Transform Your eCommerce Before You Need to: How WebContinental Competes in a Rapidly-Growing Market


At WebContinental, we are pioneers. Innovation is in our DNA. We opened our first retail stores in 1997, and ten years later, we started selling air conditioners online. We have continued to expand our ecommerce operations since 2007 and now sell home appliances, too.

Today, we’re among the largest marketplaces in Brazil. To stay among the top of ecommerce sites and maintain our leadership in the air conditioning and home appliance market, WebContinental has to keep innovating. Consumer habits and technology are continually evolving, and we have to stay ahead of these changes to offer the best service and selection to our customers.

Our innovative spirit has earned us the trust of Brazil's home appliance and air conditioner shoppers, but it has also attracted the attention of the international financial community. Last year, JPMorgan Chase named us as one of the best ecommerce investment opportunities in Latin America.

About three years ago, we started to experience a disconnect between the scalability of our ecommerce platform and our growth. On average, our online sales have grown by 30% every year. At the same time, we have doubled the size of our business every two years. This upward trajectory is a good problem to have if you are ready to face the challenge. Unfortunately, we lacked the resources to keep up with our increasing revenues, our expanding team, and our growing ambition.

We needed to find a way to ensure we were stocking sufficient quantities of the products that were most in demand. We were also looking for ways to improve our bottom line and to offer a better customer experience by bundling installation and after-sales service with product purchases. After all, if all you can offer is a low price, you'll lose your customer when a competitor undercuts you. But if you assist a customer over the entire life cycle of their purchased product, they're more likely to come back to you in the future.

The Best Time to Change Is When You’re Succeeding

Even though business was booming, we needed to change everything behind the scenes and also everything that was customer-facing. Too many organizations are unwilling to embrace innovation when things are going well, and that's precisely why so many businesses fail. We stop selling last year's refrigerators when the new models come out, so why should we keep using out-of-date business models and ecommerce tools?

Don’t just look to innovate when you’re falling behind. Stay on top of your market by innovating when you’re ahead.

In the same vein, it doesn't make sense to offer the same service packages and the same online shopping experience year after year because that will stall growth. The best way to sustain an upward trajectory is to open up new business channels that offer better value propositions and enhanced customer relations. To do this, you must adopt a change mindset within your organization and then seek out partners who share your vision, and who will help move your business in the right direction.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as being too successful. Demand for some products was so high that we often ran out of stock. Even worse, our servers couldn't handle the number of users who were coming online on the busiest shopping days. We had major outages during our Black Friday and Christmas sales. We lost millions of dollars in sales and the trust of thousands of customers.

We could have maintained the status quo. We could have beefed up our infrastructure and kept using the ecommerce platform and user interface. Instead, we used these setbacks to redefine the meaning of success.

Before we looked at our internal challenges, we decided to explore the customer side of the equation. When you're in sales, your customers drive everything, and you need to understand their pain points. We started by analyzing complaints received by our customer assistance department and those posted to social media. We wanted to see what bothered customers the most.

Our eCommerce Offering Was Out of Date

Our initial findings suggested that our previous platform, our infrastructure, and our customer communications protocols were out of date and created an overly complicated user experience. We weren't presenting website visitors with a compelling customer journey.

Next, we looked at what other online retailers were doing. Brazil is a very competitive market, and it is supported by an ecosystem of startups and high-tech companies that provide cutting-edge solutions to online sellers. We wanted to learn from our competitors, especially the ones who were bigger than us.

This process took nearly a year. After a careful analysis of the ecommerce landscape, and given our intention to expand our operations outside the Brazilian market, we chose Oracle Commerce Cloud as our new platform. It was a perfect fit. 

Oracle is a global partner that can support our activities as we move into new territories. Also, like WebContinental, Oracle has innovation in its DNA. The company was in the process of launching Commerce Cloud in Brazil, and their team was very open to establishing a business relationship and listening to our suggestions.

