Steel e-commerce comes with complications: conference

Digital solutions for the steel industry can only be partly copied from established ventures, steel IT start-up representatives said at the “Zukunft Stahl” conference held last week by Handelsblatt and Euroforum.

“I don’t see any horizontal platform like an ‘Amazon for steel’ coming,” Simon Zühlke of Berlin-based online trading platform Vanilla Steel said at the even attended by Kallanish. On the one hand, steel is too complex a product, he argued. On the other, it takes a domestic platform to win trust. “The industry won’t accept a platform that was initiated outside of Europe,” Zühlke observed.

He does not however argue with Vanilla Steel, which specialises in excess and cut-out material, being nicknamed “an Ebay for steel”. “What we saw with, for example, Zalando in the B2B sector will also happen in the B2C segment, where steel is sold: there is a change of generations happening, and it has been accelerated by Covid-19,” he commented.

He concedes that online trading will not replace offline negotiations altogether. The more complex a product is, the less it is suited to be sold online, which will be the case for much automotive steel, he pointed out. “But it will be different for commodities on a spot basis,” of which more than two thirds are still sold offline today. “For these, the e-commerce platforms will prevail as the market place,” he concluded.

Christian Koehl Germany