“Many companies believe that they find their USP in low prices. In my opinion, that kind of USP is a weak one, maybe even the weakest one of all. Companies that merely try to offer goods for less money than their competitors are likely to lose their customers as soon as another company finds a way to sell the same goods even cheaper”, says Hartmut Deiwick, Commercial Director at Aponeo. In this interview you will learn how Aponeo has built its ecommerce success, its own system for packaging and logistics, and its group of satisfied customers.
Paulina Królikowska, E-commerce Capitals: Let's start by reminding everyone that you work as the Commercial Director at Aponeo, one of the top online pharmacies in Germany. Could you tell us a bit about what your job there actually entails and how it affects people?
Hartmut Deiwick, Aponeo: I am responsible for the general economic development of the company. That means, I suggest the overall strategy, and my task is to increase and monitor the turnover based on that strategy. Anyway, this affects a lot of different fields that I am glad to be responsible for. Shall we develop new services, for instance, with regard to delivering our products to the customers? Shall we add new products to our shop? Besides medicine, we have already offered beauty- und wellness-products for a couple of years. We could also think, among others, about a greater number of special food supplements. If we choose to do so – are we then merely capable of reselling already existing brands or should we also sell goods that we produce ourselves? Another part of my job is to manage marketing and public relations in order to support each single piece of the overall strategy such as our brand building efforts.
E-commerce Capitals: Yes – and in one of articles about Aponeo we can read that “the long term goal [of Aponeo] was to become something like the premium option in online pharmacies”, i.e. to offer unique quality. What does it mean in practice – from the point of view of your customers?
Hartmut Deiwick, Aponeo: From the point of view of business development, it is hard to differentiate Aponeo from online pharmacies. Most companies have a very similar product range. If you’ve got a headache, you will probably find the pill of your choice in every single online pharmacy in Germany. How can you become unique anyway? Many companies believe that they find their USP in low prices. In my opinion, that kind of USP is a weak one, maybe even the weakest one of all. Companies that merely try to offer goods for less money than their competitors are likely to lose their customers as soon as another company finds a way to sell the same goods even cheaper. I believe that in a long term perspective better services for customers help make a greater difference. Whenever our customers have questions, they can call us – and they will find experts on the telephone. If their questions deal with medicine, they talk to highly educated pharmacists just like in a brick-and-mortar pharmacy on the corner of a street, but with one major advantage on our side: on the telephone, you talk one-to-one. There is no cue behind you, there are no people who listen when you go into details of problems you do not want everyone to know about. Furthermore, our pharmacists on the phone take themselves more time to talk with an individual customer than their colleagues probably could when a brick-and-mortar-pharmacy is full of waiting people. Anyway, better service in online pharmacy also means delivering the products in a faster and more convenient way. And it means finding niches where the product range can be extended. Thanks to it, in the end, people do find quality products in your shop – and these are the products that your competitors do not offer, as hard as that search can be. In our case, homeopathy is an example. Apart from us, no other online-pharmacy of our size offers homeopathic products, and our customers appreciate that very much.
E-commerce Capitals: Not all our readers might know, but Aponeo has its own self-developed and widely automated system for packaging and logistics – and this is undoubtedly one of the best proofs for the development of the company. What were the reasons for this decision? Would you recommend it to anyone on a certain stage of their ecommerce company’s development?
Hartmut Deiwick, Aponeo: We had a very challenging situation: The number of customers grew rapidly, and we only had a rather small area where our products were packed and sent out. There was no optional space we could have added, so we had to work within the restrictions that became more and more obvious. We simply did not have enough square meters to expand. That is why we searched for an automated solution, but there was no solution on the market that would have matched, both, our special challenge and the economic and regulatory challenges you have when dealing with pharmaceutical products. So we were more or less forced to develop a prototype-solution in cooperation with a specialized company. The solution is highly effective. People usually do not believe the number of packages we send out every day – currently 4,000 – when we say that this is done on 600 square meters only. As I said, in our case there was no option, and we are glad that we decided to develop a prototype solution, but I cannot recommend that way in general. Every company is different. You need to have a huge amount of technical and logistical know-how in-house just to be able to discuss the simplest questions concerning any kind of automated system. And when the discussion is about a prototype, you need even more of that know-how.
E-commerce Capitals: In your presentation at the E-commerce Berlin Expo on April 27th you will talk about the case study of “Aponeo at Amazon“, i.e. Aponeo’s experiences from a cooperation with a true ecommerce giant that many companies are in fact afraid of. Could you share more details of this talk so that we all could get even more excited?
Hartmut Deiwick, Aponeo: On the one hand, it is good to be afraid of Amazon. On the other hand, each ecommerce company has to go where the customers are. And you can benefit not only from the great amount of people you are able to address via the Amazon marketplaces, but you can also benefit from the highly attractive payment model Amazon has established. Last but not least, gaining experience and learning the dos and don’ts will probably help you when dealing with other giants such as Alibaba.
E-commerce Capitals: Your E-commerce Berlin Expo audience will consist of people coming from different CEE countries and representing businesses of different sizes. Apart from the ability to share your great knowledge, what do you personally perceive as the biggest advantages of such meetings?
Hartmut Deiwick, Aponeo: Almost every ecommerce company seeks to become an international player. Networking on an international level is therefore a good thing to do. Apart from that, getting insights into other branches and other countries is always helpful.
Hartmut Deiwick will speak to the audience of E-commerce Berlin Expo that is taking place on April 27th, 2016, in Postbahnhof, Berlin. The title of his talk is "Case Study "APONEO at Amazon": Payment, Distribution and Internationalization".