Charles Smith is a journalist with experience writing for the UK’s grocery and foodservice wholesale industry
1. Technology helps wholesalers to enter new markets and channels, and to recruit customers
Various buying groups are giving members customer apps, adaptable for B2C offerings. One convenience wholesaler offers retailers store-to-door e-commerce apps targeting shoppers near customers’ stores and is developing AI and machine learning to enhance its offer and recruit new retailers. Fine-food wholesalers are also offering retailers easy-open online accounts and shopping apps.
B2C has been foodservice wholesalers’ saviour since the first lockdown. These wholesalers are also using apps to serve takeaway operators and, mid-pandemic, one took 85% of orders online, up from 70% in 2019 – 49% of its January 2021 orders were mobile-generated, up from 2020’s 32%.
2. Technology makes wholesalers‘ businesses more sustainable: including better fleet management and route planning
One buying group has partnered with an energy consultancy to help members manage their carbon footprints, sustainability and CSR obligations. Its head office has adopted permanent flexi-home working, decreased its carbon footprint by 80% and gone paperless. The building incorporates various eco-technology features.
Online ordering is boosting wholesalers’ sustainability, with fewer retailers visiting cash and carries. Route planning software is transforming wholesalers’ deliveries: web/app notification informs customers of delivery windows, assists planning and improves turnaround.
3. Technology can help keep wholesalers up to date and help attract and retain customers by making businesses accessible 24/7 with online ordering on different devices and platforms
One buying group has been offering members digitisation advice for more than a decade and is currently developing a national project to support its B2C activity.
Recent e-commerce advances enable wholesalers serving different sectors to review SKU searches and missed sales and run purchase-based customer offers. One convenience wholesaler’s new website has a ‘favourites’ option saving regular purchases for easier access. As retailers’ online buying grows, another convenience wholesaler reports capturing 87% of orders electronically.
Read more: Six changes wholesalers can make to increase efficiency
4. It can help generate and manage export sales
E-commerce is helping buying groups and wholesalers embrace the export opportunity. One buying group now generates 12% of turnover outside the UK, and sees this proportion increasing. While currently facing short-term issues with EU trading, its present overseas focus, the group predicts business developing in markets further afield, including India, Japan and China. The head office offers expertise to help members use tech to diversify into export, backed up by supplier support.
One UK wholesaler presently sells and ships to 82 countries. Its in-house team has developed bespoke software which manages export consignments, creating all the necessary paperwork and assisting customs compliance.
5. Offer customers a more personalised experience through enhanced engagement
One company has been using tech, including members’ apps, for some years. In total, 95% of its members are delivered wholesalers focused on outperforming national wholesalers’ ‘last mile’ service, making strong customer engagement key. In context, good delivered service levels are hard even for Amazon outside major conurbations.
E-commerce advances mean growing numbers of wholesalers’ websites actually suggest products related to customers’ recent purchases and based on customer profiling. Various wholesalers are also partnering with suppliers to manage customers’ Facebook pages, jointly promoting consumer offers. Social media is also helping wholesalers tailor their offering to their community.One buying group has adopted permanent flexi-home working, decreased its carbon footprint by 80% and gone paperless.
6. Technology makes businesses more efficient through joint planning with suppliers and improved stock availability
One buying group has joint business plans (JBPs) in place with 50 suppliers. It helps wholesaler members with forecasting and launched 300 own-brand SKUs in January, ring-fencing stock ahead of post-Covid-19 demand.
One convenience wholesaler has JBPs with its top 30 suppliers by category, centred on core ranging, supported by data sharing. Availability is a core focus, with early stage development on AI and machine learning enabling more accurate forecasting of incoming stock movements. Another delivered wholesaler’s new warehouse management system also improves stock management and order fulfilment.
7. Encourage frictionless trading by introducing click & collect and cashless payments
Covid-19 has made contactless payments the rule in cash and carries, eliminating cash handling. Click & collect also reduces depot footfall.
Cashless payment on receipt isn’t really suitable for delivered wholesalers. However, they are seeing growth in click & collect and discounts for upfront payment. One convenience wholesaler has self-serve tills in its facia stores and no cash and carry facilities, only click & collect. Average customer turnaround to collect, pay and load is under 10 minutes.
Thanks to: Confex, Dee Bee, Dunsters, JJ Foodservice, JW Filshill, Savona, Pricecheck and Units for their contributions to this piece