eCommerce interview – Leendert van Delft

intervju ecs srbija

1. You have had an extensive career at DHL since 2007, and today you are the Vice President of Global Sales Programs, Development & Global E-Commerce. What are the highlights of your profound career, and when did You and DHL start focusing on eCommerce?

To tackle the latter question first: our global focus on e-commerce started in 2016. This is when we saw our e-commerce volume really taking off and we noticed how specific merchants were extremely successful in cross-border E-commerce. And before jumping to conclusions we were wondering: what was driving that growth? We simply analyzed what those merchants were doing: What was making them successful in the cross-border e-commerce market and what were the unique things they were doing to increase their cross-border sales? This brought us to a very simple ten-point checklist, which we called the Website Health Check.

This is a simple 10-point checklist to analyze merchants and check how open they are to the cross-border consumer and how well they use shipping and delivery options – and a localized experience – to create a competitive advantage.

And this checklist remains relevant until today: whether you are a merchant shipping from Belgrade, or whether you are a well-established e-commerce brand from London: Make sure your website is open to do business for any consumer around the world and make sure you use your shipping and delivery options as a competitive advantage! As the opportunity to scale your business outside of the Balkan is even bigger than ever before. You have unique products coming from your region and today’s consumer is looking for exactly that: Something unique. And as long as they get a localized online shopping experience and as long as they can get the goods delivered on their terms … they will spend their money!

When it comes to highlights of my career?

Always stay humble and know that no matter how much experience you have there is always room for improvement and there are other people from whom you can learn something new.

I was blessed to have the opportunity to work in a wide variety of fields within the most international company of the world: from sales to operations, and from marketing to strategy. This has helped me to become a more rounded person today… You need to understand the field you are playing in, and most importantly: You need to understand your customers and your teams. As it is your customers who will decide where they will spend their money, and it is your teams who will decide how well they will serve your customers.

And most importantly: Stay curious. The world is changing very fast and what you know today may be outdated tomorrow. Keep learning, keep reading and keep listening to others. In your career, always have a continuous improvement mindset, and become a little bit better every single day.

2. What has been the biggest game changer in your career, and how has the “tradition” is-out and “digital” is-in shaped your career?

Everything starts with data. And the future is digital.

The world is changing faster than ever before, and what I learned in my career is to make data your single source of truth and that you must make sure that you are in sync with the world where we live in today. What I always like to say is: “Let’s make sure you spend most of your time where your customers are today … which is online!”

And on top of that the most important thing is listen to your customers and listen to your people. You may think you have the best idea ever, but this will only work if this is in sync with the voice of your customers and in sync with the voice of your colleagues. Only then you can accelerate. So, to put it in short, this is all about the fact that you have two ears and one mouth. And you should use them in that order.

3. In the DHL white paper launched one year ago, “The Ultimate B2B e-Commerce Guide”, it is stated that the next wave of e-commerce growth will be driven by B2B and that by 2025 that 80% of all sales interactions will take place on digital platforms. Can you tell us a bit more about the global trends, how you see the future, and how DHL and logistics are vital in this?

The future is online. And today’s B2B buyer expects the same experience as the one they get as a private individual. And that is the crux of any buyer journey: make sure you offer the same customer experience in your B2B channels as the one any individual will get when shopping online for a new pair of sneakers on StockX or when shopping for a Christmas gift on Amazon. Make it easy and smooth.

So whether you are selling today from the Balkan to private indiviuals or to other companies: this opportunity is enormous. When you sell to private individuals today you have the opportunity to increase your audience and add a B2B audience. And when you sell to companies today: Make sure your online presence is frictionless, and you can bring your brand to a global stage overnight!

And keep in mind that your shipping and delivery options play a crucial part in this. Today, any buyer – whether that is a B2B purchaser or a private individual – expects the delivery on their terms. People want to get their good FAST and CONVENIENT. So, in whatever buying field you are playing, make sure you offer exactly that.

As an anecdotal story: recently I found a company in Serbia who was selling the perfect Montessori toy for our dear son. It was a beautiful climbing rack which was built in Serbia, and we thought it was sold internationally. To put a long story short: we wanted it. But this is where shipping challenges kicked in. We could buy it online, but the company from whom we were purchasing it were not offering any simple international delivery options. So, we ended up shipping it via a privately arranged delivery method back to The Netherlands. We would however be more than happy to pay for a FAST and CONVENIENT delivery option straight out of Serbia to our front door.

But that option was not there.

In the end: we got our goods, but our whole customer experience could have been 100x better if the smooth international delivery option was there from the get-go.

4. By 2027 the estimation in your whitepaper is that there will be an increase of 70% in B2B eCommerce sales. What are other trends, and watchouts to keep an eye on? What are the trends across continents? Which continents/countries are drivers/ early adopters, and which are the late adopters? 

If you would ask me about the biggest the biggest trends, it is Sustainability and Personalization. Sustainability is of ever-growing importance for any buyer around the world. Whether that is a B2B purchaser or a consumer.

