E-fulfilment in the case of Ecomedia AG

01. September 2001

The e-business solution of Ecomedia AG is a multi-tier B2B application for computer and office accessories. Based on a well-devised and excellently maintained database, customers are offered the possibility to purchase via CD-ROM and website. As a supplement for B2B customers, Ecomedia offers a Web shop which B2B customers can install on their website – in turn for their B2C customers. This additional service is already being used by several B2B customers. This is a very innovative form of customer retention and sales generation. Additional steps for even better customer loyalty and customer satisfaction are the Pocket EcoGuide and EcoMail. The Pocket EcoGuide is a mobile Point of Information (POI). EcoMail provides the possibility to order via mail, which is then automatically fed into the ERP system. This interface can later also be used for other transmission formats (XLM, FTP, etc.).

1. The company

Ecomedia AG was founded in 1986 in Ebmatingen CH; it has been based in Volketswil CH since 1994.

From the onset Ecomedia saw itself as a partner for the specialised trade and offered a broad range of printer accessories. The takeover of KEYMAX General Agency in 1987 with a complete assortment of compatible ink ribbons, toners and inks formed an initial milestone.

A further important step was taken in 1993 with the first distribution agreement for original accessories. Since then Ecomedia has experienced rapid growth. The product range has been consistently expanded; with new brands in printer accessories and also new product groups such as data media, P-Touch and PC and office accessories.

Ecomedia now offers by far the broadest range of printer consumables from one source in Switzerland. With more than 50 employees, it achieved an annual turnover of over CHF 120 million in 2000. The share capital of CHF 500,000.00 is completely in private hands.

Consumables for printers are a constantly growing market with a very short-lived product range. For suppliers – such as Ecomedia – the challenge lies in keeping up to date and permanently reviewing the product mix. In Switzerland, Ecomedia is the market leader for inks, toners and ink ribbons.

The central advertising element is printer know-how and the consumables required for this. Here knowledge of old models plays a key role.

The market volume for printer accessories in Switzerland is currently put at 400 to 500 million CHF by experts. There are no competitors with a comparable product range or service in the Internet.

Ecomedia’s product range includes consumables for printers, fax machines and typewriters. The core products are ink, toners and ink ribbons of all the well-known brands. At present the databank contains over 30,000 data records for printer models and over 6000 accessory articles. Information can be found here not only on state-of-the-art equipment but also typewriters about to hit the 100-year mark. This represents an important information source for the specialised trade.

Target group
The target group of Ecomedia is comprised exclusively of resellers. The products are only supplied to office and specialist IT suppliers, stationer’s and specialist discount stores, and, with very few exceptions, the public service sector.

2. e-business vision and e-business strategy

The e-business vision of Ecomedia is to exhaust the potential of new media in order to further increase customer loyalty and optimize sales processes through pragmatic solutions. There is a very strong focus on the needs of customers here. Anything that makes it easier for the customer to sell the Ecomedia range is wholeheartedly supported. The core element in this connection is the database, which not only contains product information, but also offers a service where customers can input their own article number and read off on the screen the prices which currently apply to them.

Ecomedia aims to consistently improve customer loyalty with its innovative solutions and further expand its position as market leader.

The vision of offering customers every possible option so that they can input order data automatically into the ERP system is process-related. In this way, the vision of supply chain management could then become reality for the specialised trade.
Steps in this direction that are implemented in the summer of 2001:

1. The Pocket EcoGuide (POI)
2. EcoMail (multi-format interface)


Provider’s e-business concept
The key advertising advantage for Ecomedia is the EcoGuide, a CD-ROM with an application software and the extensive database covering all standard inks, toners and ink ribbons. This tool was introduced in 1997. Customers stored the software locally at their premises and were thus able to access all the data at any time. The system was updated by sending out CDs containing the latest information.

The next step to utilising the Internet was taken in order to make it easier to update this data and to form an additional distribution channel. As Ecomedia concentrates on its core business, it was clear that this application could not be developed in-house, but would be outsourced to Polynorm AG, the company that had already successfully developed and implemented the ERP systems. The fund required for the e-business applications were made available on the orders of the management.

