Conrad Electronic: Powering next-gen retail with BigQuery and Apigee API management

About Conrad Electronic

A German family business, Conrad Electronic has stood for technology and electronics since 1923. It offers B2B and B2C customers a sourcing platform with a wide and in-depth range of more than 5 million products and professional services on conrad.de.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Germany

Conrad Electronic unifies 400+ internal system data sources on BigQuery to enhance reporting, analysis, and process automation; it uses Apigee to connect this data to key applications via APIs.

Google Cloud results

  • Democratizes reporting with accessible tools in all internal departments, boosting innovation and automation
  • Enables regular analysis of product descriptions for around 5.5M products every hour, not just once a week
  • Enhances customer recommendations by factoring in customer segment information and online interaction history
  • Apigee enables a mobile sales tool that empowers employees with key product information and in-store customer terminals

Reports ready in two days, not two months

When Max Conrad founded an electrical goods store in 1923 Berlin, televisions didn’t exist and telephones were answered with a candlestick receiver. Over the decades that followed, the world of electronics exploded with a proliferation of new products and possibilities, and Conrad Electronic flourished, embracing innovation in a fast-moving market. In 1997, the family firm was one of the first brands in Europe to launch an online store, one of first companies to launch in the German B2B marketplace (in 2017), and today its IoT platform, Conrad Connect, has one of the EU’s largest user bases. Improving speed and transparency is seen as a natural progression for the company, which uses cloud-based G Suite productivity tools to connect 3,500 employees: from warehouse staff, to sales personnel, to floor staff at its more than 20 stores in Europe.

Now, Conrad Electronic is looking to combine a century of retail experience with new sources of data, to optimize the company’s processes and offer more for its customers. “Firstly, we want to unlock the potential of the data stored in our legacy systems,“ explains Aleš Drábek, Chief Digital and Disruption Officer at Conrad Electronic. “That includes supplier data, product data, logistic data, and pricing data, but it’s only part of the story. Until three years ago, our customer-relevant data was kept in 25 different systems. We wanted to bring all of that together.”

“Consolidating our data on BigQuery helps us do three things. First, we can create reports in new ways and with more detail than ever before. Second, we can conduct complicated analysis much more quickly. Finally, we can create machine learning models and automate our processes, making us more effective.”

Aleš Drábek, Chief Digital and Disruption Officer, Conrad Electronic

Aleš and his team explored two possibilities. “One option was to move onto SAP HANA and consolidate all of our data sources there,” says Aleš. “The other was to keep using our legacy SAP to process our order management and export data from it to BigQuery.” Conrad Electronic calculated that the second option would be more cost-effective, faster to implement, and easier to integrate with its ecommerce platform and data analytics systems, already hosted on Google Cloud. By combining all of its data on Google BigQuery, Conrad Electronic has created the foundation for a range of new features.

“Consolidating our data on BigQuery helps us do three things,” says Aleš. “First, we can create reports in new ways and with more detail than ever before. Second, we can conduct complicated analysis much more quickly. Finally, we can create machine learning models and automate our processes, making us more effective.”

Unifying data with BigQuery, managing connections with Apigee

As companies grow, they accumulate an increasing variety of diverse data sources. Conrad Electronic had more than 25 sources for customer-relevant data alone, and Aleš and his team work to add value to what they have, using Cloud Vision to index image content automatically, for example, and Cloud Translation to translate product descriptions. Dispersed data storage can limit a company’s capacity to produce accurate, comprehensive, and timely business intelligence, which is why Conrad Electronic looked to bring all of that information together on a single, searchable, scalable data warehouse.

“We calculated that upgrading our legacy systems would be a difficult, costly project, and could take years,” says Aleš. “Moving to BigQuery was much faster and more cost effective. Because our ecommerce system is hosted on Google Cloud, it couldn’t be easier to connect to BigQuery, and there’s minimal latency,” says Aleš. And security was another priority: “With Google Cloud, we can manage access to all of our systems, and by staying with one cloud, we do not have to manage security across multiple providers.”

“APIs give people the freedom and independence to implement their ideas quickly and effectively. As an effective API management solution, Apigee enables us to harness the power of APIs to transform how we interact with customers and how we transfer data with our B2B customers.”

Aleš Drábek, Chief Digital and Disruption Officer, Conrad Electronic

To begin moving its 70 billions of data points, amounting to more than 20 terabytes of data, Conrad Electronic used replication via Qlik Replicate (formerly Attunity Replicate) to migrate its on-premises data from SAP via Kafka to BigQuery. Then the team deployed Apache Kafka to bring in data from its other sources, such as full copies of invoices and photographic records of packages pre-shipment. Using APIs, Conrad Electronic imports from external sources too, such as tracking information from shipping companies. It manages the connections with the Google Cloud API management solution, Apigee, which also helps connect the procurement systems of B2B customers directly to the Conrad Electronic product catalog, for a faster, more integrated retail experience. Meanwhile, a small team of developers used Apigee to build an easy-to-use tool that provides the in-store team and visitors to stores with key product, service, and warranty information, right from their in-store devices and tablets. This means that instead of in-store terminals that simply replicate their existing web shops, Conrad Electronic has successfully brought the actual selling process to life. More than 60% of all customers who visit its stores are now being serviced via this tool.

