eWholesale Collective’s tips to setting up online

eWholesale Collective’s tips to setting up online

With the Covid-19 pandemic encouraging more wholesalers to embrace e-commerce, the eWholesale Collective gives their verdict on honing your offer

1. Blurred lines

The gradual merging of traditional retail and foodservice channels is nothing new, but the speed of change triggered by the Covid-19 crisis has been meteoric. All of a sudden, having as many revenue streams as possible is key, with foodservice wholesalers in particular morphing beyond simply offering a B2B service and venturing into B2C.

With human contact likely to be limited for the foreseeable future and the hospitality sector inevitably feeling the pinch for a long time to come, a lot of these direct-to-consumer services will remain. Add to this the growing trend of collaborations between retail-facing businesses and food delivery channels – such as the Bestway and Uber Eats partnership– and it’s easy to see how lines could soon be blurred beyond recognition.

What this means is those businesses with fit-for-purpose routes to market will be the ones to benefit in the new world. Services that may have done the trick for B2B customers just won’t cut the mustard with consumers.

Availability becomes even more crucial than it was previously for B2B, with consumers even less likely to return if they can’t get what they need. Paired with this is making sure products can be found easily, with almost all web traffic going to the first page of results and more than two thirds to the top five listings.

Getting those search terms and product tags right is imperative so relevant and best-selling items show up when relevant searches are made, while having the ability to recognise which brands and products were intended if a customer makes a spelling mistake is another basic need.

Finally, making sure the relevant products are displayed for the correct customers is important. For retailers, popular brands and POR are crucial, foodservice operators want to know about pack sizes, margins and ingredients, while consumers are more interested in what the product provides them. If traditional channels are blurring, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the most effective.

2. Fix the basics

We all know convenience is king, however wholesalers don’t always exercise that rule when it comes to their own e-commerce channels.

A significant proportion of wholesalers still don’t offer online payment to customers, but with more business turning to online to place their orders, the added convenience of doing this quickly and easily on an e-commerce channel is valuable.

This automated approach extends beyond payment, though. Similarly, offering an ability to select a delivery or collection slot online will improve user experience, with customers benefiting from having more services available at the touch of a button.

With local independent retailers enjoying a renaissance of interest they haven’t encountered for years, customers have less time than ever to spend on day-to-day tasks. So if a wholesalers’ website can help them save more time by creating a self-contained process so they can focus on the running of their stores, it’s sure to be a winner.

Many foodservice wholesalers moving into offering consumer-facing services during the initial Covid-19 outbreak identified this problem themselves and had to spend priceless time waiting for new, automated services to be added to their website. Without having the basics in place, it’s harder to adapt if and when the need arrives.

3. Something for everyone

Just as more people turn to online services to place orders, they want to find a way to order and receive their products in a manner that suits their situation – and the wholesalers that can offer the best options stand to benefit most.

The current crisis has identified the value of each delivery method, with depot visits, click and collect and delivery each seeing increases in demand, which shows that every channel has merit if done correctly. As always, the devil is in the detail though.

Several wholesale e-commerce providers, most notably RNF, reported a huge demand for contactless services as Covid-19 took hold, as the need to reduce unnecessary contact grew. Automated or cashless payment is about more than just hygiene and the newly discovered ease of use of these services will accelerate the sector’s move towards a digital world.

With the virus likely to be here to stay for a while yet, businesses need to make sure they’re set up to keep customers safe and enhance convenience. For some, that means not needing to visit premises to get the stock they need – partly due to reducing risk, but also because with customers starved of time more than ever, it’s a way of working more efficiently. Don’t be fooled that this will snap back to normal after the crisis has ended, with some customers, particularly in retail, finally seeing the benefits of using technology they wouldn’t have considered previously.

The next stage is for e-commerce platforms, whether on desktop or mobile, to offer greater flexibility and convenience. That could mean voice ordering so shopping lists can be added to on the go, or functions that automatically tracks replenishment so the majority of a customer’s regular order is already selected for them, so they can spend more time running their business.

4. Provide added value

The advent of e-commerce has come with an ongoing concern among wholesalers that the added value they’ve always offered customers face-to-face may get lost in a digital world. But there’s no need for this to happen and by familiarising yourself with each platform, it’s possible for businesses to provide guidance and information for customers using their e-commerce channels.

Ordering platforms shouldn’t just be seen as lists of products and prices, with an endless ability to provide extra content. This may be from basic info, such as product insight, category trends or allergen guidance, or it could extend into merchandising advice, recipe ideas or much more.

One of the greatest challenges wholesalers and suppliers have found when using e-commerce platforms is conveying messages about NPD, with no clear-cut replacement for in-depot tastings and large end-of-aisle promotions, but positioning ads and content in the right way online and can be just as effective.

Mini content hubs will mean that a wholesaler’s e-commerce site becomes a one-stop shop for all their customers’ needs. And if the content provides more traffic to the platform, conversion to a greater number or sales of a bigger basket spend will naturally follow suit.

5. Help is at hand

We all know wholesalers are eternally working on incredibly tight margins and that often becomes a barrier to investing in e-commerce platforms. But the reality is that the vast majority of business that don’t offer a platform will end up losing business, with the need to think digitally accelerating at breakneck speed in the months since Covid-19 took hold.

Help is at hand to support wholesalers make the transition, with a host of third-party providers offering plug-in-and-go platforms at relatively low costs. Businesses such as RNF and Foodservice Online are offering free solutions to help wholesalers get services off the ground, whereas data providers including TWC and SalesOut are on hand to help find insight in the numbers and identify where resource is best concentrated on. Suppliers are also keen to support where they can, with a fleet of successful industry e-commerce channels offering benefits for everyone along the supply chain.