Forget-me-not: modernising wholesale strategies for multi-channel growth
One of the biggest misconceptions of ecommerce is that it’s primarily a consumer channel. In reality, B2B ecommerce is growing three times faster than its B2C counterpart, but this growth is coming from a relatively small percentage of the B2B market, as many wholesalers still haven’t embraced ecommerce as an engine for growth.
At a time when internet connectivity has become integral to our daily lives, somehow the B2B sector is adrift of the ecommerce pace. This seems surprising at first glance, considering the enormous pressure facing wholesalers today; there has been a 6.4% fall in the number of mid-size wholesalers during the past six years, due partly to both the global economic downturn and the increasing threat of manufacturers going direct to consumers, cutting out the middle man in the process.
The cost of standing still
This leaner, sharper state of affairs presents enormous opportunities for open minded wholesalers to get ahead of the competition by becoming trailblazers for B2B ecommerce. Whereas most retail technologies are adopted at a pace set by the end user, the development of transactional websites for trade businesses has been slowed by wholesalers’ attachment to historic sales techniques. In actual fact, there is an appetite among B2B buyers to bring business practices online like the rest of their lives – as electrical components firm RS Components remarked in a report we commissioned recently, ‘ecommerce is the engine of growth’.
Building an effective online strategy
Wholesalers need to get their strategies right. It’s not enough to rush out a rudimentary website; ecommerce portals in any sector must serve customers’ needs and form part of a seamless end-to-end experience.
For instance, when dealing with the B2B sector specifically, time is of the essence, which means any website must be easy-to-use. Unlike consumer transactions, the vast majority of traffic will be repeat ordering, so this must be prioritised within the site’s layout and structure. Equally, clients may visit the website whilst on the move, so it should be built in a responsive format to enable proper display on smartphones and tablets.
It’s also essential that any activity at the front end is connected to existing systems at the back end. Even the greatest user experience will be let down if the website isn’t tightly integrated to inventory and order management software, as this could result in failures in the user experience such as inaccurate stock availability information on the website, orders not being delivered on time, inaccurate pricing information and so on. Close integration is essential to deliver the promises wholesalers make online and to ensure orders are processed as efficiently as possible.
Wholesalers who get their strategy right not only have the chance to grow their existing operation online – they could potentially roll out their ecommerce platform to consumers directly. However, it is worth pointing out that this involves careful consideration. In addition to tighter legislation, B2C ecommerce has varying logistical processes to B2B transactions, and companies must take care not to alienate any existing trade client relationships by targeting the same end buyers.
Keep on moving
Whichever direction wholesalers decide to take their ecommerce platform, modernising B2B sales strategies by going online isn’t a one step process; websites, like businesses, continually evolve.
Each firm’s requirements will be unique, but the one thing all B2B wholesalers have in common is a customer base to interact with. Using online channels to add value as well as convenience to services, and gathering client feedback on your ecommerce output, are incredibly useful tools for increasing online profits.
By keeping websites customer-focused and frequently developing them with users’ needs in mind, wholesalers can use digital connectivity to strengthen existing client relationships, nurture new business and potentially explore direct consumer opportunities.
One final word of advice, though – ecommerce is a powerful modernising tool, but it isn’t the be all and end all. As the term ‘multi-channel’ suggests, a successful operational and sales strategy relies on optimising all channels and the way they interact with each other, not just bolting on an online sales function.
Mark Thornton is eCommerce Director at Maginus, the expert provider of multi-channel solutions for retail & B2B distribution companies. Maginus’ latest report with IMRG, Wholesale in an Online World, is now available to download.