When Blue Rock opened its doors back in 2005, we had no customers requiring an e-commerce front end to their business. Though prominent in the multi-national businesses, the progress by the independent construction materials suppliers in the UK was slow. The “traditional merchant” with its trade counters, sales desks and fields sales teams were very much the norm.
Blue Rock’s first experience in this field was integrating the old legacy system, Xeres, into a best of breed, self-built e–commerce solution at one of our larger construction material suppliers. Whilst the technology bridge between a 30-year-old legacy system and a modern e-commerce platform proved to be a challenge – it did work, and still works today.
The introduction of Blue Commerce
It was, by request from some of our smaller customers, that we embarked on providing our own in-house solution, as well as continuing to integrate with third party solutions. The rationale behind the request was to enable the ambitious but modest sized merchant and distributor to get an “e-commerce toe in the water” without potentially high installation and running costs, and without the complexity of dealing with separate business software and web solution providers. Many wanted a “one stop shop” with one team to talk with to resolve any issues and develop a solution.
Blue Rock did not want to recreate the wheel, so instead opted to use a world class e–commerce solution, NOPCOMMERCE, as the basis of the web shop. It has 60,000 stores, was very modern in design and technology, and was free to download meaning that we could concentrate on the more challenging task of creating as full as integration as possible to avoid the replication of merchant’s (as distributors were not quite so complex) pricing terms. To appeal to the bulk of our customers, who did not have the resource or budget to maintain an in-house web team, we wanted to make the maintenance of the data between the web shop and the business software as minimal as possible.
To achieve this, we created a “live” link between the two systems so that when a trade customer wanted to know their specific price for an item, the web site – which we had named Blue Commerce – would make a real time “call” to the back-office system armed with the relevant data of who the customer was, what were they buying, how many etc. and the back-office system would return the result. One price book to maintain with no overnight or batch updates to the web site – simple.
Increasing efficiency with simplicity
The same process could be applied to credit limits, availability and then later to product attributes and authorised product lists (designed for sub-contractors to use) albeit imagery, technical bulletins and other larger files would be updated in batch or maintained at the web. It wasn’t foreseen but shortages of stock availability and continually fluctuating prices caused by the pandemic increased the importance of having to only maintain a single price file.
On the theme of “keeping it simple” it meant that we could offer the client with a choice of 18 structural web themes leaving us and the customer to brand and setup their own content management – news articles, about us, etc.
Earlier versions of the back-office systems made integration much harder, but with Intact iQ (with its industry standard REST API toolset linking to the web and providing even more seamless connectivity far easier to the extent that our customers), customers can look at their account history, order history, make payments on account, download proof of deliveries (if recorded) and so much more. In addition, we can extend Intact iQ to accommodate our customers e-commerce needs.
Growth since 2018
The take up on our own Blue Commerce solution was slow between 2012 and 2016. Customer confidence backed by improved technology at the web end and the back office, plus an improved delivery team at Blue Rock saw gradual increases in the following two years but, in-line with so many e–commerce specialist houses, Blue Rock’s own Blue Commerce offering exponentially increased over the last 3 years – a classic “Hockey Stick” growth curve. Competitive threat and the disruption caused by COVID have been the primary catalysts behind the increase.
Blue Rock aims to provide our customer with a choice when it comes to e-commerce. They can opt to choose one of the many, exceptionally good and world class solutions, and work with a dedicated e-commerce house, develop a solution in house or opt for Blue Rocks’ Blue Commerce.
There is a ground swell of activity within construction supplies to provide merchants access to Product Information Management (PIM) databases, with a view to minimise the maintenance of product data at independent suppliers and merchants throughout the UK. Blue Rock wholeheartedly supports this initiative with the view that our back-office systems and e-commerce solutions use this data to further minimise administration and increase productivity.
If you feel that your business could benefit from a simplified and streamlined solution to e-commerce, please contact us for a chat.