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"First the basics, then the trends" - Interview with Michael Atug

13 Nov 2020

Organizer and digital rock star Michael Atug about the development of eCommerce in general.

ERP, electronic payment, multichannel: The digitization of retail and trade has been one of the hottest topics of discussion for some time now, and the hardware industry is no exception. That's why the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR 2021 will have its own eCommerce area with innovative solutions and a high-profile event program. We talked to the organizer and digital rock star Michael Atug about this new area and the development of eCommerce in general.

What exactly can we expect at the eCommerce area 2021? Who is the target audience?

Our eCommerce area is very diversified and wants to address everyone: those who want to kick off; those who have already started and those who have advanced far more professionally in this field. In addition, our target group includes service providers who can get to know potential new clients there and whom we normally do not meet at other eCommerce events. And of course, people interested in eCommerce in general are very welcome, too.

But we also address people from the field of online marketing, our speaker Frank Thelen is a great driving force.

Apart from Frank Thelen's keynote, industry giants such as Facebook, eBay and Shopware have so far confirmed their participation, and we are currently in promising talks with Google. Our visitors can expect an engaging program!

In 2018, digitisation was a trending topic in the industry once before, in 2020 it would have been even more in focus with you as a partner. What has changed since then in the field of eCommerce, especially this year?

The most important point: Since then, many more people have been talking about it, it really is on everyone's mind. This is probably the most significant change. Digitisation is more prominent and stronger than ever before - across all industries.

This rapid development was of course reinforced this year by political decisions such as the shutdown. Virtually every company and every retailer has tackled the subject.

This is exactly why our eCommerce area is highly topical and important! In addition, the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR is one of the first events to take place again, and that further emphasises the importance of the area: here experts, companies, and retailers can exchange their experiences from 2020 for the first time in a relaxed atmosphere. In particular, the positions regarding DTC have changed - more and more companies have developed concrete strategies here or already started to do so. This naturally creates a whole new culture of discussion, and traditional positions and relationships are changing.

Independent of this: What trends can we expect in the field of eCommerce in the coming years?

In my opinion, "trend" is a very worn-out term and is somewhat problematic. People have been talking about topics like AI, video shopping or the introduction of other payment options for years, but what has really happened here? Not that much. If you focus too much on the future, you lose sight of the present - and there many companies and portals still have a lot of catching up to do in terms of the basics, e.g. the user interface and user experience, cloud solutions, the functionality of the site or the check-out.

But if we take a look at the trends that are buzzing around, additional payment options such as via WhatsApp are particularly exciting, also for end-users - we'll see where this particular journey will take us.

Where do you see the hardware industry in terms of online sales channels?

I already gave a very critical interview in the Eisenwarenzeitung in 2018 under the heading: "Go die". And unfortunately, I have to say: My words from back then are still valid today, nothing has changed since then. The distribution is mostly still set up the same way it was 30 years ago, inflexible and uncreative. For many companies, the old ways still work well enough, so there is little movement. Younger people in management positions would probably do the industry good, but unfortunately, they have not yet arrived in the "big chairs".

One thing can be said for sure: The movers and shakers who are intensively tackling the topic of digitisation and e-commerce, developing ideas, strategies and a fresh image, are definitely the winners - Wera springs to mind.

Thinking of digital marketplaces, Amazon and eBay immediately come to mind. Are there other options and what are the benefits of selling on such platforms?

Amazon and eBay are of course still the benchmark, but sites such as real.de, Mano Mano and Otto are up and coming, and we're now integrating them - can't wait to see how that turns out! In addition, we are also increasing our focus on newsletter marketing and Google advertising.

This goes back to my credo of many years: Position yourself in a diverse way! It allows you to act more freely, making you less dependent.

A concrete example: With rakuten.de we had a very successful time, we made 250,000 € net turnover there within the last twelve months - and suddenly at the end of September it was decided to close the marketplace. So you are not only dependent on the marketplaces themselves, but also on processes that you cannot influence yourself - you simply have no guarantee that the existing sales authorisation will remain in effect for the next few years.

Despite all the digitisation: Why is a (physical) platform like the INTERNATIONAL HARDWARE FAIR still important for the industry? How can the fair itself become more digital (talk about a hybrid fair)?

Nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting, I've been saying that for years and I noticed it again in 2020 - because I'm actually one of the people in the industry who travel the most.

These days, there is no way around a digital offering, but it's simply not the same as a nice, one-on-one chat. It enables the development of completely different conversations – by jumping from one subject to another. Digital communication is simply different and does not encourage discussions as much. You simply would like to meet people in person.

Of course, digital offers are very helpful for people from abroad who cannot travel but would still like to boost their expertise. I am very excited to see how Koelnmesse will implement this!