Oracle Commerce Cloud is a flexible ecommerce platform that makes light work of managing the front-end and the back-end of our online marketplace. More importantly, Oracle is committed to expanding and updating the platform in response to the challenges we face within the Brazilian market. The company is more than a vendor. Oracle is a partner that is committed to solving our current issues while helping us lay a foundation for the future. This is important advice for others: don’t just think about today’s needs when choosing your technology platform. Think about what features will drive your company down the road. 

When selecting a technology platform, don’t just think about today’s needs. What will you need in 5 years?

During the vendor selection phase, we took great pains to write down our issues and needs in detail. This document was intended both for potential partners and for internal use. We recognized early on that WebContinental wasn't looking for a ready-made solution, but for a new approach to ecommerce. We wanted to renew our corporate culture and not just our platform.

A Flexible and Transformative eCommerce Platform

Oracle Commerce Cloud was the best fit because it is highly customizable, but not at the expense of the future. Other ecommerce solutions require hand coding and bespoke integrations that have to be re-developed from scratch every time the platform receives a major upgrade. Oracle built Commerce Cloud with extensibility in mind. This approach means that we can add the features we need now from within, and with Oracle's help as a partner. We don't have to worry that our current customizations will jeopardize our technology roadmap should we make any changes a few months or a few years down the line.

Moving our operations to Oracle Commerce Cloud transformed the way WebContinental does business. The first and most obvious difference is a shortened and far more fluid customer journey. We reduced the number of steps it takes to go from our landing page to completing a transaction. Also, the purchase confirmation is no longer the end of the customer journey but the beginning of the after-sales service and communication channel.

Server outages are also a thing of the past. Last year, our Black Friday, Christmas, and our other big sales went off without a hitch. There were also no issues during the hottest days of the summer when air conditioner orders peaked.

In terms of numbers, we've seen year-over-year revenue growth of 78%, a 60% improvement in our overall conversion rate, and a 23% drop in our mobile cart abandonment.

Transforming Our Internal Culture to Match Our New eCommerce Platform

Oracle Commerce Cloud helped us realize these gains by providing easy front-end and UX/UI customization, native SEO optimization, SKU and price management, and international support. However, adopting a new platform alone is not enough. To truly transform our online presence, we had to change our internal culture and the way we dealt with people.

The first thing we did was to change our relationship with Oracle from a client-supplier approach to a person-to-person partnership model. We had to learn that we are not just two corporations doing business together, but two groups of teams and individuals who are working toward a common goal. Understanding this human element will help you succeed with your partners. 

Want to succeed with new partners? Think about the people behind the company. Remember the human element.

We adopted the same approach with our website visitors. Every customer has a one-on-one relationship with WebContinental. If we fail to embrace this reality, shoppers will go elsewhere.

Another critical behind-the-scenes shift was our increased attention to some of the details we neglected in our initial ecommerce transformation strategy plan. As part of our push to expand beyond Brazil, we had to adjust the way we dealt with country-specific variations in currency, sales tax, pricing, payment, and shipping methods.

To further improve our successful outcomes and to shift our internal mindset, we placed more emphasis on training. We didn't include employee instruction in the initial scope of our ecommerce transformation, but we corrected this oversight in partnership with Oracle. The company makes training one of the pillars of its internal operations and its product offerings. It was a valuable lesson for us.

Innovation Should Be Transparent

I'm very excited about WebContinental's future. We are continuing to expand our electronic and our retail presence in Brazil and elsewhere in the Americas. Recently, we opened an office in the United States, and we will soon be launching our online store in that country as soon we will start our marketplace operations in Paraguay (Paraguayan sellers will sell their product in Brazil). Next year, we'll be opening our first retail locations in Paraguay.

Our ecommerce and brick-and-mortar operations are now both running on Oracle Commerce Cloud. The platform allows us to offer a seamless customer journey online and off. We can also refine and customize our marketplace in response to customer feedback without worrying about future compatibility issues. This type of responsiveness is crucial to a company that is growing as fast as ours.

If I could offer a nugget of wisdom to other traditional and electronic retailers, I would say this: choose an adaptable ecommerce platform. By this, I mean a platform that lets you react to your customers' demands and the needs of your internal resources without forcing you into complex and counterintuitive workarounds. After all, the best way to innovate is to lead and not follow.