E-marketplace with a local touch

Ebox24 Online (Pty) Ltd. has chosen South Africa (SA) as the launching pad for ebox24 (http://www.ebox24.co.za), a business services e-marketplace for selling and buying business services. The new engine is the brainchild of MD, Juergen Laug, and marketing director, Nicole Nehaus, who come from a background of business consulting and online marketing, and, as such, are well equipped for this line of business.

Laug has held a number of sales and marketing positions worldwide in the ICT sector. He has also been a consultant for companies in Germany and SA, primarily focusing on market research and business strategy development.

Nehaus worked as a project manager for an international publishing house based in Germany, and at a local consultancy, focusing on online marketing strategies. Laug and Nehaus plan to roll out national sites in other countries in the future, placed around the existing international site, http://www.ebox24.com.

"The SA market is now ready to use such a tool, compared to three to five years ago, as it is in line with several government e-commerce initiatives. Also, the buying behavior of the SA public is changing, with people being more willing to make use of e-commerce," says Laug.

"Ebox24 has been set up purely to match two parties together, service providers and service requesters, in terms of criteria specified in their online profiles.

The Web site http://www.ebox24.co.za is not an e-procurement site. We merely match the business service sought by one party with the business service offered by another," he says.

On competitor sites in SA, generally only one's country of origin can be specified in the profile. With ebox24, participating companies can specify down to their province and even town of origin. Other factors that can be added into the profile include whether the service provider is a black economic empowerment company, and the service requester can specify whether it will only do business with an empowered firm.

Another differentiator is all prices are quoted in rands, not dollars or euros. Payment for the quotation process works on a pay-as-you-quote points system, as opposed to other similar sites, which charge a commission, generally a percentage of the total project price.

High security is offered in the form of VeriSign Inc., which is used by most high-security sites worldwide, aiming to assure users that their details cannot be accessed by a third party.

Research house, Gartner Inc., predicts that worldwide B2B e-commerce will reach US$4.5 trillion in 2005, with more than 500,000 enterprises already participating in e-commerce, as buyers and/or sellers.

The IDC forecasts that European B2B e-commerce will increase from Euro 61 billion (US$74 billion) in 2000 to over Euro 1.5 trillion in 2005. It says there are three types of B2B e-commerce: e-marketplaces, e-distribution and e-procurement, with the first being the fastest growing segment. In SA, BMI-Techknowledge Group says B2B e-marketplace volumes will grow from "almost nothing" in 2000 to about R16 billion by 2005.

Laug says ebox24 offers business services to start-ups, SMMEs, SMEs and corporates in various categories:

-- business development services;

-- marketing services;

-- operations services;

-- business technology services;

-- engineering and manufacturing services;

-- training and seminars.

Laug says many start-ups and SMMEs could also fail because of lack of access to many business services, such as those that can be found on the site, including start-up marketing and technology. Corporates generally make a conscious decision to look for a particular business service, mostly initiated by internal or external changes. They can find what they require on ebox24.

The way it works is the company seeking a service provider registers for free on ebox24, providing company and personal details. The user then defines project specifications, such as the category, location, budget and other specifics, as well as service provider specifications, such as location, accreditation, and references.

The service provider specifies similar details, and includes its company's core competencies. A service provider has to subscribe for a certain period and purchase transaction points in order to quote on a project. Subscription fees are R210 per month for a three-month contract, R150 for six months and R110 per month for a year.

Point fees range from R2.50 for up to 100 points down to R1.35 for 701-1 000 points. Different services require different numbers of points in order for the participating service provider to quote. For example, sales and marketing planning requires 55 points, while management consulting is charged at 100. Payment can be made either by credit card or bank transfer.

The service provider benefits from increased new business opportunities, access to a pool of national and global projects, a reduction in sales and marketing costs and automatic e-mail notification when new projects are posted to the site which fit the company profile.

Says Laug: "We do not attempt to replace the existing business network, but to extend it."

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