But that’s not true. But I understand his concern, because he still thinks in old retail models.”

‘Many retailers work in an old-fashioned way’
Ropers say the old way of doing business – manufacturers and suppliers that use a huge marketing network to put something on the market – is at its end run. “Online retail stimulates transparency about the product and the price. That’s better for the consumer, the retailer and the manufacturer.”

Although Ropers says to have many respect for specialist shops and retail chains, he thinks their models are under pressure. “The internet has made consumers more demanding. I’ve read that 86 percent of Americans aren’t happy with their bank, service provider and supermarket. That means they know how perfect service should be, but that no one offers it to them at the moment. During the next five to ten years, customers from specialist shops for example won’t tolerate any longer they have to wait a few days for their products and they have to pay 10 euros extra for shipping. Even if that’s a justified amount. Well, to those shops we want to say: let’s work together to offer a perfect service.”

Bol.com Plaza, platform for third-party sellers
Bol.com started with selling books online, but soon added more and more categories. In 2011 Bol.com launched Bol.com Plaza, its online platform for third-party sellers. Since then, the company has 10,000 partners in the Netherlands and, after half a year, already 800 in Belgium. Customers bought goods with a total value of 200 million euros at Bol.com’s third-party sellers last year.

Ropers says: “Bol.com is becoming a network company, our business model looks a bit like that of Alibaba: the biggest ecommerce player without selling anything itself. We are building a network of expertise, retailers, services and products. And if you, as a retailer, add something of value, we want to pay you for that.”

‘If we don’t do it, the Americans or Chinese will’
Ropers emphasizes that he thinks the business model he described is the one that’s best for everyone. “But we have to remain good, otherwise the consumer will go to another network company, like Amazon, eBay, Alibaba or Google. By the way, if we don’t create a Dutch-Belgian platform, the Netherlands and Belgium will become subsidiaries of American or Chinese ecommerce companies. And then more value will go down the drain.”

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