How wholesalers can be better online

David Grimes, managing director of Parfetts recently said that, traditionally, wholesalers have been slow to adapt to the world of technology and social media.

He said that wholesalers are in need of someone “dynamic” in those important areas in order to survive. However, some would argue that wholesalers are in need of something dynamic instead.

With the rise of global competition, rapid advances in technology and the retail sector shifting and consolidating, there has been a real shift in attitude by the wholesale community over the last three years as they consider their future.

With online retailing in the UK set to reach a total sales value of £87bn in 2013, with a forecasted 12% year on year growth predicted by researchers IMRG and Cap Gemini, we’ve seen wholesalers react in several ways.  There are those businesses who do nothing. There are those who are being forced to adapt their business processes in order to survive.

And thirdly there are those who are taking a really proactive position to invest ahead of the curve to embrace the digital opportunity.  Alongside utilising the technology to create greater efficiency in their business and access other sales channels, other opportunities we’ve seen wholesalers approach are;

  • Creating their own branded ranges with the intention of making a move into retail
  • Diversify their customer base
  • Capture more niche and speciality markets
  • Expanding their business internationally.

There are a number of common practises amongst those wholesalers who are creating profitable new sales channels from their online presence.  And to be clear many of these practises mirror what the B2C online retailers are doing.

There are whole industries that have been created to promote how B2B must behave differently to B2C but there are a number of common practises retailers do that wholesalers should look to offer and do equally well.

For example, the user experience.  Often B2B ecommerce sites are viewed as the poor cousin to their retail equivalents.  Trade buyers are also consumers themselves and exhibit the same buying habits and will respond to the same things on B2C as they do on a B2B website.

Undertaking user journey analysis and embracing new technologies like responsive design and one click checkouts will all benefit the trade buyers experience on a wholesalers ecommerce website.

Wholesalers need to work harder to reduce the barriers to orders online. Don’t make customers fill out long winded credit application forms or lengthy registration procedures. Let them in and order on credit card at your standard pricing. The wholesalers who are choosing to do this are opening up a whole new sales channel, accessing smaller online retailers, market traders to car booters!

Getting the basics right is key.  We’ve seen a number of businesses make a half-hearted approach to their getting their online business active. Investing in integration with your ERP systems will ensure stock, customer pricing and product data is linked and will create real efficiency with your online business.

Put your best foot forward at launch and work hard to ensure your full product range is online and available to be ordered.  Hire in the resource to keep your website information up to date and current on your site.

Reduce phone calls by providing a download function for barcodes, pack sizes, images.  Set up a fantastic resource area for your logged in trade customers where they can access everything they need in order to sell your products easily and successfully.

In a fast paced digital environment, wholesalers who aim to provide retail standard customer service levels with help drive customer loyalty.  No longer is it good enough to wait a week for an order.  Consumers now expect speedy delivery.

Look at examples like Next who offer order up to 9pm for delivery by 9am the next day.Trade customers too are choosing suppliers on their costs, flexibility and speed of delivery.  Working towards ‘Next Day if ordered before 3pm’ is a good start.

If your business is not geared up to achieve this, ‘it’s worth considering how to adapt your business processes to gain a competitive advantage with delivery … no one, including trade customers want to wait anymore.

Finally, a word about marketing. The hard work actually begins once your website goes live.  Marketing your business assertively to your existing customers is important.  Harnessing email marketing, social media and your website to communicate effectively with your existing customers.

Create an inbound marketing strategy to generate new customers online.  An investment in marketing resource to manage your website and your marketing agenda should pay dividends in the medium to long term.

Author: Robert Williams is the managing director of e-commerce and marketing specialist Williams Commerce. For more information, visit: 


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