Wholesale commerce: keeping up with customer demand
When it comes to keeping up with technology and adapting to consumer demands, wholesalers are falling behind retailers - creating a lacklustre customer experience. Here’s how you can bring your wholesale warehouse into the 21st century.
Wholesalers have as great as an opportunity as retailers to sell directly to the end customer - with the right warehouse management system (WMS).
As we’ve mentioned before, taking an omnichannel approach is your greatest opportunity, and customer service is the only thing differentiating you from your competitors. If you want your brand to stand out, this is where you need to focus your attention. Yes, your product might have been first to market or the best quality product in the industry - but if your customer service sucks, you’re missing a huge opportunity. The right WMS can easily turn a wholesaler into a smooth, omnichannel experience for your end customer.
Your customers are going to go wherever they feel most valued.
Modern buyers are looking for convenience and excellent customer service - the easier you make it for them to make their purchase (and give you their money), the more likely they are to choose you over your competitors, time and time again.
Optimising your supply chain: the difference between wholesale commerce and retail
Wholesalers are notoriously slow to adopt new technology and adapt to changing customer demands. Yet many wholesalers are taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the internet to bypass retailers and net greater profits themselves. Says Forbes, “B2B companies (wholesalers) [are] changing to a direct B2C business model—a trend that is largely being driven by the Internet. And many startups are bypassing retail channels altogether from day one.” They explain one of the reasons this is a huge advantage - wholesalers have a much better customer relationship! They explain, quoting Rob Canales, co-founder of wholesale endurance sports brand ROKA, “When you are growing and expanding rapidly, you can’t afford to lose touch with what your customers really want. ‘Our success formula is extremely simple,’ says Canales. ‘Make better products and treat people like you want to be treated; provide a better customer experience. We can only do that if we have a continuous cycle of customer feedback. Without a direct relationship with our customers, feedback can become obfuscated through an inefficient [retailer] proxy for what the customers really want.’ The closer you are to the people who buy your products, the more you can clearly understand their needs.” Manhattan Associates, warehouse management software provider, breaks down the challenges faced by wholesale customers using this simple analogy:
Consider Harry. A self-employed plumber, who is a wholesaler customer.
Let’s take a look at his typical work day:
Harry flops down on his sofa after a hard day’s work.
He looks to see where he left his laptop, but notices that his wife is already using it. “Honey, can I use the laptop, please? I need to order a few parts for a job.”
“Just a minute,” his wife responds, “I’m ordering a book. If I buy it online now, I’ll get it tomorrow.”
Harry’s wife can order a book by 11pm and have it delivered the next day. Harry, on the other hand, already knows that he won’t be able to get next day shipping because it’s too late in the day. He would like to pay online for an item and pick it up in-store tomorrow, yet that isn’t an option provided by his current supplier.
When Harry finally gets his laptop, he pulls up his supplier’s website and finds the part he needs. Unfortunately, the store is closed, and he isn’t able to call to check and ask if the part is in stock. Harry plans on stopping by the store in the morning and hopes that the part he needs is in stock.
We’ve all been there Harry. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow. . .
Wholesalers need to adjust their current supply chain model to meet customer demand
Harry represents how customers view wholesale commerce versus retail interactions - and it paints a rather frustrating picture. Manhattan Associates goes on to explain the stark contrast in customer service between these two shopping experiences:
There are plenty of customers like Harry, who have the same experience: service engineers, decorators, restaurant owners, office managers or farmers.
In their personal lives, they are enjoying prompt and more engaging ways to shop. They can reserve items online and pick them up in-store. They can even purchase items for same-day delivery or check inventory at various stores.
Unfortunately, wholesale small business owners and employees don’t enjoy the same types of conveniences while shopping with their suppliers.
With professional and personal life becoming increasingly entwined, people cannot be expected to make a strict separation between both areas of their life when it comes to buying products. This situation is only reinforced by the fact that they use the same electronic devices, like smartphones and laptops, for both private and business activities. In a nutshell, the “consumerization of commerce” is becoming the norm – for both B2C and B2B shoppers.
The lesson here is that your customers are not only comparing you to your direct competitors.
When it comes to customer service in the 21st century, your customers are comparing you to every interaction they’ve had with another brand. Retailers, and other early adopters of an omnichannel supply chain, have set the bar extremely high. Your customers are used to being able to purchase whatever they want, whenever they want it.
Imagine how convenient it would be for a restaurant owner to order a crate of avocados online from their wholesaler. Now imagine the added benefit of something like same day delivery - the same way they order their personal groceries. This would ensure that their business never runs out of stock of key ingredients during busy season - you’d have a very happy customer.
We’d like to see more wholesale customers that feel like this!
Forward thinking wholesalers should see this disconnect in customer service as an opportunity to transform the wholesale supply chain - positioning your business as a leader within the wholesale market.
But where do you start?
How to keep up with customer demand
If you’re looking to improve your customer service levels, the first thing we recommend is reading our blog post, How your warehouse management system (WMS) helps improve customer service.
Small tweaks to your warehousing processes along with optimising your warehouse layout and flow, labour allocation and material handling will all help you meet customer demand more efficiently. Using omnichannel solutions you can learn how to sell directly to the end customer and take advantage of the better relationships and direct feedback you can get from the experience. The right WMS can help you identify operational weak points so that you can streamline your business, increase productivity, delight your customers and boost your bottom line.
For more tips to help you optimise your warehouse, download our Practical guidebook to warehouse management. Our guidebook is packed full of handy tips and checklists to help you achieve your business goals.