Robots cannot be an online business
Over the past three years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in the robotics industry in China. With accelerated adoption of robotics and automation technologies in various industries, including healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing, Chinese robotics companies have been at the forefront of providing solutions to address the challenges posed by the pandemic, such as contactless delivery, disinfection robots, and telemedicine robots, among others. The increased demand for robotic products has extended to the post-pandemic era and driven the expansion of Chinese robotics companies overseas.
Many companies with an overseas vision prioritized using the Internet to penetrate foreign markets. This strategy is not groundless and several reasons substantiate its validity. Firstly, the widespread accessibility and convenience of the internet allow for a global market reach. Secondly, online sales can significantly reduce operational costs and increase profit margins. Thirdly, the Internet offers various sales channels and business models for flexibility. Lastly, the Internet provides valuable market insights and consumer data for informed decision-making.
However, we at EqualOcean saw a different angle to such consensus, as the inherent characteristics of robots decide that they are not typically suited for online sales, but rather require offline sales channels in order to achieve a wider market span and depth.
Complex Nature of Robots
Robots are often complex and specialized products that require technical expertise and customization based on specific customer requirements.
Customers may not have sufficient knowledge or experience to purchase robots online. As robots can be high-value products, customers also require more personalized attention and a higher level of trust before making a purchase. Offline sales channels can provide the opportunity to build strong relationships with customers and establish trust. Offline sales channels can provide in-person technical consultations and demonstrations to help customers understand the product and its features before making a decision.
Further, many industrial robots require customization to fit specific customer needs, which is difficult to achieve through online sales. Offline sales channels provide the opportunity for personalized consultations and customization based on customer needs. As robots often require technical expertise and training for installation and maintenance, which is difficult to provide through online sales, offline sales channels provide the opportunity for in-person technical support and training.
For instance, Ecovas (Chinese: 科沃斯), a leader in the in-home robotic appliances sector, relied heavily on offline education for its rapid growth. Since the introduction of the Ecovacs Deebot robot vacuum to the market in 2008, the "store-in-store (Chinese: 店中店)" of Ecovacs robots can be seen everywhere in large shopping malls such as Walmart, The Home Depot, Suning, and Gome. Sales staff repeatedly demonstrate the robot's cleaning function, and offline stores have quickly expanded to hundreds of locations.
Ecovacs also established a network of offline retail partners in overseas countries, such as the United States, Germany, and Australia. These retail partners include major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart, as well as smaller, specialized retailers. By partnering with these retailers, Ecovacs is able to reach a wider customer base and provide in-person demonstrations and support for its products.
In addition to retail partnerships, Ecovacs has also set up its own branded stores in some countries, such as Japan and South Korea. These stores allow Ecovacs to showcase its products and provide a more personalized and localized experience for customers.
Robots often require installation, training, and maintenance, which are typically carried out offline, through in-person interactions with customers. After-sales support is crucial for customer satisfaction and the long-term success of robot products, and offline sales channels provide the opportunity to deliver comprehensive after-sales services.
For instance, Dobot (Chinese: 越疆), a world leader in smart collaborative robotics and the creator of desktop-grade robotic arms, has established its own service centers and technical support teams in various countries, including the United States, Canada, and Japan. These service centers provide installation, training, and maintenance services for Dobot products, helping to ensure customer satisfaction and long-term success.
Most recently on 12 April 2023, Dobot officially opened its new branch in Tokyo, Japan. The setting up of the Japanese branch, according to Jerry Liu, founder, and CEO of Dobot, “provide closer and more efficient service support to Japanese customers with a standardized and modular solution and establish a full product life cycle technical support system, with a full range of marketing and brand advertising support policies.”
B2B Sales Dynamics
Robots are often used in industrial and commercial applications, where B2B sales dynamics play a crucial role. B2B sales typically involve complex negotiations, long sales cycles, and personalized interactions between sales representatives and customers. These sales activities are often conducted offline, through direct sales channels, trade shows, and industry events, to establish trust and build strong business relationships.
Siasun Robot & Automation Co., Ltd., (Chinese: 新松) is a leading industrial robot manufacturer based in Shenyang, China, and has established overseas regional centers and subsidiaries in multiple locations worldwide, including Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, and Germany, having steadily increased its global trade scale. The company has set up several offline sales channels, including showrooms, training centers, and exhibition halls in major cities worldwide to showcase its products and provide technical support and training for customers. They also participate in various industry events and trade shows to establish partnerships and build strong business relationships with potential clients.
Estun Automation (Chinese: 埃斯顿自动化) is another prominent Chinese robotics company that specializes in the development and manufacturing of industrial robots and automation equipment. The company has a wide range of products and solutions, including welding robots, palletizing robots, and CNC systems. To expand its business overseas, Estun Automation has set up a global sales and service network that includes subsidiaries in countries such as Germany, Italy, and the United States. The company also participates in international exhibitions and conferences, such as the China International Industry Fair (Chinese: 中国国际工业博览会) and the International Robot Exhibition, to showcase its products and services and connect with potential customers. Through its offline sales channels, Estun Automation has been able to establish strong partnerships with major companies in various industries, such as automobile manufacturing and food processing.
Written at the end
Offline stores can play a significant role in building brand recognition, engaging with customers, providing localized sales and support services, and driving sales growth in overseas markets. This is particularly relevant in industries such as robotics, where customers may require hands-on experience, technical support, and after-sales services.
It is important to note that the success of offline store expansion strategies may not be solely attributed to offline stores alone, but rather as part of a holistic approach that includes online channels, marketing efforts, product quality, customer service, and other factors. Therefore, a comprehensive analysis of a company's overall business performance, market share, and customer feedback would provide a more accurate direction for Chinese robot companies eyeing overseas expansion.