“APIs give people the freedom and independence to implement their ideas quickly and effectively,” says Aleš. “As an effective API management solution, Apigee enables us to harness the power of APIs to transform how we interact with customers and how we transfer data with our B2B customers.”

He adds that previously, as soon as the team handed over a shipment to a delivery company, they could no longer track it. This isn’t a problem for Conrad Electronic anymore. “By pulling that data into BigQuery, we can analyze our ability to deliver on time, anticipate delays, and keep customers informed through their main account with us,” says Aleš. “BigQuery is very powerful, and people only need a little bit of training to use it themselves,” he adds. “I was surprised by how much people enjoy using it in their work. They find it easy to use in comparison to other solutions, with extremely fast processing time for tables containing a lot of data. This helps them to explore new types of information and more data combinations. Even our most traditional departments are asking to be introduced to it, which is a really nice surprise.”

Better reporting, faster analysis, more automation

Using data on BigQuery, Conrad Electronic enhances its capacity in three areas where the company saw opportunities to progress: reporting, analysis, and automation.

“Previously, departments had to ask the customer intelligence department to create reports for them and then communicate with them until it was done,” says Aleš. “Now, anyone can generate a report with Google Data Studio using data from BigQuery, their own Sheets and Google Analytics. It used to take two months to produce a report. Now it’s done in two days. And because it’s so easy, people produce more reports and have more ideas. They are more innovative.”

Accurate analysis is an essential part of the company’s ecommerce platform. “Some of our analysis required so much power that we would have to run the processes overnight, once a day, or once a week,” says Aleš. “With BigQuery, those processes take minutes, and we can produce results in real time. That’s a huge time saving.”

Conrad Electronic uses that speed to enhance its algorithms, improving everything from fraud detection systems, to setting B2B customer credit limits, to ensuring the quality of product descriptions online. “We have 5.5 million products on our marketplace at conrad.de, and each requires a detailed technical description,” says Aleš. “Previously, we could only check that the descriptions were complete and accurate for our top 200,000 products, but now we can give regular feedback to all of our suppliers about the quality of those descriptions. That improves both the customer experience and the effectiveness of our search function.”

Machine learning is also improved, enabling greater automation and an optimized customer experience. “Our previous recommendation engine made suggestions based on a ‘product-to-product’ basis,” explains Aleš. “We could say that people who buy this product, also buy that product. Now we can use data consolidated on BigQuery and algorithms written with TensorFlow to also consider more specific needs of each customer when we make recommendations. Are they B2C or B2B? Are they affiliated with a particular company, and what do people from that company tend to buy?”

“With BigQuery, we see all of our processes from start to finish and every stage in between. We identify aspects to improve and get the detail we need to improve them. Our legacy systems gave an overview on part of the process. Now we can see the whole thing.”

Aleš Drábek, Chief Digital and Disruption Officer, Conrad Electronic

Moving to a proactive model, for customers and colleagues

In 2020, Conrad Electronic will switch off its previous data warehouse solution, as BigQuery underpins a series of new developments. “We want to move to a more proactive, predictive way of working,” says Aleš. “For example, if a parcel is going to be delayed, we should inform the customer only if it’s important to the customer that it comes on time, so that we don’t annoy people with unnecessary information. Or if there’s an upcoming event that might change supply and demand, we need to be ready for it and make sure our customers are ready too.”

Conrad Electronic aims to apply that proactive approach to its IoT platform, which hosts more than three terabytes of data. “With data consolidated on BigQuery, we can receive messages from our smart products, telling us that they are nearing the end of their working lives, and immediately create a reorder of that item. If a lightbulb tells us that it is about to die, we can send the customer an automated message saying that their lightbulb will expire in two weeks and suggesting they reorder. For large companies, that’s not just convenient, it reduces their need to keep stock, lowering their overheads.”

For Aleš, consolidating all data in a searchable, scalable, fast-moving data warehouse signals a step change in the way Conrad Electronic can work: “With BigQuery, we see all of our processes from start to finish, and every stage in between. We identify aspects to improve and can get the detail we need to improve them. Our legacy systems gave an overview on part of the process. Now we can see the whole thing.”

About Conrad Electronic

A German family business, Conrad Electronic has stood for technology and electronics since 1923. It offers B2B and B2C customers a sourcing platform with a wide and in-depth range of more than 5 million products and professional services on conrad.de.

Industries: Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: Germany