Dusseldorf If you want to know which large online shop in Germany grew the fastest in the past year, you shouldn’t look at Amazon. Or the Otto Group. Or the fashion retailer Zalando.
The hardware store chain Hornbach increased sales in its web shop by 86.2 percent last year – more than any other in the recently published top 20 list by the retail research institute EHI. With a turnover of 431 million euros, hornbach.de moved up to 20th place – and clearly left Obi and Bauhaus behind.
Why is a medium-sized company from the Palatinate province, in the sixth generation majority owned by the family, so successful in e-commerce? For Andreas Schobert, Chief Technology Officer on the Hornbach Management Board, the answer is clear: “Anyone who wants to offer their customers something in e-commerce that goes beyond the standard must also become a technology company.”
Hornbach has its own development team, 80 people alone for the web shop, the app and the corresponding interfaces. “Technology is an essential factor for us and that is why we continue to invest in it sustainably,” emphasizes Schobert.
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In this way, the company has developed features that differentiate it from many of its competitors. Customers at hornbach.de can see immediately where products are available in the nearest store if their store does not have enough items in stock. This function is also used by employees in customer meetings in the store.
Automatic credit when price drops
Many DIY store operators are currently suffering from supply problems due to the disruptions in global logistics chains, as the DIY, building and gardening trade association (BHB) has just confirmed once again. There are “still noticeable effects for the markets to be feared for some time,” said BHB Managing Director Peter Wüst. Here, too, it helps enormously to have up-to-date stocks of all markets online at all times.
A key business principle at Hornbach is that the company does not give discounts, but does offer a long-term low price guarantee. Implementing that with a standard system in e-commerce was not that easy, says Schobert.
“We have modified the standard check-out of our web shop a bit and can therefore offer customers an extended long-term low price guarantee,” he explains. The customer receives an account with Hornbach that saves all purchases. “If we lower prices within 30 days, the customer automatically receives the difference as credit for the next purchase.”
Hornbach was also one of the first dealers to offer free WiFi in the area to enable customers to compare prices online. That takes courage, but it worked, said Schobert.
In sum, such ideas would have a real leverage effect, says the Hornbach board of directors. “There must be reasons why we develop better than the competition,” he says. “Just setting up an online shop no longer works today.”
The same technology as Aldi and Intersport
In order to further improve performance, Hornbach is now switching to a completely new shop system in e-commerce. If the company had previously used SAP software, it is now introducing the new technology from the start-up Spryker, which Aldi, Hilti, Mytheresa and Intersport are already using.
First, a web shop based on Spryker technology was built for the newly founded subsidiary Bodenhaus, a specialty store for floor coverings. Then Hornbach converted the Luxembourg market. Now the entire online business is gradually being converted. “If everything goes well, we want to be finished with it in the coming year,” says Schobert.
The technology agency Turbine Kreutzberg is supporting Hornbach with the changeover to the new system – an “open heart operation”, as Turbine-Kreutzberg managing director Christopher Möhle emphasizes.
But here, too, it helps that Hornbach sees itself not only as a dealer. “From our point of view, Hornbach has the technology in its DNA,” emphasizes Möhle, who has already supported numerous dealers with the introduction of the Spryker system. Otherwise the company would not be able to keep the important developers at all. “And we, as a service provider, can still learn a lot from Hornbach, and that worked well,” he adds.
“If you are active in such a market that changes so quickly, you should also have the technological competence in your own organization,” confirms the expert Möhle. You should get impulses from outside when you introduce new technology. “And Hornbach did that very cleverly,” he says.
More market share in the competitive industry
“For a retailer this means a complete cultural change in the head,” notes Schobert and admits: “That wasn’t easy for us either when we started back then.” Today, the online share of sales at Hornbach is already 20 percent.
For comparison: According to the Online Monitor 2021 of the German Retail Association (HDE), the online share in the do-it-yourself trade is just 2.8 percent on average. And even if you include the business of pure online retailers who also sell hardware store articles, the HDE figures in the industry only give you an online share of 7.1 percent.
What also helped with the strong growth is that Hornbach assigned every online customer to a market and the sales were then credited to this market. “Precisely because we don’t want to separate online and brick-and-mortar business,” explains the Hornbach board member.
Hornbach is convinced that the retailer will be even better prepared for future growth in online trading with the new technology. Technology expert Möhle sees it similarly: “That is the answer to a high level of dynamism in the development of e-commerce. If you have a modular and flexible system, you can react to it more quickly. ”
Do not put a monolith into the world in the area that you think will last 20 years. “It’s not a construction machine that you write off over many years,” says Möhle.
The numbers at least suggest that Hornbach is on the right track. In the first half of the financial year, which begins in March, the retailer again increased its online sales by almost 50 percent. And while sales fell significantly in the highly competitive industry according to the BHB figures, Hornbach was able to slightly increase total sales in the DIY store division as a result.
More: Hornbach board member: “In Paris and New York girls are socialized differently”