Scope of services
The multi-faceted e-business applications of Ecomedia were summarised under the name e-supplies (e-business by Ecomedia). This name reflects the strategic goal. In concrete terms, this includes the following applications:

Fig. 2.1: e-supplies of Ecomedia AG
Fig. 2.1: e-supplies of Ecomedia AG

The EcoGuide 3.0 is the offline program that represents the compatibilities of over 30,000 printer and machine models and approximately 6000 accessory articles of Ecomedia. It offers a wealth of retrieval possibilities, so that the full range of Ecomedia products can be accessed with a few mouse clicks. Customers can link up to obtain an update and to send orders online via the Web interface.

EcoWeb is the password-protected specialised trade frontend on the Ecomedia website. Besides information about new printers, new prices and a wealth of other news on accessories, direct access to the databases is above all important. Orders can be placed online. The status of outstanding orders can be obtained any time.

On the freely accessible part of the website, basic information is provided for the end user.

Here the prime consideration was also B2B customer use. Thus, the heading “Where to buy” offers general surfers access to specialised trade addresses (B2B customers of Ecomedia).

Since spring 2001, Ecomedia has been offering the EcoShop. This tool contains Ecomedia’s full product range in words and pictures as well as the access possibilities known through the EcoWeb. When integrated in the web presence of the business customer, it makes their website the perfect accessories shop. Incoming orders are verified by the business customer and – if required – are sent electronically to the Ecomedia system for processing.

The pocket Ecoguide is an application which was designed for a hand-held device (HP Jornada 720). The pocket Ecoguide is intended to give the specialist stockist greater mobility when accessing article data. An order is not possible via this tool. It is therefore purely a POI tool.

The application was designed for use with an HP Jornada 720, on the assumption that it could then be used on other hand-held devices. In technical terms, the information is exported from the EcoGuide application into a special pocket database. The pocket application then accesses this directly.

The EcoMail offers a flexible service interface for the ERP system i/2 for an electronic counterpart. It relies on the Java-based “SonicMQ” messaging system from Progress. As an initial step, the application is used for processing email orders, which allows customer systems to process the ordering procedure on a purely electronic basis. The processing of other formats and the inclusion of additional services such as catalogue downloads are planned. A key aspect for the fulfilment process is the recognition of customer-specific parameters (workflow) for executing an order. In this case, this might be a special form of financial reporting, for example, or delivery note contents.


Fulfilment partner
The logistics fulfilment partner of Ecomedia is the postal service.

Even before the launch of the Ecomedia WebGuide, all orders were delivered by post. Haulage contractors are only used in a small percentage of cases (less than 10%). As a third alternative, the customer also has the option of collecting the goods directly from Ecomedia. This service is used by approximately 1% of customers.

Overall the move towards Internet use has not led to any innovations in logistics implementation, as, in the case of online orders, this is just an – additional, automated – method via which data enters the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Once the data is in the system, it is processed further just like data that is recorded in the traditional, manual way.

Payment processing is carried out exclusively via billing. This is possible as long-term customer relationships with business customers are involved. New customers are screened by checking their entry in the Commercial Register.

Debt collection has also been carried out on a strictly in-house basis since the introduction of the Internet. Polynorm AG (ERP and e-business application provider).

Polynorm is a Swiss IT company which has been operating for over 15 years and has approximately 50 experts from all kinds of specialist areas. The basis of their business operations is the standard software i/2, an ERP solution developed completely by the company, which supports the business processes of Ecomedia in terms of IT.

The abbreviation for the ERP system i/2 stands for “Innovation and Integration”. Both refer to the customer benefit of i/2:

  • Innovation to promote the company and
  • Integration of the entire corporate IT

The motto “Integration instead of isolation“ was a key aspect of the Ecomedia Internet solution. In contrast to many e-commerce solutions which are operated nowadays in isolation from exisitng IT systems, the Ecomedia solution is a fully integrated system. All business-related data is only stored in one place and is accessed dynamically from all end systems (i/2-own frontend, EcoGuide, EcoWeb, etc.).

This procedure has a big advantage, namely the sectoral know-how that has been implemented in the i/2 solution and further developed has produced a stable and proven IT solution. The e-commerce application does not require a new logic, but can be integrated into the existing system. The application logic is therefore reused 1:1.

