Many steelmakers have spent decades carrying out their commercial activity solely through traditional sales channels. One specialized steel manufacturer has decided to do the opposite and took sales online. Since then, the steel producer has made substantial investments in digitizing sales and plans to move even deeper into the e-Commerce business.

Teodora Gaici

Author Teodora Gaici | Copperberg

Photo: Freepik

SSAB is a global manufacturer that has been making steel since 1878. Commended for its scope to significantly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, SSAB is revolutionizing steelmaking and playing a leading role in decarbonizing the steel industry. Over the past months, the manufacturer has continued to make headway on its sustainability initiatives. Plus, just as remarkably, SSAB has signaled an ambitious shift in commercial activity—putting a lot of effort and thought into pivoting to online steel sales.

Elina Aalto, Head of Digital Commerce at SSAB, talked about “Adding Steel to Cart” at Copperberg’s e-Connect event, which aimed to discuss how the race for digital commerce is shaping up in manufacturing across Europe. This article presents some of the key takeaways from Elina Aalto’s session at e-Connect, delving into what has prompted SSAB’s shift to e-Commerce, what the approach looks like, and what might happen next.

Why a Leading Steel Manufacturer Turned to e-Commerce

Experts at SSAB have worked intensely to take steel sales online. One reason for interest in the pivot to e-Commerce is that it has presented the manufacturer with a perfect opportunity to improve customer service. A big part of why the steel manufacturer sought to invest in digital commerce was to simplify the customer’s life and build stronger relationships with its clients. To further the aim of delivering excellent customer service, SSAB also set out to effectively respond to changes in procurement practices.

But the manufacturer has made an entry into the e-Commerce space to generate business, too. For this reason, SSAB has ventured to identify fresh cross-selling and upselling opportunities and pursue new customers with new offerings. A goal to increase stock sales to small customers has also been put forward on the agenda.

Plus, as part of the e-Commerce strategy, SSAB has planned to strengthen its capabilities. To this end, the steel producer has shown much interest in improving sales and order-to-cash processes. Additional aims included getting new customer data to boost service offerings and setting up a solid base for future transformation.

How e-Commerce Works When Selling Steel

As it prepared to launch into the e-Commerce world, SSAB had to engage in several harmonization efforts across the company. Though SSAB’s top management has shown a strong commitment to digital commerce, the manufacturer had to contend, at that time, with remote work, analog sales processes, a fragmented technological landscape, and, among others, layoffs resulting from COVID-19.

It wasn’t always easy, but SSAB has successfully managed to go live with an e-Commerce site last summer. All went according to plan. Keeping customers at the core of its digital commerce strategy, SSAB intended to:

  • Make ordering simpler, quicker, and more convenient for the client
  • Move beyond basic e-Commerce functionalities and provide customers with more add-ons

Today, SSAB’s customers have the possibility to find and order steel in seconds. But there is more to it than that. Through a highly functional e-Commerce site, the steel producer has focused on offering:

  • Insight into the live availability of products
  • Personalized search filters
  • Customer-specific prices that automatically apply at the login
  • Real-time order history across all sales channels and backends
  • Order-related documents and material certificates
  • Order tracking and delivery estimates

Transparency matters, so the ​e-Commerce shop was built in such a way to provide full transparency towards customers. Moreover, the company has developed a commercial product data model enriched from raw ERP data to facilitate customer decision-making. It has also announced a commitment to regularly monitoring user paths—aiming to “optimize [user paths] through findings from data and session recordings,” according to SSAB’s Head of Digital Commerce.

There certainly is a long path ahead of anyone who sets out to sell steel online. Nevertheless, it is an incredibly fruitful journey to undertake, says Elina Aalto. But everyone involved in the tremendous effort of launching a digital steel store must be fully aware of the benefits it can drive. This way, a company can bring more key stakeholders on board with e-Commerce:

“Constantly repeating the benefits of e-Commerce is the key to success. Spread the joy, and the results will come.” — Elina Aalto, Head of Digital Commerce at SSAB

For SSAB, getting off to a successful start with e-Commerce had ultimately come down to a structured change management approach that actively promoted open dialogue.

What the Future Looks Like for a Steel Manufacturer Taking the e-Commerce Route

SSAB has successfully established itself as an e-Commerce player. However, the company’s Head of Digital Commerce believes this only marks the first step towards even more ambitious targets. What exactly are SSAB’s long-term goals?

At this year’s edition of e-Connect, Elina Aalto has revealed some of the current and future priorities of the company’s e-Commerce plan:

“We are a worldwide company, so scaling up into new countries is the aim. I think that, in a few years, we will be able to cover the key markets […]. Then, engaging with customers in the markets is a key focus for us as well as understanding what other functionalities and capabilities clients need. And now, we only have stock sales. So we also want to expand to other sales channels. We will have direct mail orders, too—hopefully in a few years.” — Elina Aalto, Head of Digital Commerce at SSAB

The steel manufacturer wants to stay one step ahead of customers at all times. At present, a central focus of the company is collecting data to understand and respond to additional client demands. Another important priority is thinking ahead of the customer to identify what processes must be set into place before the client makes a request.

Register here for on-demand access to Copperberg’s e-Connect event and hear directly from Elina Aalto about SSAB’s experience of rolling out a successful e-Commerce initiative.

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