Wholesale customers want much more than deep-cut discounts. To win and keep their business, you must learn what they want and use technology to meet their needs, says Elit Rowland

Wholesalers have increasingly relied on discounting to increase sales and encourage money-conscious customers to buy from them. But as the economy improves, shoppers are choosing to work with businesses that can offer more. And with free training, education, planograms and point-of-sale material now readily available from many wholesalers and buying groups, the competition is on to differentiate the value you add from your competitors’. 

There’s no doubt that keeping up with shoppers’ behaviour is vital for both retailers and wholesalers. Developing the online shopping experience will be an important consideration, with 29% of UK grocery shoppers increasing the amount they spend online; online ordering is showing no signs of slowing in wholesale either. 

New technologies, such as beacons, are helping retailers and wholesalers to draw shoppers to their stores, and the huge increase in the number of mobile apps available is helping caterers and retailers alike to be just clicks away from receiving orders.

Embracing technology will put your business ahead, but it’s important to first consider what added value looks like to different customer sectors.

“31% of retailers claim that their wholesaler or symbol group is the most important factor in influencing their business decisions, behind only shopper demand,” says Him! managing director Jill Livesey.

The needs of a convenience-store retailer are very different to that of a restaurateur, caterer or publican, according to research consultancy Him! Retailers, in particular, want information and support – and they expect it all from their wholesaler.

Bidvest launched its ‘Create Summer’ campaign offering caterers ideas about how to capitalise on summer occasions, with a focus on fresh and vegetarian lines. The group also has a blog from development chef Wayne, updating caterers on food trends and occasions.

When Apple first introduced beacons in 2013, it introduced a new way to engage with people. When customers enter a certain location, beacons can send messages to their mobile devices, provided they have opted to receive them. These messages could be deals, promotions, invitations or other useful information.

Beacons were slow to catch on in the UK but three years later, the concept has now hit the high street hard. Savvy wholesalers and retailers are using them to draw traffic to their stores. Earlier this year, Today’s Group signed its symbol group retailers up to Big Deals Local (Big DL), which flags up retail promotions for shoppers near any Today’s store.

In 2014, Bestway Wholesale became one of the first UK wholesalers to start trialling beacon technology. Today, it uses it to personalise the shopping experience through its customer app. The business has also launched My Rewards, a loyalty card that reimburses retailers based on the amount they spend in-depot and for demonstrating store discipline and promotional compliance. Last year, Bestway became the first wholesaler to introduce Apple Pay to its depots, enabling customers to pay using an iPhone or Apple Watch.

research imageRetailers and wholesalers have always faced a challenge in encouraging consumers to share information with them, but last year, for the first time, shoppers demonstrated an understanding of the value to be gained from their shopping behaviour being monitored. According to Oracle Retail Research, 31% of respondents to its survey saw value in ‘personalisation technologies’, up from just 9% the previous year; 56% recognised that giving retailers access to information can improve their shopping experience; and 23% said they were happy to download an app that allows retailers to track their movements in-store and online.

Last year, JJ Food Service used customer data to launch a predictive ordering app and website. Developers used three years’ worth of transactional data to train the new machine-learning model, which sped up the shopping process. The up- and cross-selling functions helped the business to increase basket spend. The group’s transparent pricing system and one-month price-hold on promotions continue to add value to caterers who need fixed prices to plan menus in advance.

According to Oracle Retail Research, 31% of shoppers said that having the right product in the right place at the right time matters the most to the shopping experience. With that in mind, it’s not just customer data that can add value – your own data can improve relationships further up the supply chain.

This year, The Whole Sale Company launched a tool to give manufacturers access to wholesalers’ sales-out data. Features such as heat maps and depot scorecards identify underperforming regions and opportunities by branch.

The result? Wholesalers stock what customers need, when and where they need it, benefiting the retailer, caterer and, ultimately, the consumer.


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