It was a race against time, a tremendous challenge. We worked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Over the course of several months, the online store of PGG S.A. not only underwent revolutionary changes but also brought about revolutionary changes in the solid fuels market in Poland.
It all truly began in February of last year when President Tomasz Rogala proposed building an online store not only for pre-packaged coals – says Jolanta Smołka, Director of the Solid Fuels Sales Office of PGG S.A. She emphasizes that these changes would not have been possible without the support of the employees from the IT and Telecommunications Department of PGG S.A., as well as the Purchasing Office.
And I’ll say it’s all thanks to Ms. Jolanta Smołka’s department – retorts the Chief Engineer for Development and IT Strategy, department head Jacek Szutt. However, they both agree on one thing – this revolution was carried out by the employees of the Polish Mining Group SA, without the involvement of external entities, relying on their own strength on an unprecedented scale.
The new version of the PGG S.A. Online Store was launched in May 2020. The changes were forced by the pandemic at that time. Customers had the opportunity to purchase eco-nuts in bags with home delivery. The new version of the store stood out with a different way of presenting commercial products and facilitated purchases with increased transaction security on the internet. However, the scale of purchases was not significant at that time. By the end of 2021, just under 26 thousand customers had logged into the store. At that time, traders and IT specialists did not suspect what they would have to face in 2022. By the end of 2022, over a million users were registered in the store.
In February 2022, an urgent decision was made to expand the operation of the PGG S.A. online store. This decision was driven by the fact that intermediaries in the coal trade exploited the difficult situation for price speculation, raising the price of coal in storage facilities up to 3600 Polish zloty per ton – says Jolanta Smołka.
In 2022, coal in the PGG S.A. e-store began to be sold not only in bags but also in bulk. The network of Qualified Coal Suppliers was established. As a result, the Polish solid fuels market underwent significant changes.
The biggest challenge was the scale of the phenomenon. A huge boom began even before the Russian aggression on Ukraine, and no one expected that. Just like no one expected there would be no coal import from Russia. This had an impact on the store’s traffic. The biggest challenge in 2022 was handling this traffic when, at one point, even 150 thousand customers tried to buy coal. We were continuously responding to all changes – recalls Jacek Szutt.
Up to 100 thousand tons of coal were being placed on the shelves every day, and within minutes, the entire stock was sold out. The store was besieged; there were days when over 2 million customers logged into the store at once. Despite conducting sales on such a massive scale in the e-store, it was continuously improved during this period, including measures to secure our customers’ interests by implementing various login and limit security features to prevent fraud, meet the requirements for excise goods, and at the same time maintain a user-friendly and easy purchasing tool for our customers – explains Jolanta Smołka. Jacek Szutt adds that they also had to counter hacking attacks, which is why geolocation was activated within Poland.
When it comes to major programming work, it is certainly worth mentioning the integration with the national node, which eliminated attempts at fraud. The national node login.gov.pl is primarily used to identify users of national administration and local government systems, not commercial companies, but we received permission for that. The Polish Mining Group SA was the first company to carry out such integration. Preparations for integration with the national node took two months – reminds Jacek Szutt.
Qualified Coal Suppliers Network
The operation related to the preparation of the system for the creation of the Qualified Coal Suppliers network proceeded very efficiently, according to Jacek Szutt. This was because it was created gradually, though at a very fast pace. The decision to establish the network was made in June 2022. Previously, customers collected coal directly from PGG mines. The main goal was to allow customers to collect the coal purchased in the online store near their homes, without having to organize transport from PGG S.A. mines themselves. The Purchasing and Services Office did a great deal of work and quickly selected over 100 Qualified Coal Suppliers. – It was one of the largest procurement processes that PGG S.A. has dealt with – says Wiesław Zygmunt, Director of the Purchasing and Services Office.
The first Qualified Coal Supplier appeared at the end of August, and we were waiting for each new KDW point on the map because customers showed great interest in this new service. At the moment, we have about 180 KDW points throughout the country, and many entities are still interested in cooperating with PGG. Store customers are satisfied with the service offered by Qualified Coal Suppliers, and KDW themselves want to be part of this group and provide services at the highest level. In my opinion, the whole complex project has been a complete success – emphasizes Jolanta Smołka.
Qualified Coal Suppliers are distributed throughout the country. They replaced intermediaries as they now handle the transportation, reloading, and delivery of coal purchased by customers in the PGG S.A. e-store. As a result, customers have the guarantee of purchasing coal at producer prices and the assurance of the quality and origin of the raw material. The entire transaction is fast, verified, and secure. Therefore, as Jolanta Smołka adds, the PGG e-store, along with the network of Qualified Coal Suppliers, has become the main distribution channel for solid fuels from Silesian mines to households across the country.
Beneficial Changes for PGG S.A. E-Store Customers
Thanks to these changes, individual customers – households – have gained the opportunity to purchase coal at producer prices, guaranteed quality, without intermediaries, and on a mass scale. Previously, the coal market for individual customers was based on the distribution of coal directly from mines, transported by intermediaries to private storage facilities. The decision by the largest coal producer, PGG S.A., to launch universal online sales and to build a company-owned network of carriers and KDW storage facilities under the control of PGG S.A. has led to changes in the coal market. These changes are beneficial for customers who now have better access to high-quality coal at a good price directly from the producer.
Now, buyers in our store have the assurance that it is Polish coal, produced in PGG S.A. mines. In the last year, the store also prepared a multi-channel communication model with the customer. The customer can contact us through the helpline, an integrated contact form within the store account, and can also use automatic chatbot and voicebot support tools at any time. The store accepts all forms of payment, including fast transfers and installments, among others. If someone has a problem with internet access or a computer but wants to buy coal in our store, they just need to go to a KDW point, where they will receive professional assistance in purchasing coal. At this moment, KDW provides this service for our customers. It’s really a revolution; over the past year, we have transformed ourselves significantly, and there is no other store like ours in Poland – adds Jolanta Smołka.
Jacek Szutt reminds us of the records that were broken last year. According to Google Analytics, almost 9 million new users visited the PGG e-store throughout 2022, and the store’s website had over 350 million page views. Last year, in the online store of the Polish Mining Group S.A., they sold 1.5 million tons of coal to almost half a million households.
Promotions and Plans
Due to the summer period, some customers went on vacation, and it might seem that the e-store is now quieter. However, for the employees of the IT department and the sales department, it is a busy time because they are already planning further improvements for store customers. Meanwhile, during the holidays, buyers can take advantage of attractive offers. One of them is the “Second Half of Coal” promotion, in which every ton of coal is 400 Polish zloty cheaper with the second order. The store currently offers coarse coal at a lower, attractive price with free delivery to a selected KDW point. New solutions for customers will be presented in the autumn, but for now, the sales and IT departments do not want to reveal them just yet.