Sigma Healthcare sends its wholesale ordering platform to the cloud

The company's 20-year-old platform has been replaced by Sigma Connect, a platform featuring SAP Commerce Cloud and Qualtrics.

Up until 18 months ago, Australian-based wholesale pharmaceutical company Sigma Healthcare, which also owns pharmacy retail brands Amcal and Guardian Pharmacy, has been using the same wholesale ordering platform for the last 20 years.

"The technology platforms we were working with were antiquated. They were based purely on needs of warehouse and old-fashion ways of working," Luke Shaw, Sigma Healthcare head of e-commerce, told ZDNet.

"Fundamentally, we're a wholesaler and so moving boxes hasn't really changed all that much and the technology to do that is fine, but when you're trying to service a customer and give them a better experience, the capabilities of what we were using, just wasn't up to scratch."

Shaw pointed out that one of the major faults in the former system was not being able to give pharmacists and hospitals accurate pricing of their purchases when they were putting in orders, rather they had to wait until the orders were submitted.

As part of the company's wider digital transformation journey that began three years ago, Sigma looked to replace its e-commerce platform. The company partnered with Accenture to develop Sigma Connect, a platform integrated with SAP Commerce Cloud and Qualtrics.

"The digital transformation has been an evolution. We do have legacy tech we rely on, so we needed a platform that could grow with us, but also [be] flexible enough to plug into the legacy technology we couldn't get rid of at the time," Shaw said.

See also: How big data and AI help online retailers compete in the digital era (TechRepublic)  

With the new platform, Sigma Healthcare can offer faster checkout, clearer product details, and improved customer experience, Shaw said.

For instance, raising return requests has now moved from a 2-3 minutes phone call to a self-service function on the new platform.

"If a pharmacy gets the wrong product or too many, being able to return them to us used to be a phone call to get a return code, put it on a piece of paper, pin that piece of paper onto the product and wait for the truck to come … Referencing the correct product number or the available reasons to return a product are now being enforced on the platform, which makes it easier for our customers to choose the right option, gives us clarity of what is coming back," Shaw said.

According to Shaw, the development cost for that specific function was offset within three or four weeks of being introduced.

For the first time, Sigma can now capture and analyse customer feedback in real-time through the Qualtrics platform, which can be extracted into actionable insights.

"We can measure back whether it worked or didn't work, and what was the impact on the experience, what is the impact on the volume, the order frequency … it allows you to smash so much information into an easy-to-read dashboard … to either make decisions on what you do next, or explain or defend up and down the management line on why you're doing something and not something else," he said

Shaw also said the company is now able to provide a personalised experience to customers whereby the platform can be tailored according to their liking.

"We've tailored their experience on our platform to feel like theirs. It's their retail brand, it's their name, personalised logins. They can configure their page layout the way they want … we've built configuration into the platform, rather than customisation," he said.

"We've seen people who have come from a more traditional way of ordering on a B2B platform, they just want to see text on the page, they want to see much information on the page as possible to select their product as quickly as possible and move on.

"Then there's another segment that really likes the enhanced content with videos, big images, and shopping browsing function than a pure ordering function, so we've had to cater for both ends of the user spectrum."

As a result, the overhaul of the wholesale ordering system has seen a reduction in technology errors by 10-folds, an 8% uptick in average order sizes, and a 30% increase in share of revenue from the customer portal.

Looking ahead, Sigma plans to make ongoing improvement to the platform's search functionality.

There also plans to expand the capabilities of SAP Commerce Cloud and Qualtrics to its other portal accessed by its drug suppliers and manufacturers.

"[We want] to give suppliers an easier portal to do business with us, whether that's loading new product, loading their promotional deals, again giving that visibility and clarity on who is working on what and when, rather than phone calls and lost emails," Shaw said. 

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