Analysis: French B2B resellers join forces to combat Amazon

A virtual B2B marketplace called Agoply has launched in France to combat the expected arrival of Amazon Business in the country this year.


Agoply – the name is derived from ‘Agora’, Greek for a commercial or political meeting place and the word ‘supply’ – was first discussed about two years ago during a meeting of the Club B2B, an informal think tank of some of France’s leading B2B players such as Companeo, Legallais, Otelo, Conrad, Haleco, Bruneau and Securimed.

Industrial supplies distributor Otelo CEO Yvon Charles is credited with first mooting the idea of a joint marketplace. He said: “Up against the international e-commerce ‘giants’, it was becoming increasingly important for French e-commerce resellers to have another online option.”

The concept was then taken up by Jean-Louis Coustenoble, former Managing Director of Staples’ JPG and Bernard direct brands in France. He received the backing of three of the Club B2B members who invested in the creation of a company called Colecoo which runs the Agoply platform.

Coustenoble told OPI: “The most challenging aspect has been building the back office and integrating with the different systems of our participating merchants so that we can ‘push’ hundreds of thousands of products onto the platform.”

Consolidated purchasing

The Agoply platform has brought together the product offerings of multiple B2B e-commerce resellers into a single website. Customers can buy products from different vendors, but they only receive one invoice per order from Agoply regardless of how many suppliers they have ordered from.

Orders are automatically transferred from the Agoply platform to each merchant’s own e-commerce system and the merchant then processes the order and despatches the goods as it would do with orders received directly through its own website.

One potential sticking point with customers may be delivery costs. Agoply does not have its own distribution infrastructure, so participating merchants handle all deliveries. At the moment, each merchant applies its own minimum order threshold to qualify for free delivery. Therefore, if a customer places an order with several suppliers, but does not exceed minimum order thresholds, then the customer will be hit with multiple delivery charges.

This is an area that Coustenoble says he is working on, and he is looking at a customer membership scheme – similar to Amazon Premium (known as Prime outside of France) – that will include free delivery. 

Agoply purchases products at negotiated prices from its reseller merchants and then sells them to end users. This enables the marketplace to be the sole supplier for orders placed on the site, meaning customers can have a single invoice, so Agoply makes its money on the gross margin differential. The customer is therefore technically ‘owned’ by Agoply, but Coustenoble says that merchants are free to put their own advertising and promotional materials in with their deliveries. 

He said: “There may be certain customer types that the resellers can better service themselves. Our goal is to keep customers that have different purchasing needs throughout the year and don’t need multiple supplier accounts.”

Coustenoble’s ambition is for Agoply to develop in other markets outside France. He concluded: “If everything goes well, we hope to be able to expand internationally within two years.”