Today, more and more people are placing their purchasing decisions based on how sustainable a brand is. And this trend will only increase over time. Especially if you look at the younger generations today. And we must keep in mind that those are the people who will get into buying power soon and those are the people who will be the heads of procurement you have to deal with in the very near future.

Are you as a brand ready for that?

Secondly, it is about offering your customers a personalized experienced. Buyers, whether that is a B2B buyer or a private individual, are expecting a personalized experienced. Because that is what they have been getting used to by buying from Amazon or any other big international e-commerce player. Make sure you offer those kinds of personalized experiences across your whole customer-journey, and when you get that right: the opportunities are endless.

5. What can we expect in the Balkan region and Serbia in the following years seeing the global landscape?

Cross border e-commerce is a very lucrative opportunity. Back in 2016 roughly 1 out of every 10 order was made from another county. In 2020 that number increased to 1 out of 5. And if we look at the forecast, by 2026: 1 out of 2 orders will be ordered from another country. And that is the world we live in today: Today, the cross-border consumer doesn’t care anymore where a merchant is based. As long as they can get a localized shopping experience and as long as they can get the delivery on their term, they will spend their money.

And that is the big opportunity for the Balkan region and for Serbia! You have so many unique products, handmade, to sell from your region. You don’t even have to target foreigners; you can sell to your own huge diaspora. Selling internationally was never easier, you just need to partner with a company like DHL who has all the expertise and knowledge and will guide you through the process.

Once you get that right, the opportunities are endless …

6. Free delivery – what is your take on this, and is anything ever free? And what would be the pros or cons of having free deliveries?

Free delivery does not exist. In the end, the logistics partner of any merchant will send an invoice at the end of the month. So free delivery is a myth.

But when it comes to free delivery it is all about getting smart about your shipping charges. This is all about doing the math. Imagine this situation: I am traveling to Zlatibor from Europe and while I arrive there, I realize that I did not bring a winter jacket. And Zlatibor can be quite cold… So, when I arrive in my hotel, I go online to look for my perfect winter-jacket.

I do find my preferred winter jacket for 160 Euro, but when I go to the check-out of that merchant, I can see that I can have it delivered the next day via an Express delivery option for 35 Euro. Chances are quite high that I will abandon my cart and look somewhere else for better options.

But now let’s imagine that I found the same jacket for the first time for 190 Euro. I guess you agree that if I was willing to pay 160 Euro for a winter-jacket, I will be willing to pay 190 Euro for a winter-jacket as well. If I now proceed to the check-out and I can see that I can get an Express delivery for only 5,00 EUR more, I will immediately press the Buy-Now button!

This is how it all works with (almost) free shipping: Get smart about you shipping costs and see how you factor in your shipping costs into your product price.

Of course, this does not work for any product, but the bottom-line message is: Do your math. And keep in mind that free shipping does not exists.

7. We live in a world where everything is accessible, and we want things immediately. End consumer needs, desires, and wants for shopping are done with one click, and expectations are immediate reactions.  How do you see the difference with the new generations, and how will this impact and shape trends in delivery with last mile, quick commerce? Anything else we see with the younger generations? 

Your customers demand four things: Flexibility, Speed, Choice, and Reliability.

And when you get those 4 things right, the opportunities are endless.

In the world we live in today, keep in mind that speed will be valued greater than cost.

You can order a pizza within a matter of seconds, and you can stream your favorite series within one click. And that is exactly what your customers want when they do business with you.

And keep the facts in mind:

58% of global consumers would choose a retailer solely because of its delivery options.

And 91% of consumers look for the available delivery options before reaching the checkout.

Are you meeting those needs?

The new generation will only place more importance on these aspects.

8. The inevitable question about SDG Goals and Sustainability is how DHL works on Sustainability and the SDG goals set for 2030, and what impact does this have on eCommerce?

Sustainability is the key! If you want to address the needs of your future customers: focus on sustainability. As mentioned earlier: today’s buyer – and even more so your future buyer – will care about how sustainable your brand is.

To put it in statistics: 50% of digital buyers state that environmental concerns impact their purchasing decisions, and 88% of customers are more likely to be loyal to a company which supports environmental issues.

Those are trends you need to be aware about. Today’s buyer – and even more so your future customers – will care about sustainability.If you get this right, your future opportunities will only increase.

9. With your experience and knowledge today in e-commerce and delivery, what lessons and highlights would you give your younger self five years ago? 🙂 any best tips?

Think global (and act local). Whether you are a start-up with a brilliant idea from Uzice, or whether you are a well-established e-commerce brand from Belgrade: Think global. The world is your oyster and when you can tap into the real potential of cross-border e-commerce your opportunities will be endless.

And if I had to answer the question about the advice, I would give to my younger self five years ago, it is simple: Listen to your customers! They will tell you where to go.

There is nothing basic about the basics, but if you get the basics right: you will be set up for success.

Interviewed by: Marija Pasuljević & Milica Živkov