Opinion: The time is now for wholesalers to push the button on AI

Rob Mannion is the chief executive of b2b.store


Don’t let the movies scare you into thinking artificial intelligence (AI) is a bad thing. Talk in the news about AI having the potential to take over the world might make good headlines,
but the likeliness of it going full Terminator is a little far-fetched – yet if wholesalers don’t embrace what the technology has to offer, they could still be saying ‘Hasta la vista, baby’.

There’s no denying the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to AI being used across a raft of industries, and wholesale is no different, along with the rest of the supply chain. Particularly due to the nature of the way our sector operates, the threat of automation and efficiencies naturally lead us to think about how it could impact the humans doing the work now – perhaps even the longevity of entire businesses in the long term.

I can understand why that’s a frightening thought for some business owners, but considering an extreme example of what might happen is no reason to shirk from exploring the positives AI can provide, too.

Machine learning can already have a positive impact on product recommendations on e-commerce, online searches, an ability to identify meaningful insights from messaging inboxes, and marketing and communications. It’s not big and it’s not scary, but it will encourage higher spends from customers and bring you higher engagement. What’s so bad about that?

The irony is the solutions I’ve mentioned use the same technol- ogy that is leaving some people quaking in their boots – it’s all generative AI, which learns from its experiences to improve output. The idea of creating a series of programmes or machines that can self-improve is clearly where the Terminator comparisons are drawn from. Yet, this technology, while impressive, is still relatively unrefined and will need much greater development before it hits the levels of influence some people are talking about.

Read more: b2b.Store’s Open Banking solution hits 3,000 monthly transactions

But if the upward trajectory that AI is on is only going to pick up speed, forward-thinking wholesalers and suppliers should be recognising that advancements are coming (whether they like it or not) and playing a role in identifying where AI can give them an edge.

There’s no point in simply slinging this technology into your business for the sake of it without working out how best to use it. Pooling industry resources to carry out testing on how AI is used within wholesale businesses is the way the industry can help cultivate something that enhances what we do rather than taking away from it.

Naturally, we at b2b.store consider ourselves to be at the forefront of this activity and we’re already talking to leading suppliers and wholesalers to see how we can join up the dots for some trials in the not-too-distant future. If we do this together, then it’s going to safeguard the future, instead of leaving a gap for others without the knowledge or passion for the sector to notice gaps where AI could be implemented.

Because mark my words, if we shun the idea of wholesale AI in the short term, there’s no way it won’t be saying ‘I’ll be back’ in the years ahead.

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Paul Hill is the Editor of Better Wholesaling. He can be found on Twitter at @BW_PaulHill, or contacted via paul.hill@newtrade.co.uk and 07960935659.


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