Ecomedia customers can access and order the full product range at all times. The ERP system i/2 from Polynorm has also been completely integrated online. Data is never replicated or kept redundant. Thus, goods availability, individual customer conditions, various special product features and current promotions are included dynamically.

The already explained, customer-specific EcoWeb is only possible due to this complete integration. It involves a combination of original EcoGuides (telephone/fax orders) and the new Internet-based applications (Internet orders).
Polynorm supplied the basic i/2 ERP system, programmed the online access to the database and the customer online update service, which it preferred to process locally. They also developed all additional tools for multifunctional use of the database.

The design of the website was prepared by the advertising agency Walder in Uster, a long-standing partner of Ecomedia. Conversion into HTML and the preparation of all static HTML website templates was carried out by the agency STIMMT. The transformation of the static pages into dynamic pages which can supply the contents of the database was realised by Polynorm AG.

Internet Agency
STIMMT AG is a consultancy firm which has evolved from a small web service provider. Founded in 1998 as a one-man business and then expanding to a four-man company, STIMMT initially offered web design and web programming. The idea then was to earn a bit of money parallel to studying. Customers include redsafe.com, Aargauische Kantonalbank and Compaq Computer (Schweiz) GmbH.

Choice of partner
In the logistics segment, the postal services were the obvious choice from the onset. Nothing has changed here either since the launch of the web-based solution, since the order volumes have essentially remained the same.

Owing to the excellent cooperation when launching the i/2 ERP system, it was clear to Ecomedia that expansion in the direction of the Internet could only take place with the same partner. This was especially true with regard to central data management.
When choosing a partner, the company relied on a reference from a business partner and therefore chose STIMMT AG.

3. Fulfilment solution

Type of fulfilment service
At Ecomedia two online fulfilment solutions are possible.


In general, only specialist stockists, i.e. business customers, can order from Ecomedia. They log in with their user names and password. The access authorisation for the database is linked to the user name and password. This means customers can directly access all product data, combined with the customer-specific prices, and – if available – its own article numbers.

Fig. 3.1 Website Ecomedia AG
Fig. 3.1 Website Ecomedia AG

All customers have access to the following search functions (“Find“), i.e. the search for articles according to official/personal article numbers and brands. The ordered articles are sent to business customers, with the bill included, by parcel or letter post.

Indirect B2C

As a second option, the business customer can have the consignment sent directly to its end customer, with its own supporting documents. In this way, the goods can be delivered quicker and at no extra cost to the business customer. The end customer is billed via the business customer (specialised traders).

Fig. 3.2: Online order form of Ecomedia with additional functionality
Fig. 3.2: Online order form of Ecomedia with additional functionality

The costs for postage are partly passed onto customers. The delivery cost structure:

  • Free delivery per economy parcel or lorry from CHF 500.00 upwards per order
  • Costs contribution of 9.50 CHF for deliveries under CHF 500.00
  • Surcharge of CHF 2.00 for a priority parcel
  • Surcharge of CHF 18.50 for Swiss Express delivery on the following day
  • Surcharge of CHF 26.00 for Swiss Express same day delivery
  • Surcharge of CHF 15.00 for cash on delivery

4. Implementation

The processes within Ecomedia have only changed slightly since the introduction of the new business applications. If an online order is received, it is accepted by an interface module. By this point, various plausibility checks and controls have already been carried out by the EcoWeb or EcoGuide applications. Within the framework of the order interface, the logical veracity of the order is now checked by a member of staff, i.e., for example, to check whether the size of the order makes sense.

Simply by the Ecomedia employee acknowledging the order on the screen the order is then inputted into the ERP system.

Software solution/programming
During development, the web pages were prepared by STIMMT based on HTML after stipulating the design. These templates were integrated into the webspeed runtime environment by Polynorm, so that the dynamic data could already be retrieved from the i/2 ERP system. Ecomedia could therefore already carry out the application live early on and give its feedback for further development.

Development of the application was partly carried out at different locations; in some cases the programmers met up at one location to work together. This allowed optimum integration of the various system modules on the technical side, too.

Technical platform [system architecture]
Altogether three servers are in use for the e-business solutions with the operating system Windows and a server for the ERP system. The three e-business servers are protected by a firewall. The firewall has to be overcome to access the ERP server. Thus, maximum possible security is guaranteed.

