On August 11, 1994, Phil Brandenberger of Philadelphia placed the first online order using a secure credit card payment system. The New York Times covered the event and described it as “one small click for a man, one giant leap for the economy”.1
This first electronic transaction of $12.48 for a Sting album marked the advent of an industry that has since grown steadily: e-commerce. This industry encompasses the concepts of B2C (business-to-consumer, or retail e-commerce, i.e. manufacturers or retailers selling their products directly to consumers online) and B2B (or business-to-business e-commerce, i.e. specialized companies offering other companies services or products online that they need to operate and grow).
In 1999, global e-commerce reached $150 billion, and sales figures continued to explode. In 2017, global e-commerce transactions generated $29.367 billion. 2
A new economy
Despite the growth of this new transaction method and its success in numbers, the full employment seen in today’s economy has an impact on businesses, especially retail businesses, when it comes to recruiting and retaining workers.
Some of these businesses are struggling to put enough employees on the floor to serve their customers, while others have to reduce their opening hours at several branches to compensate for the lack of staff.
As a result, we can—and must—centre companies’ marketing discussions on recruitment, integration and retention, and we must do so now. Beyond that, we can—and must—talk about employee experience (or “EX”) in the same way as customer experience (or “CX”).
B2E for your employees
In this context, the concept of intra-company e-commerce, commonly known as “B2E” or business-to-employee e-commerce, is a new business opportunity that can generate new sources of revenue and reduce operating costs, while increasing employee retention.
Good news: if your company has an e-commerce structure, you are already ready to start B2E because you have the technology and know-how in your hands. All you have to do is open this structure up to your employees!
The possibility of B2E
Employees are a company’s most important resource, and they often resemble its customers. They are brand ambassadors every time they set foot in your store, just like your customers are when they consume your products. It is therefore essential to recruit the right people and be able to retain them.
However, at present, retention is left up to the HR team, which does not necessarily have the expertise required to build a full-fledged employee experience from A to Z. We don’t treat our employees the same way we treat our customers. As a result, we don’t invest enough in their retention.
Take, for example, the GET/KEEP/GROW marketing conversion funnel. This is the path that the customer must follow in the business-customer relationship. Most companies develop their strategies based on these three main steps for their customers.
However, how many of these companies do the same for their employees, despite the tangible and intangible benefits of a low turnover rate within a company?
- How do you find your employees?
- How do you keep them?
- How do you help them grow within your organization?
B2E can answer the last two questions by allowing you to leverage your existing IT tools to implement loyalty initiatives, advance sales for employees, rewards through returned, open-box and final sale goods, and inventory management.
Of course, there are others, but these are the four that we had the opportunity to test and validate with our clients.
In 2019, a Deloitte survey reported that about a quarter of employees found that their organization’s retention program was aligned with clear retention objectives.
In contrast, in a 2016 Harvard Business Review publication, JetBlue stated that a 10% increase in the use of its internal loyalty program had resulted in a 3% increase in retention… which is huge!
Even if your company already offers this type of program, it would be beneficial to ask yourself: does this program fit within a greater retention strategy?
The key: “Keep it simple, stupid!” In other words, complex loyalty programs do not work.
In our context, a simple plug-in on your e-commerce platform can transform points given to your employees into money to spend on your platform.
Let’s look at this strategy in action: take, for example, employees who have not missed a shift and have shown positive energy at work, or those who exceed expectations or celebrate an additional year of service. Thanks to your loyalty program, they will be able to purchase one of your products through your website by accumulating points.
Some will think that this nice gesture means a loss of income. To this, we answer: “How much does your turnover rate cost you?”
2. Employee pre-lauches
Nowadays, employees are no longer simply subordinates. On the contrary, in most companies, they are often a reflection of your customers and, at the same time, your best sellers.
Plus, modern corporate cultures encourage employees to get involved in decision-making, which naturally increases their sense of belonging. If we start from these premises, your employees are the best possible test group. So why not involve them in an effort to pre-launch and internally test new products before a large-scale market release?
