Axel Kuhn a ePath consulting interviewed by VL for 7 questions series for ecommerce and supply chain data integration

7 Questions eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration: Axel Kuhn


 The 7 Questions Interview Series: eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration

The 7 Questions Interview Series: eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration “The 7 Question Series” is an investigative content series where we seek out key leaders in a specific industry and/or subject matter expertise area and ask them 7 key questions that “enquiring minds want to know”. There is a twist however to these questions. We provide the person being interviewed with a hypothesis for each question. This helps to frame and set context for their answer.

eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration Series Objectives:

eCommerce and Supply Chain Data Integration Series Objectives: The objective of the ecommerce series is to establish direct connections with eCommerce experts across the globe and ask them the same set of 7 questions regarding e-commerce data integration in the supply chain. We want to derive insights from their direct experiences and expertise that will help e-commerce companies, both B2B and B2C at all stages of their evolution. We are also curious to see if their answers are similar or different. These interviews will be featured on this website as a series.

Interview with Axel Kuhn, MBA, Principal and Co-founder at ePath Consulting

Axel_Kuhn_HeadshotAbout Axel Kuhn

Axel Kuhn has pioneered eBusiness solutions since the mid-90’s for leading companies – both multinational and SMB – across North America and Europe. He is a serial entrepreneur, having founded and led several businesses in the Internet technology and technology services markets, including Canada’s top-ranked technology marketing firm. Axel holds a B.A.Sc. from the University of Toronto, an M.B.A. from the Queen’s School of Business, and an M.B.A (with distinction) from the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. He holds the IW Smith medal for Creative Engineering from the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering. Axel currently teaches eBusiness and eCommerce management to business professionals at the University of Toronto. 

The Interview:

Robin: Recent statistics tell us that close to 50% of consumers do not buy online. Why do you think that’s the case?

Axel: Last year The Nielson Company completed a massive global study of Consumer purchasing behaviour across 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, and reinforced that willingness to buy online varies substantially between generational groups. For example, about 52-63% of millennials (age 22-35) will buy online, whereas only 6-13% of Baby Boomers (age 51-65) will buy online. Comfort with technology and the Internet is one obvious reason. For a summary of this survey by Nielson, visit our blog.

Here in Canada, shipping costs are often mentioned as one of the key reasons that Canada is a relative laggard in online shopping. This same survey showed that 58% of Canadians do not shop online because of the high Canadian shipping costs, versus only 38% globally.

But both of these statistics miss the real issue. Despite the fact that Canadians are one of the most active nations online, Canada is a laggard in the adoption and spread of eCommerce. The fault lies with Canadian companies – both B2B and B2C – that have been slow to adopt innovative eBusiness models that deliver real differentiation, value added, and an outstanding customer experience to their customers.

Robin: Only 10% of Canadians plan to do their holiday shopping online in 2014 compared to 44% in Britain. Why do you there is such a large margin?

Axel: Britain is the most advanced Internet economy in the world, so it is not surprising that the UK has outperformed Canada. The Boston Consulting Group conducted a broad assessment of the value in of the global Internet Economy entitled The Internet Economy in the G-20: The $4.2 Trillion Growth Opportunity“.

British companies were early implementers of innovative Online Business Models, and by now British consumers have a huge comfort level with all forms of eBusiness. There are lots of best practices that Canadian companies can follow by learning more about what works and what doesn’t work well online. We’ve been teaching these best practices to eCommerce and eBusiness Managers at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies in our “eCommerce/ eBusiness Management Certificate program”. Our aim is to increase the adoption of global best practices – including those from the UK – here in Canada.

Robin: In our experience very few ecommerce sites integrate their systems and data making it impossible to scale and putting customer service and relationships at risk. Why is that?

Axel: Data capture, data management, and predictive analytics are perhaps the biggest drivers of online success. Most of the online leaders – from Google to Amazon – have “data” as a core competency.

We’ve found that Canadian companies have been slow adopters of online analytics, but at least they recognize that it is a priority. See our 2013 survey of top Canadian eCommerce Managers for more information.

Data capture, integration, and management can take substantial resources (cost and time) to implement. We counsel our clients to start with predictive web analytics. It’s a relatively easy first step, and it demonstrates the power of data analytics to a company’s management team. It also helps scope out the next best opportunities for data capture and integration. (Source.) 

