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Elit Rowland considers how the rise of online ordering will change wholesale

“Wholesalers who are not investing in the web right now, are storing up trouble,” warns Jason Finch, director of IT developer Port80. He argues that e-commerce websites make shopping easy and will “increasingly shape B2B expectations”.

And wholesalers are following suit: Blakemore just launched a click & collect service across seven of its cash & carry depots to help customers spend less time away from their businesses. Collection slots are available just two hours after orders are placed.

But it’s not just transactional websites on the cards. In May this year, Palmer and Harvey took online ordering to the next level with its new ‘Easy Order’ app, developed by Port80. It’s available to retailers that have pre-registered for online ordering.

Even earlier in the year, Bestway launched its first transactional website for Batleys, offering both delivered and click & collect options to retail and foodservice ­customers.

It’s no surprise that wholesalers are slowly but surely stepping up investment in online, when Bestway alone announced in March that it had average web sales of £2.5m per week.

Roles will change

But what does the growth of transactional websites mean for depot staff? How will it affect field sales reps and ­telesales?

There will still be important roles for them, but these roles will change.
Back in August, Jo Cooper, wholesale channel director at GSK, told Better Wholesaling she expects that in 10 years’ time, retailers and caterers will be using depots to get advice and information, and to top up orders.

“For wholesalers, this means that depot staff will need to focus more on customer service and product knowledge.”

One wholesaler that’s been in the delivered game for a while, JW Filshill, agrees that the rise of online orders is ‘freeing’ up staff to provide better service. Managing director Simon Hannah says: “We launched our click & collect service more than two and a half years ago and about 25% of our sales come from online orders.

“This frees up our reps to spend more time with customers, offering them advice instead of simply taking orders. In some ways, they are replicating the work that suppliers used to do.”

But it’s not just the roles of staff that could change. The physical depot could also start to evolve. Hannah says, “I can imagine more wholesalers adopting a showroom model, where customers can sit and have a coffee [while they wait for their orders].”

Port80’s Finch agrees that the wholesalers that blend the old with the new are the ones that will survive.
“While many major names died within a decade of the web arriving, plenty survived by blending the internet’s commercial and social aspects into their business model.”

However, with increased services come increased customer expectations. “You’re open for business 24/7. Customers start to expect real-time stock level transparency and immediate customer ­service.”
Does the changing role of the depot present an opportunity for wholesalers to sell directly to consumers?

Finch says yes, but warns that wholesalers should keep Amazon on their radar.
“Keep an eye on its trials of same-day grocery deliveries in the US and Canada. Suppliers may trump everyone by going direct with the help of fulfilment experts like Amazon.”


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