The Kimono Effect: Exposing SAP for eCommerce

“If We are Going to Open Our Kimono…

…we had better look good!” –Tomo Razmilovic, President of Symbol Technologies.

The year was 1999. Mr. Razmilovic was challenging his management team to expose their SAP system to customers through integrated eCommerce.

To Mr. Razmilovic’s credit, he understood the strategic importance of providing a real time SAP-integrated eCommerce website to Symbol’s customers.  Not only would it create immediate, direct value for them, but it would set Symbol Technologies on a crucial journey to clean up their SAP implementation.  He understood that his Customer Service Representatives’ “tribal knowledge” was covering up the “ills” in his SAP implementation. If he addressed the underlying lack of clarity in SAP, his CSRs would be freed up to focus on higher-value tasks. 

In that sense, eCommerce wouldn’t only provide customer value and increased revenue. It would also help Symbol Technologies clean up SAP, creating a ripple effect of increasing efficiency and clarity across the entire organization.

A few months later, Symbol Technologies became one of the early adopters of HAHT’s eScenarios for SAP.  The founders of Corevist were involved in that implementation and helped make Symbol a premier reference for us.

Ultimately, Symbol created real customer value through integrated eCommerce—and they got their SAP house in order, too. 

How integrated eCommerce forces you to clean up SAP

Fast-forward to 2021, and we’re still experiencing the “Kimono effect,” as integrated eCommerce helps our clients maintain SAP in good working order. Here are a few examples:

  1. In the process of placing an order, a website customer uncovers that they are missing a new ShipTo that should be associated with their SoldTo.  A quick call to their CSR permanently fixes the problem. 
  2. A website customer orders a discontinued product, which uncovers an oversight in maintaining the Material Master.  Rather than just substituting the right product in the warehouse, all affected records are updated to prevent this error from reoccurring.
  3. Every client struggles with how to present product availability on the web. Some don’t want to because their SAP system isn’t ready to. Others could definitely show availability, but they don’t want to for business reasons.
  4. A future client of ours delays launching eCommerce because they still haven’t solved their “product catalog” challenges.
  5. Another future client of ours delays launching eCommerce because their pricing procedures have “devolved” into a complicated set of manual processes which aren’t reflected in SAP logic.
  6. One client has known limitations in being able to calculate accurate freight charges in real time for some shipping conditions. Most orders flow smoothly from the web through SAP. However, those “exception orders” are put on delivery block so that CSRs can intervene manually while energy is expended to solve the problem once and for all.

What We’ve Learned from the Kimono Effect

After many more GoLives, we’ve seen countless examples of the Kimono Effect in action. Though it’s potentially uncomfortable in the short term, making yourself transparent to your customers creates a healthier Customer Support organization in the long run.

Here are some of things we’ve seen, and lessons we’ve learned, in the years since we first encountered the Kimono Effect:

  1. Customer Master – If your data isn’t clean, make sure you respond quickly to the requests to clean it up.  Customers hate to have their names misspelled or addresses entered wrong. What they hate more is when you seemingly ignore their requests to clean it up. Frankly, I’m hoping that one of our clients asks us to enable their customers to maintain their own Customer Master Record. 🙂
  2. Orderable Products – Since Corevist supports multiple microsites running on a single SAP integration architecture, it becomes even more important to make sure that the Material Master is set up correctly. You really don’t want customers in France to order products that are only available in the US.  Again, if you can’t (and you won’t be able to) clean up all of your product data before you launch your B2B eCommerce website, just make sure that you respond quickly to any customer inquiries about these materials.
  3. Substituted Products – If you’re going to substitute one SKU for another, be very transparent about what you’re substituting. Customers hate to order one product and receive another…unless they understand what you substituted and why. Keep it transparent!
  4. Product Availability– Not seeing accurate inventory and availability is THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM customers will have with your eCommerce website. They can deal with you misspelling their last name and maybe even with having inaccurate pricing. But they want you to be honest, in real time, about when they can expect to receive an item that they’ve ordered. It’s OK to set their expectations (by policy) that anything ordered before a certain time will be shipped the same day. This way, they don’t have to know exactly what you have in inventory or where you’re going to ship it from. But they hate getting that phone call or email 24 or 48 hours later saying, “We can’t fulfill your order with X, how about we ship you Y instead?” If you’re having Product Availability  issues, a B2B website WILL make life more difficult (not less) for a period of time.
  5. Pricing – It goes without saying that customers want accurate, real-time pricing. However, that requirement becomes less important the more you differentiate yourself on other product/service attributes. If you’re selling a commodity, all other things being equal (product features, delivery schedules, shipping charges, return policy etc.), be prepared to calculate an accurate (lowest) price in real time at order entry time. If, on the other hand, your customers are “loyal” to you for the features of your product or your level of service (like your easy-to-use eCommerce website 🙂 ), then they’ll trust you to send them an accurate invoice when it’s ready. In fact, they almost always know that the website price isn’t the final final price pending the posting of actual shipping charges and/or volume discounts.

The Kimono Effect: Best Practices

All of these stories roll up to a few basic principles. Here are the high-level lessons we take from the Kimono Effect:

  • Embrace it – The Kimono Effect is the Holy Grail of becoming “customer driven”. Giving your customers 100% transparency to your SAP system will align all of your resources around the customer. It will definitely be uncomfortable at times, but you’ll be guaranteed that you’re working on the right problems…the ones your customers care about most!
  • Segment your customers –  Not all of your customers need a catalog to order from and not all of your customers have complicated pricing rules and procedures.  Don’t punish all of your customers (and lose out on the internal efficiencies to be gained) while you shore up your capabilities for some of your customers. Some of your customers (for example, those who order by EDI) will never order from your website, but would love to track their orders and reprint documents from your website with Order Tracking functionality.
  • Set continuous improvement goals -You are not going to make an overnight transition from an SAP system that only supports EDI customers and your Customer Service Representatives today, to one that supports hundreds or thousands of customers in real time over the web. Set yourself SAM (Specific, Attainable and Measurable) goals based on the number of customers and/or the number of orders that you want on the system at the end of each month or quarter, and work backwards to do what it will take to get there.
  • React quickly – You’ll never be able to clean up 100% of your data before you GoLive. Rather than striving for perfection before you GoLive, commit to be responsive when issues arise after you GoLive. Control your GoLive and react quickly.

The Takeaway

The Kimono Effect is a twenty-two-year-old story that’s still the core of Corevist’s operating philosophy today. It governs the advice we give clients, and it drives them to become more efficient and customer-focused. Your customers will love you for the honesty and enhanced customer service which the Kimono Effect brings about. But be prepared to deal with the issues that come up… especially those related to Product Availability.

Oh…one last thing. We’re just the messengers here.  We help you take and track orders more efficiently than you ever could have imagined.  But if you can’t fill those orders, don’t blame the website. 🙂

Sam

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on Corevist’s original website, B2B2dot0, in 2009, and was first published to Corevist.com March 8, 2017. We’ve merged this post with its followup, updated it for 2021, and republished them here. 

Featured image courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski. Licensed under Creative Commons SA 2.0.

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About Author

Sam Bayer

Sam Bayer is the Founder & CEO of Corevist. His mission is to capitalize on the convergence of the growing popularity of Cloud delivered services and the consumerization of B2B ecommerce to build a company that delivers real value to his clients and a great place to work for his team.