The diagram below shows the basic structure.

Fig. 4.1: Technical architecture
Fig. 4.1: Technical architecture

5. Operation/use

The entire e-business solution is maintained in-house. Thanks to the simple structure and clear masks, products or new customers can be recorded by experienced employees in no time at all. Maintenance of the customer-specific article numbers is also carried out by Ecomedia.

In the event that orders are not automatically processed by the ERP system, because, for example, a product is not in stock or a malfunction occurs, this can be tracked online at all times.

The basis for operation of the e-business solution is the ERP system. The following tools have gradually been installed on. The investment for this was on the following scale:

EcoGuide approx. 250,000 CHF
EcoWeb approx. 250,000 CHF
EcoShop approx. 100,000 CHF
Pocket EcoGuide approx. 60,000 CHF
EcoMail approx. 70,000 CHF

Operation of the Ecomedia e-business solution generates additional ongoing costs on a modest scale. Operation of the server costs on average CHF 50,000 a year (without own personnel). Additional costs for the systems are only incurred if modifications are required.

Exact quantification of the achieved additional sales through the online presence is not directly possible, although it is clear that more new customers have been gained and sales increased by over 40% from 1999 to 2000.

In summer 2001, the online share of total sales stood at more than 20%. The future scenario of Ecomedia assumes that this share could be expanded to more than 50% in 2-3 years.

The integrated handling of data recorded online has had an effect on staffing needs internally, as all orders received by telephone, letter or fax have to be inputted into the system manually. Turnover per employee has increased significantly.

6. Success factors

Both Ecomedia and Polynorm see data quality and the fact that data is only stored in one place as a key factor in the application’s success. This consistent approach facilitates precise and coherent working practices.

Another important point is the concentration on the effective customer benefit, as the applications will only be used if the customer sees a clear advantage/benefit in using them. In this case the sales which have already been achieved show that the EcoWeb and EcoShop e-business solutions are appreciated and used by customers and that they therefore represent a clear added value.

Specialities of the solution
The speciality of the solution lies in the further development of ordering possibilities in the direction of direct data transfer from the customer to Ecomedia.

The creation of a multi-format interface, with the ecomail application, represents the basis of a future supply chain management solution for the specialised trade.

Unique selling proposition
The reason why customers use the Ecomedia platform is mainly due to its practicability. If a retail customer comes to a specialist stockist, for example, and asks for an ink ribbon for an Olympia typewriter from 1985, the dealer can search for it simply and quickly in the EcoGuide or in the EcoWeb. As soon as the correct model has been found, the dealer can process the order immediately. If the customer does not want to collect the ink ribbon from the dealer, the dealer can arrange for the goods to be sent to the customer in the same operation, and can even arrange for the dealer’s delivery note to be included. This means customers feel that they receive an all-round service from the dealer. The retail customer is billed by the dealer.

The Internet solution has clearly simplified the process for all orders which are recived online. The orders do not have to be recorded afterwards manually and are inputted directly into the ERP via the order interface.

Lessons learned
On the whole, the implementation of the e-business solutions went according to plan. Both partners ascribe the successful realisation to the clear division of tasks and the fact that all solution modules came from a single source. This simplified coordination and communication significantly. It was clean at all stages of the project who was responsible for what.

Another point to mention is definitely also the energetic but friendly working environment to which both partners (Ecomedia and Polynorm) contribute.

The core element remains the concentration on an application logic which ensures that data is only available once and at one location. This necessitates the full integration of all systems within the company.

Owner/s of the solution

Ecomedia AG
Peter Bühler, Management
Industry: Wholesale & retail trade, Printer accessories
Company size: Medium-sized enterpriseEcomedia AG

Solution partner/s

Harald Baron, Consultant
Polynorm Software AG

Case study author/s

Martina Dalla Vecchia
Dalla Vecchia

01. September 2001
Dalla Vecchia; Martina (2001): Ecomedia AG case study in: Dettling; Walter; Schubert; Petra; Wölfle; Ralf (Ed.; Fulfillment in e-business – Practical concepts by innovative companies; pp. 87-101; Munich; Vienna: Hanser Verlag; 2001

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