Advances in IT have brought wholesalers major gains. But with technology rapidly progressing, you need to move with the times. ELIT ROWLAND brings you the top trends in wholesale for the year ahead
Your customers are expecting more than ever before – they want speed, accuracy and efficiency, all at an affordable price. And the wholesalers that are succeeding are adapting to these trends. “The wholesaler’s world is changing,” says Greg White, CEO at technology company Blue Ridge. “To quote Charles Darwin, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that will survive… It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.’”
With any change, there’s always an element of risk, but with margins squeezed for wholesalers and their retail and catering customers, the move towards technology to improve operations and save costs in the long-term has become critical.
“Technological reinvention among wholesalers has seen them actively pursuing and capitalising on various tools out there – a movement that will continue over the next 12 months,” says Andrew Butt, managing director of developer Enable Software.
But succeeding with technology is not just about investment. Forward-thinking wholesalers must understand which solutions are best for their businesses and effectively integrate them. “These wholesalers understand that their supply chain in not a series of disjointed entities, but rather an eco-system where each party feeds off and provides benefits to the others,” says White. “In today’s economy, that’s a necessary vision.”
1: 24hr Online shopping
Online ordering is driving excellent sales for the major multiples and many digitally-savvy wholesalers are following suit. “We’re seeing a wave of interest from wholesalers emulating this service,” says Ivan Durkin, managing director of STL Technologies.
OFFER FREE WI-FI
- Giving customers free wifi access in‑depot can enable them to do on-the-spot price comparisons, offering them the tools they need to stay competitive.
One wholesaler has been enjoying sales of up to £100K a week since integrating a 24-hour online ordering service into his business.
“The key fob-scanning and web-ordering system from Sanderson has significantly improved communication with our customers and helps with the scheduling of orders to delivery dates,” says Fehad Shehzad, IT executive at JW Filshill.
2: Mobile revolution
While ecommerce has seen tremendous growth over the past year, the increase in the number of tablets and smartphones means customers want to shop on the go, and retailers and caterers are no exception. “The mobile revolution has become a game-changer in terms of providing another purchasing channel and creating a new way for wholesalers to interact with customers,” says Enable’s Andrew Butt.
Some of the most effective approaches have been to equip sales forces with customer insights along with order entry, “an area where apps have shown to help,” says Greg White at Blue Ridge.
STL Technologies’ Remote Ordering Solution has helped sales reps from companies such as DF Wishart to be more productive on the road, by enabling them to make real-time orders from their customers’ shops.
It’s not just customers who are using mobile technologies – wholesalers, such as JJ Food Service, have been using tablets front-of-house and in-depot to offer customers a ‘self service’ method of payment.
“Wholesalers can improve customer service by using tablet computers for queue-busting in cash & carries or by offering kiosks where customers can order goods using a digital product catalogue on a table,” says Tim Williams, divisional director at Business Computer Projects (BCP). “This reduces stocks and working capital without negatively affecting customer service.”
3: Knowledge is power
Having information immediately available is critical for wholesalers to be able to resolve operational and logistical issues. But static reports and ambiguous tools can be “inflexible and sometimes just unintelligible”, says Greg White. “Savvy wholesalers are moving to analytics tools that have best-practice reports built in, with an ease of use that allows non-technical users to create customer dashboards, reports and alerts as necessary.”
And with customer expectations showing no signs of slowing down, the demand for ‘big data’ will be on the up. “Wholesalers are now in a position to crunch data faster and more efficiently than ever before, and companies are demanding this ability in greater and greater numbers,” says Andrew Butt. “We expect big data to take centre stage as organisations work to the old adage that ‘knowledge is power’.”
4: Look, no hands!
Hands-free technology for warehouse operations has been around for some time and has helped many wholesalers, such as L&F Jones Food Services, to improve the accuracy and responsiveness of their deliveries. But it’s surprising how many depots still operate manual picking methods. “Voice order-picking is proving to be cost-effective for wholesalers, which are seeing a reduction in expensive picking errors,” says
Martin Beatty, development director for wholesale distribution and solutions at Sanderson. “Our Swords voice order-picking technology provides intelligent routing, telling pickers where to go in the warehouse, saving time and increasing the number of orders picked per shift.”
And wholesalers are seeing significant improvements with the use of voice picking. BCP-client Pedigree Wholesale opted for a complete Accord system incorporating Voice WMS (warehouse management software) for its main depot in Nottingham. Picking rates have improved by up to 20% and accuracy is now more than 99.9%. Chris Laud, Pedigree financial director, says: “The whole warehouse just works so much more efficiently.”
5: The clouds the limit
Cloud-based solutions offer lower cost, more scalable and more secure solutions to many businesses, including wholesale. “More and more companies are looking to the cloud as a long-term opportunity – in fact, a recent survey of over 2,000 senior executives revealed that their top technology priorities this year include general cloud computing, as well as its specific types, such as software as a service (SaaS),” says Blue Ridge’s Greg White, adding that SaaS’s benefits include fast, low risk implementation while enabling providers to deliver updates throughout the year, without having to wait for an annual release that requires a “major upgrade effort”.
Both cloud computing and SaaS can be accessed using apps that keep both customers and sales people up to speed with what’s going on. “The days of large, costly and unwieldy software installations are disappearing, as wholesalers recognise that lower cost, easier and quicker methods of delivering software are
offering a true measure of certainly in uncertain economic times,” says Enable’s Andrew Butt.
6: Can you see clearly
Bringing together aspects of SaaS solutions creates opportunities for a new level of visibility, collaboration and flexibility to the supply chain that has not previously been possible, according to some suppliers.
“All participants in the wholesale supply chain can see future product needs and plan well in advance,” says Blue Ridge’s Greg White, adding that there is the potential to foresee potential supply-chain disruptions before they occur and communicate across the supply chain to prevent the disruption. “Optimal planning from replenishment to production to logistics, transportation and labour, all the way to financial impact, results in a leaner, yet more effective supply chain.”
Tailoring dashboards also helps to improve visibility across IT systems in the preferred format. “With our Accord technology, the dashboard offers options to slice and dice data in a multitude of
ways, with excellent graphical display to ease interpretation of the results,” says BCP’s Tim Williams.
Points 3 and 6 combine neatly; knowledge is indeed power, but raw data doesn’t guarantee knowledge, and visibility – or visualisation – offers a powerful means of growing information, understanding and knowledge from data.
Collecting and managing ever-growing large volumes of data is – as suggested by Andrew Butt – increasingly important and achievable for all businesses. But, as Greg White and Tim Williams suggest, it may need to be visualised in order to make sense of it.
Data visualisation and Visual Analytics are rapidly developing fields, and the tools and techniques emerging from them are enabling businesses of all sizes – with data of all sizes – to explore information and develop a rich understanding of business performance. These tools and techniques are not the preserve of ‘Big Data’, but can be applied to the data that all businesses collect today; better to develop capability on small, manageable data sets than dive into Big Data unprepared.
Data visualisation plays to our inbuilt pattern detection capabilities – the human vision system is extraordinarily powerful at detecting subtle patterns in complex scenes. By converting data into interactive, visual representations – which the reader can explore intuitively – information emerges, understanding evolves, and resultant insights are communicated quickly and easily to colleagues, customers and suppliers.