wholesaler apps

A mobile-optimised website is a good start, but if you’ve not got an app, you risk being left behind, says Ed Austin.

If anyone doubted it before, both the Better Wholesaling Summit and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ conference have cemented just how crucial mobile tech is for wholesalers. The likes of Damien McLoughlin, Unilever’s sales director, have deemed the mobile phone “your new shelf”, while research by analyst Him has revealed that a third of retailers use apps. My own observations are that the average basket size for mobile purchases can be up to 148% bigger than those in-depot.

It is clear that mobile tech is here to stay and that any wholesale business wanting to thrive in this competitive industry needs to start thinking about how it can maximise the opportunities this channel offers.

While it won’t ever replace your staff in building important one-to-one relationships, it can help massively in bringing in new customers by extending your geographical reach, increasing order sizes using relevant and timely communications with customers, and boosting efficiencies.

So how can the mobile channel best support wholesalers? Many wholesalers do now offer online ordering, but I’m often challenged to explain why a wholesaler would ever need more than just a mobile-optimised website.

The answer’s simple: apps are taking retail by storm. Just last year, Amazon was getting more revenue from apps than from the mobile web. And as people are used to the better user experience apps offer over the mobile-optimised web, so they expect this experience in their business dealings as well.

Add to this the findings from a worldwide study by analyst Criteo, which found that the overall conversion rate on an app was 120% higher than on a mobile browser, that apps show 2.5 times the retention rates of mobile websites, and that app customers interact 2.8 times more often than mobile web customers, and it is clear that if you only have a mobile-optimised website, you risk being left behind.

Other than the superior user experience that the mobile generation now demands, the main reason that apps get better results than the mobile-optimised web does is because you can communicate with your app users in a highly personalised and relevant way. However, a big failing with online is that promotions simply aren’t easy enough to see or find – Him’s research suggests that 70% of customers are not finding promotions online, which is a huge missed opportunity.

Apps offer the perfect solution to this as you can send your customers tailored and timely promotions using push notifications or in-app advertising straight to the palm of their hands.

Apps also enable personalised upselling and cross-selling, which leads to increased order sizes. They also allow wholesalers to push more profitable lines to offset the declining margins of ‘smokes and cokes’.

Finally – and probably most excitingly of all – they enable wholesalers to gather rich insights, including a really clear view of how their customers behave online and offline and how promotions are working. It also enables them to gather valuable information on which brands and products are selling well, with which customers and where.

I was part of the team that built the Bestway ordering app – the first of its kind. Net sales from the app are now £4.7m per month and products featured in in-app campaigns have seen significant increases versus previous periods.

For many smaller wholesalers, commissioning an app when market conditions have been so tough just hasn’t been a viable option. But as with all technology, as it has matured, the price has come down. Thanks to frameworks such as the app-building tool React Native, you can now build high-quality apps on multiple platforms in a fraction of the time it used to take. This means that even smaller wholesalers can access the technology and seriously consider implementing apps for their businesses.

There’s no doubt that the effective use of technology is now becoming pivotal in this channel and in many other areas of business. Those wholesalers who embrace apps and use them to their full effect are going to reap the rewards.

Ed Austin is responsible for business development at RNF, an app consultancy specialising in the wholesale and foodservice sectors.

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