Bol.com versus Amazon

Bol.com

In terms of their business models, Dutch web shop Bol.com and Amazon are very similar. But the strategy of Bol.com, the Netherlands’ e-commerce market leader, is fundamentally different from that of Amazon. This became clearer than ever to me in October, when I was asked to give a short presentation about the e-fulfilment strategies of leading companies during Bol.com’s webinar for its most important sales partners in the Netherlands and Belgium.

External vendors who sell their products through Bol.com’s web shop are rapidly growing more important than the company’s own range, according to chief executive Huub Vermeulen. Products ordered via the sales partners account for more than half of the total company turnover. Bol.com treats its external vendors as valued business partners and openly shares with them details of the gaps in the web shop’s own range that are revealed by shoppers’ keyword searches.

That’s one thing that Amazon definitely doesn’t do. Unlike Bol.com, the US web giant doesn’t promise it will launch its own versions of products either. When a webinar viewer asked whether Bol.com also planned to launch in France following its expansion in Belgium’s Wallonia region, Vermeulen answered resolutely that it will never happen. That’s logical, because Amazon is already up against a very strong – and bigger – competitor there in the shape of French web shop Veepee (which was called Vente-Privee until 2019).

Strategy of intensive collaboration of Bol.com

With its strategy of intensive collaboration, Bol.com risks failing to live up to the expectations of some consumers, who now have to handle returns themselves with the external vendors. Amazon handles this much better and more smoothly – but in view of its formidable financial position, it can afford to. Brand manufacturers have also criticized Bol.com for being too slow to act to combat counterfeit products that are being sold via the platform by some of the external vendors. Traceability of product origin is crucial for all concerned: consumers, Bol.com itself, the sales partners and the brand manufacturers.

In my opinion, Ahold – Bol.com’s publicly listed parent company – would be wise to support its subsidiary more actively in terms of traceability expertise, by sharing smart QR codes with sales partners and brand manufacturers. That would allow Bol.com to gain an even bigger competitive edge over Amazon.

Martijn Lofvers, Chief Trendwatcher Supply Chain Media
martijn.lofvers@supplychainmedia.nl