Technology can help you to nurture relationships with your customers, says Stefan Appleby

A couple of weeks ago, I visited award-­winning retailer Dee Sedani in his One Stop store in Etwall, Derbyshire.

Dee talked me through a new digital system that he and a group of other leading retailers have been developing and that he believes could replace the shop manual as the catch-all system in helping him run the back office in his store.

From timesheets to daily tasks, underage sales checks to staff training, the new system has at its heart a very simple goal – to allow Dee to increase visibility and productivity.

Last month in Better Wholesaling, Elit Rowland wrote a brilliant feature about guaranteeing customer loyalty, with the use of technology as its main focus.

“You must learn what they [your retail customers] want and use technology to meet their needs,” she advised.

The needs of the customers who come into your depot are relatively simple. With increasing pressure on their bottom lines and time, retailers and foodservice customers want solutions that will help them make business simpler and more cost-effective.

It isn’t just Dee and the band of retailers who have helped him feed into the development of this new back-end technology who are doing this. There are retailers, such as Sandip Kotecha in Cheltenham, building their own apps for their customers. More than 100 customers downloaded Sandip’s app in the first three months after its launch.

Right now, it’s a loyalty app but Sandip hopes to build it into a digital ordering platform with delivery within 45 minutes. But the app wasn’t built so that he never sees his customers – it was built to further his relationships with them and keep them coming back.

“We now get people coming in and waving their phones at us saying, ‘Can we have a pasty? Can you stamp me?’” he says.

Communication has never been simpler than it is today. There are huge groups of retailers out there chatting, day-in, day-out, on WhatsApp. Thanks to technology, networks are easier to construct, relationships are easier to build – and gossip easier to spread. So don’t think your customers aren’t talking to each other about what your depot is like, what your prices are like and what you are like.

This is exactly the point at which you should embrace technology. The wholesaler’s role is to be a communicator and educator, as well as a salesperson – you should be a guide to the mixed-up world of convenience retail. The face-to-face relationship and your role actually become more important. Technology might help people find you and load up their online order baskets, but the old adage of ‘people buy people’ is still a valid truth.

Retailers are more tech-savvy than they have ever been. The apps that Dee himself uses have one simple goal – learning new things that can help him increase his profit.

So can you, as the wholesaler, help your retail customers understand challenges and pass on new ideas?

Technology doesn’t exist just because it should. It has to have a purpose. And if you can see that there is a purpose to it that will help your customers – which will, in turn, help you – then it’s worth investigating.

In July, Better Wholesaling is hosting its first ever summit. I’m delighted to say that it will focus on technology and I’m also delighted to say that I will be chairing the event.

With the line-up that we have, delegates will not only hear inspirational success stories, but our speakers are also sure to pass on new ideas about how every depot can use something – a communication platform, a sales tracker, an app to push offers to customers – to help it grow its own sales and profits.

Any journey has to start with some idea of an end goal; you then plot your own route to it. In this case, the goal must be increasing your visibility and profitability, exactly as Dee is looking to do.

What better offering than a room full of wholesalers and suppliers who can help give you those ideas or answer questions you may have? No matter what stage of the journey you are on, it’s a great place to be.

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As head of digital at Newtrade and editor in chief of Retail Express, Stefan sees, first-hand, all the newest product launches and developments and gets to talk to everyone across the retail sector, from independent retailers to managing directors. Stefan can be found on Twitter at @Stefan_Appleby


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