Digitalization of Chemical Sales Exploring the Frontiers of Chemical e-Commerce in China

Conducting business on digital platforms is common for many consumer goods, but e-commerce for chemical products is still in its early stages. At yesterday's Achema Worldwide Business Forum, attendees heard from companies who have begun to implement strategies for establishing B2B e-commerce activities in China.

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From left to right: Claas Klasen (Evonik), Juliet Ma (Molbase), Grace Li (Evonik), Dirk Wurster (Covestro), Derwin Wong (Covestro)
From left to right: Claas Klasen (Evonik), Juliet Ma (Molbase), Grace Li (Evonik), Dirk Wurster (Covestro), Derwin Wong (Covestro)
(Source: Jose Poblete/Dechema)

Due to a number of factors, including a robust mobile phone culture, China sits at the forefront of digital business for chemicals. Specialty chemical manufacturer Evonik shared its experiences in building an e-commerce presence in China. Claas Klasen, president of Evonik's Asia-Pacific North (APN) division, said that using digital platforms to sell chemicals offers significant opportunities for the specialty chemicals market, but also requires significant changes to corporate culture.

Klasen was joined by colleague Grace Li, head of communications at Evonik APN, who discussed several prominent digital platforms that boast widespread use in China. First among them is the mobile phone platform WeChat, which claims over 889 million monthly users in China. Li explained that WeChat has become an indispensible aspect of life for many Chinese, who use the app to pay for goods and as a social media outlet. There are more than 12 million businesses using WeChat as well, Li pointed out. Evonik monitors and analyzes the behavior of its followers on WeChat, enabling the company to deliver a customized digital experience to its followers for tasks such as requesting chemical samples, for example, Li said.

Another company leading chemical e-commerce in China is Covestro. Dirk Wurster, head of product management at Covestro, said his company is taking a "human-centric" approach to digital business in China, in part by creating "virtual customer personas" to help improve digital customer experience. "We want to give our customers various options to source our materials," Wurster said, the goal being to make buying chemical materials "as easy as ordering a book on Amazon." Using 1688.com, the Chinese version of e-commerce site Alibaba.com, Covestro offers customers a pathway to finding products, inquiring about samples, accessing customer support and e-ordering, and others.

Derwin Wong, of Covestro China's polycarbonates business unit, said that his company launched its online flagship store on 1688.com in April. Evonik's store on 1688.com has existed since late 2017. Forum attendees also heard from Juliet Ma, general manager of start-up B2B chemicals e-commerce platform Molbase, which acts as an interface between chemical suppliers and buyers.

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