Are you working on a new product or concept? Do you need feedback before you launch it or it goes on the shelves? You can, of course, use external testers or discussion groups, but why not also consult your own employees?
If you are talking about a tangible item, such as a new object or application you want to sell, a clothing collection, etc., let your employees try it out and ask for their opinion.
Through them, you will indirectly gain new revenue, quick feedback for improvement, and employee engagement. Plus, it will allow them to quickly familiarize themselves with your products and—if they like them—promote them!
If it is an intangible element instead (e.g., if your employees embody your new corporate values, embrace your vision, get involved in your company or promote your new practices, expertise, etc.), you can reward this enthusiasm by giving them loyalty points.
For companies that already sell their product on their online platform, simply create user accounts and make available a section with new low-cost products, accessible only to a single group of customers: your employees.
This approach is a recipe for success, as it involves few risks, has a low cost and will allow you to reward your employees.
3. Rewards through returned, non-saleable and open-box products
What about the infamous returned goods that can hardly be resold, or items at the end of the season or the end of the collection?
If you are Burberry, the answer is simple: you burn them. In fact, Burberry burned the equivalent of $40 million in returns of unsold goods and merchandise last year. If you are Amazon, you throw them away.3
In the United States, in 2018, returns cost merchants $350 billion in lost sales. This figure represents about 30% of all sales, and will only increase with e-commerce.4
The American store Revolve, which generated $400 million in 2017, managed more than $350 million in returns… and that doesn’t even include shipping costs! 5
Why not put these products back on the market on your site and offer them at a discount (or even for free) to your employees and their family members? If your ERP already manages returns, you only have a few steps left before you can resell them online.
Bringing products that would be forgotten back to life is good for the environment and doesn’t cost your company much. Plus, this practice could increase your employees’ sense of belonging, which will necessarily make them happier.
4. Inventory management
For large companies, inventory management (computer equipment, telephones, software, office supplies, vehicles, etc.) often causes headaches in the procurement department. It can also be a source of frustration for employees, who often need this equipment quickly to perform their duties.
You can manage inventory through an e-commerce site, where quotas can be allocated to employees. This site also allows for better tracking of purchases based on actual demand and better planning of future purchases with a clear, real-time view of inventory.
Plus, thanks to a dedicated portal, employees can request equipment themselves without having to go through their immediate manager. The best part of all this? The system will track the entire ordering process, from the initial request to the employee’s receipt of the product.
The strength of the procurement system is that it can be developed independently or by linking a company’s e-commerce site with its ERP. This allows for full inventory management, as this aspect is usually managed within the ERP itself.
In an increasingly competitive economy where labour is scarce and employee retention plays a growing role, companies must innovate in order to stand out and ensure that potential candidates become loyal, motivated and productive employees.
Although B2E is a potential solution that deserves to be explored, in case of uncertainty, it is better to seek out an objective partner. This partner can help you make the best decision about your existing tools, how to get the most out of them, and how to transform them into tools that will contribute to improving your corporate culture, thereby promoting employee retention.
1 – Druelle, V. (2019, November 14). Définition e-commerce : son histoire, des chiffres clés. https://audit-site-ecommerce.com/definition-e-commerce/.
2 – E-commerce. (2019, November 20).Https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-commerce.
3 – Burberry stops burning unsold goods and using real fur. (2018, September 6). Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/business-45430683.
4 – Limmack, S. B. R. (2001). Takeovers and shareholder returns in the retail industry. The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, 11(1), 1–21. doi: 10.1080/09593960121986
5 – Pandey, E. (2018, October 9). An e-commerce pitfall: never-ending returns. Retrieved from https://www.axios.com/ecommerce-retail-returns-loss-revolve-amazon-fe6d49b0-0f29-4f6b-8b15-f1ec0bae3621.html.