E-commerce is broken
4 min
reading time

🍌 Why Bol.com is the new Hyves

Written by
Simon van Duivenvoorde
Published on

Bol.com has been the webshop with the highest turnover in the Netherlands for about 10 years now. But for how much longer? They no longer have the widest range and are certainly not the cheapest. Is Amazon overtaking Bol.com and Bol.com becoming the new Hyves?

Hyves was founded in 2004. Less than 4 years later, in 2008, 5 million Dutch people had an account and together they generated 5 billion page views. The whole of the Netherlands was on Hyves: you could even scribble the Prime Minister there!

Facebook was also founded in 2004. From May 2008, the site was also available in Dutch. At the end of 2008, they reached a tipping point and the site grew with 600,000 new registrations worldwide per day, or one Hyves per week.

On July 16, 2011, Facebook was larger than Hyves for the first time. On December 2, 2013, it stopped social network Hyves.

Sphere... convex globe globe

Fortunately, there are other Dutch success stories. Bol.com for example. It was founded in 1999 — not initially as a charming Dutch start-up, but as an initiative by the German media company Bertelsmann AG (BOL is an acronym for Bertelsmann On-Line) — and acquired by Ahold in 2012.

Bol.com has been the largest webshop in the Netherlands for about 10 years now. Why do consumers choose them? Simple: it's the online store with the largest range and the lowest price*.

*this isn't (entirely) true. Bol.com is only too happy to take advantage of its #1 position to give customers a premium to make you pay.

Of course, there are other things, such as the next-day delivery whether Select, but those are hygiene factors. The competitive advantage of bol.com is that they are by far the largest and cheapest. And many consumers like that. Nice and easy. And other web shops are unable to imitate that grandeur and cheapness.


Hold my bear

Amazon was founded in 1994. It wasn't until March 10, 2020, that Amazon officially launched in the Netherlands. After that, it became a bit quiet, but not for long. The FD reported that consumers were often the cheapest on the US web giant in the last three months of 2020. Thousands of popular products are 7% to almost 18% cheaper on Amazon than competitors like bol.com and Coolblue.

When it comes to product range, Amazon.nl already much larger: since March, the number of products has doubled to 200 million. Bol.com now sells “only” 30 million items. Almost an outrageous small amount of products to scroll through ;-)

This weakens bol.com's #1 position in the e-commerce landscape. Because you stand out on prize and quantity is a very limited strategy. Only one can be the cheapest and only one can be the largest. And bol.com is no longer both. Of course, they still have the home advantage, hearts, accounts and data of the digital Netherlands, but that is a fleeting advantage.

Just ask Hyves.

Hyves was the biggest, the best, the coziest. They even had a dancing banana! But there were better alternatives. With more friends, more features, and photos. What had caused Hyves to grow so much (a focus on the Dutch market) ultimately killed them. People also apparently had friends and interests abroad.

Is bol.com the new Hyves?

Looking into the glass ball.com

In 2019, bol.com's turnover rose by 30% to €2.8 billion. That is impressive. And in 2020/21, they're going to go the extra mile, +70% in Q4 2020, in connection with the additional online sales due to the coronavirus.

But these nice numbers are nothing like Amazon. In 2019, Amazon made €280 billion in sales. And they, too, benefit enormously from the “crisis years” 2020-21.

Amazon has more products and can offer lower prices. They offer their sellers more scale (namely worldwide) and sales power and are therefore in an extremely strong negotiating position with those same sellers. Something that their customers then benefit from. Amazon also offers many more digital services (Prime, Kindle, Amazon Web Services), making their business model more scalable and profitable. In addition, Amazon has already shown that they are not in for the short-term peaks (they barely made a profit in the first twenty years) — they have the longest breath and the deepest pockets.

Bol.com, on the other hand, is part of Ahold Delhaize. Bol.com's turnover is less than 5% of Ahold Delhaize's total turnover. Certainly substantial, but 95% is earned with good old fashioned physical retail. That's where the money is earned. For Ahold, digital is a side hustle. One that takes a disproportionate amount of time, attention and peaks. Ahold can't go along with Amazon in the long run.

And that's how bol.com is defeated in its own game. Because only one can be the largest and the cheapest.

Another option: helping people

But is that bad? That one juggernaut is exchanged for the other?

Not necessarily. Because ultimately, the same applies to Amazon: competing on price or product is not sustainable. So what?

In the offline world, the raison d'être of some stores has been for years, even decades, that customers there have been “so well helped”. Good, pleasant experiences that are about the customer — so that the few euro price difference with the neighbour is suddenly a lot less relevant.

And well... you won't get good help at Amazon (or bol.com).

Not even in most other online stores, by the way. But that is changing rapidly. More and more specialized online stores understand that they have knowledge - of the customer and of the products - that the Biggest and Cheapest Ones do not have. And that it doesn't pay to play the e-commerce game the way the world's Amazons and bol.coms imagined it.

How will e-commerce become more than just a game of price and product? By putting expert knowledge back first. By really taking people by the hand and helping them. That is the future for everyone who has a future in e-commerce.

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