Bol.comBiggest online retailer of the Netherlands Visit website
Bol.com is the biggest online retailer in the Netherlands. It started in 1999 as a project from Bertelsmann AG. This major German media company started a joint venture with US internet provider AOL in 1995 to get European households online. After AOL acquired Time Warner, Bertelsmann decided to sell its share in AOL and use that money to invest in the online book business. Instead of starting completely from scratch, Bertelsmann wanted to partner with Amazon, which was a up-and-coming retailer back then. The idea is to let Amazon focus on the US market, while Bertelsmann will launch ‘Amazon Europe’. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos refuses and says: “Thank you very much for the offer and your trust, but I can make it on my own.”
The start of Bol.com
On 25 February 1998, Bertelsmann launched a global electronic bookstore with the working titel Books OnLine. In Europe, the company had to start from scratch, so it got help from consultancy agencies such as McKinsey & Company. One consultant, Daniël Ropers, wrote a business plan for the retailer and eventually stayed at the company for over 19 years, mostly as CEO. When Bertelsmann wanted to quit Bol.com, Ropers had about six months to find a new owner. He led the retailer to a joint venture of three international media companies and Bol.com started making profits.
Acquired by Albert Heijn-owner Ahold
In 2012, Ahold acquired Bol.com from Cyrte Investments and NPM Capital for 350 million euros. Bol.com was then already a major online retailer in the Netherlands and Belgium. What started as an online bookstore, had transformed into a department store that sells almost everything, except for fashion maybe. In 2016, Ahold Delhaize CEO Dick Boer announced Bol.com generated an annual turnover of 1 billion euros in 2016, making Bol.com the first online store in the Benelux region to achieve this milestone.
Transformation into Amazon-like marketplace
Nowadays, Bol.com is more like an online marketplace such as Amazon, welcoming third-party vendors to sell their items through the Bol.com platform. There are over 19,000 retailers connected to this platform and according to chief commercial officer Margaret Versteden, one in four items ordered on Bol.com comes from external vendors.
Just like Amazon does with its paid subscription service Amazon Prime, Bol.com has also been giving all kinds of benefits to paid subscribers. In April 2017, the retail company introduced delivery service Bol.com Select, which offers free delivery, evening delivery, Sunday delivery and same-day-delivery for €9.99 per year.
Active in: Belgium, The Netherlands
Branches: Beauty & Health, Electronics, Entertainment & Media, Fashion, Home, Pets & Garden, Office & School, Toys, Kids & Baby
Founder(s): Bertelsmann AG
Company size: 1000
Revenue: €1.6 billion (2017)