Robin: In your view are online retailers and sites leveraging their transactional data strategically? Are they making good use of their data to make strategic decisions and generate more revenue?

Axel: Canadian eBusiness and eCommerce operations are, on average, not at all leveraging the power of customer, market, and transactional data. As mentioned in my response to Q3, this is a HUGE missed opportunity for companies to better understand their market, their prospects, their customers, and their biggest gaps and opportunities.

Our work focuses primarily on predictive web analytics. In our experience, not only are web analytics underutilized, most of the time they are set up improperly, generating bad data. So even if management were to try to use web data strategically, chances are they would be making strategic decisions based on bad or incomplete data. Not a formula for success.

Analytics talent is in short supply, not only at the analyst level, but also at the management level, knowing what data to look for and how to manage an eCommerce operation with data. Over the last several years we’ve been focussing on training, both at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, and through Custom Corporate Training.

Robin: What are the key differences and similarities when it comes to B2B and B2C ecommerce?

Axel: To answer that you really need to differentiate between supply-chain-facing eCommerce (upstream eCommerce) and customer-facing eCommerce (downstream eCommerce). Broadly speaking, on the supply-chain side there is little difference between B2B and B2C.

On the customer facing side, B2C eCommerce is often transactional, whereas B2B eCommerce is mostly about sales lead generation. Social channels play a much bigger role in B2C, and often play only a minor role in B2B. Otherwise there are lots of similarities: the importance of Customer Experience, Personalization, Omnichannel Integration, etc.

The “Amazon-effect” has had a big impact on what B2B customers expect from B2B sites. Although B2B companies are usually more conservative than B2C, B2B customers are now expecting more and more of the advanced features and capabilities that they see on the B2C side when interacting with leaders like Amazon, including personalization and recommendation engines, super-intuitive shopping carts, and an overall excellent customer experience.

Robin: What’s next for ecommerce? Where do you see things headed?

Axel: That’s a really difficult question to answer. There are a lot of evolutionary changes underway, and most of those have been discussed endlessly in the media: the semantic web and searchandizing, the increase of social buying, personalization and micro-segmentation, the rising influence of mobile and omnichannel customer journeys, etc. etc.

It’s the revolutionary changes that will have the most impact, but also the most difficult to predict. How many “experts” predicted the rise of the “sharing economy”, which catapulted the rise of companies like Uber? That’s the wonder of the Internet economy: new business models can be created and adopted overnight.

Here in Canada, I am most concerned about the commoditization effect of the Internet on Canadian eCommerce players. The Internet has a tendency to reduce every online purchase to a comparison of “price and delivery”. And unless Canadian companies have the scale and scope to compete with the likes of Wal-Mart and Amazon, competing on price and delivery is NOT a sustainable strategy. Canadian companies will need to get a lot more creative and aggressive in developing online differentiation and value-added business models for their market. Canada definitely has the talent and potential, and has shown innovation in the likes of,, and many others. For the average eCommerce organization however, training in best-practices can deliver a huge jump-start in the right direction.

Robin: How involved and active is the C-suite in developing an ecommerce strategy and monitoring the success of ecommerce sales?

Axel: For any meaningful online success, the C-suite clearly needs to be involved in eCommerce strategy and performance management.

Our research has shown that there is a substantial language barrier between eCommerce management and the C-Suite here in Canada. First, the traditional C-suite is not familiar and comfortable enough with the challenges, technologies, trends, and opportunities of doing business online. Second, eCommerce Management is often not capable of speaking the language of the C-Suite: revenue, profit, and ROI. We’ve found that customized executive training sessions, from senior business executives to senior business executives, can help substantially in better aligning the C-suite with eCommerce Management and driving business results.

About ePath Consulting

Founded in 2012, ePath is a relatively new eCommerce Consulting firm with a 20 year history: our two founders and principals, John Foreman and Axel Kuhn, have been involved in B2B and B2C online business innovation and strategies from Day1, and have pioneered industry portals & directories, led the development of innovative eCommerce/eBusiness strategies, and implemented breakthrough customer-facing online and offline strategies in Canada, the US, and around the globe.

Based on this deep experience and credibility, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Education asked ePath to develop an innovative eCommerce Mgmt. Certification program for business professionals. As lead instructors, both John and Axel teach both in-class and online to business professionals and companies across the globe, giving them furtherfurther access to international network of industry leader and global best practices.

Axel’s Social Outposts: LinkedIn | Twitter | Blog | Website

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