Opinion: Wholesalers should be taking advantage of digital during these times

Wholesalers should make the most of digital to operate in these unprecedented times, says Rob Mannion


The Covid-19 pandemic is concerning to us all for many reasons. Not only is there the threat to life, particularly to the most vulnerable in our society, but also the inevitable economic impact, which is yet to be truly understood.

As such, the pandemic has already had a dramatic impact on UK grocery wholesaling. The retail-focused wholesalers can’t cope with demand while the foodservice and on-trade wholesalers are struggling with a customer base that has practically disappeared overnight, with no sign as to when it will return.

Read more: RNF offering free app to wholesalers

Since the middle of March, we’ve seen a massive uptake in the use of our digital services and a spike in customer enquiries as wholesalers prepare for potential changes in customer behaviour.

The trend towards mobile ordering has been gathering pace for some time, with the latest statistics from our Beam platform highlighting an increase in app downloads of 59% versus 2018. But if what we’ve seen over the past few weeks is anything to go by, this crisis is turbocharging that demand.

In many industries, there is already a move for people to use digital to enable them to work from home and help stem the spread of the virus. For wholesalers running depots, this may not have seemed like an option, but there are definite ways in which digital can help wholesale businesses to adapt.

For example, as the pandemic spreads, people are less and less happy visiting public places, including depots. Digital ordering therefore becomes increasingly important, even more so if we end up in a situation like Italy where the country is in total lockdown.

But it isn’t just about people visiting depots; if telesales staff fall ill and are not available to take orders over the phone, the ability for customers to order products 24/7 via an app or website becomes critical to ensuring the business can continue to operate and take customer orders. Another big trend we are seeing relates to payment.

We have experienced an unprecedented rise in requests to implement in-app payment as people move away from cash to protect their staff and customers alike.

The one saving grace digital might be able to offer the industry is that advances in technology mean fully-branded apps can now go live in a matter of days, rather than months.

In light of these unprecedented times, we hope this is one way RNF can help a sector that has played such a key part in the development of our own business.

RNF is in a position to offer any wholesaler that would like to take advantage of digital technologies a free, fully-branded ordering app, to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on their business.

The free app will provide full ordering capabilities, such as unlimited lines, unlimited orders and unlimited order categories to get wholesalers up and running.

While those who wish to can opt in to access certain premium features, such as in-app payment, in-app advertising and barcode scanning.

No-one knows what the final impact of Covid-19 is going to be, but it is our belief that digital services are one way we can help mitigate that impact.

Read more: Erudus secures partnership with RNF

It is also clear that whatever new behaviours are established now are likely to continue once the crisis is over, so, through this offer, we hope we will also be setting up wholesalers to make the most of brighter days ahead.

Anyone interested in taking up the offer of a free ordering app can contact RNF for more information.


Rob Mannion is the managing director of RNF, a B2B digital service provider

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Paul Hill
Paul Hill is the Editor of Better Wholesaling. Paul can be found on Twitter on @BW_PaulHill, or can be contacted via paul.hill@newtrade.co.uk and 020 7689 3376.

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