Future-proof your wholesale business – how to start your e-commerce journey

16 May 2024 by
Future-proof your wholesale business – how to start your e-commerce journey
Felix Choo

In my 20 years working with wholesalers across the Australian timber industry, I have come to discover a trend – most of them are very reluctant to jump into technology and utilise tools that are now commonplace, such as e-commerce, even though there is common recognition for the need to improve their customer journey. 

Here are some common reasons:  

  • Fear of cannibalising their existing sales: they worry having an online store could cannibalise sales from their existing brick-and-mortar customers or established distribution channels, incurring their wrath and jeopardising relationships. 
  • Cost of going online: setting up and maintaining an e-commerce platform requires continuous investment and technological know-how. They are concerned about the upfront costs and ongoing effort required to manage this.  
  • Technology doubts: many timber wholesalers worry about replicating their existing sales processes in an online environment. They are unsure if they can be integrated into an e-commerce system effectively without sacrificing the personal touch they would normally bring to the negotiation table.  

Despite the hurdles, the benefits of e-commerce for wholesalers, especially in the timber industry, are significant. With the B2B space rapidly evolving, those who do not adapt risk being left behind by more savvy competitors.  

By carefully considering the above-mentioned factors and developing a strategic plan, I believe these challenges can be overcome, and wholesalers can reap the rewards of a thriving online and physical presence without jeopardising their existing sales and customer relationships. 

Here are some ideas to help you get started. 

  • Planning and pre-activation 
    • Gathering intel: research your buyers – what products do they normally buy? How and when do they engage in buying? What are your best-selling products? Who are your main competitors? What are they doing? Identify any gaps you can fill with your offerings or service.
    • Developing a marketing plan: how will you inform your current buyers about this new way of buying? How will you reach new customers? Will you be sending regular EDMs?
  • Choosing the right platform 
    • Make a feature checklist: list the functionalities essential for your business. For example, do you need tiered pricing options? Do you require a separate portal for pre-authorised customers? How about bulk order processing capabilities? Integration with your existing ERP? Discount or rebate options? 
    • Research and compare: there are many B2B-specific e-commerce platforms that cater to wholesalers and you should evaluate them for their features, pricing models and ease of use based on your technical savvy. 
    • Schedule demos: get a first-hand look at your selected options through product demos, or sign up for free trials. It is important to get a feel for the platform and be comfortable with its use. 
    • Think scalability and accessibility: you should always go for a platform that can grow with your business. Platforms such as TIMMSanywhere which is highly flexible and can handle increased volume of orders and customers as your business grows. You should also consider cloud-based options for remote accessibility and ease of integration with your current ERP system. 
  • Market your e-commerce store 
    • Product descriptions: they need to be compelling, highlighting key features, benefits and specifications. Product images are important too – a high-quality, professional image is key to capturing attention.
    • Email campaigns: you need to let your customers know about this new way of trading with you. Sending regular communications, such as an e-newsletter, or run promotions to engage with existing customers and attract new ones.  
    • Testimonials: consider creating video content such as product demonstrations or customer testimonials to showcase your products in action and build trust.
  • Preparing your people for the change 
    • Some people are more adaptable to change than others: you should be communicating regularly to explain the benefits of introducing an e-commerce system and address any concerns your people may have.  
    • Training: organise the necessary training to get your people up to speed with the platform, new customer service protocols and any potential changes to order processing workflows. 
    • Recognising the impacts: it is important to recognise that your existing Sales Reps and Account Managers will continue to play a vital role in building relationships with your clients. They need to be available to assist and take orders if requested, but however, their focus should begin to shift from solely securing orders to fostering strong and lasting relationships with customers. By nurturing these relationships, your business can ensure a steady stream of future orders and sustainable growth. 
Benefits of e-commerce in wholesale 

The benefits of e-commerce to a wholesaler are similar to those of a retailer, but with a slight twist. Here are some of them: 

Convenience and easier procurement for your customers  
  • An e-commerce platform will allow your customers to order a product from anywhere in the world at any time, regardless of your business operation hours. This allows time-poor customers the flexibility to place orders whenever it suits them, greatly enhancing the buying experience and helping you build long-term loyalty. Reminder – this doesn't exempt you from trying to foster even better customer relationships though. You should always be making an effort to speak with your clients and understand their pain points.
Streamlining your operations and saving costs 
  • You can streamline your entire wholesale operations using a platform such as TIMMSanywhere. Imagine integrating and automating tasks like order processing, pricing, billing and inventory management. This frees up valuable staff time to deal with more other pressing issues (and perhaps some more personal time!). 
Gain valuable insights 
  • An e-commerce platform is a rich source of data where you can gain valuable insights into your customer behaviours and buying trends. This information is goldmine for wholesalers, allowing you to refine your product offerings and make data-driven decisions to grow your business.
Creating your competitive edge 
  • Wholesalers who remain solely on traditional methods of trading risk being left behind by competitors who have embraced e-commerce. The B2B landscape is shifting towards online transactions and by establishing an online presence, you can stay ahead of the curve, attract new customers and maintain your competitive edge in the industry.  

A well-thought-out and effectively implemented e-commerce solution can significantly enhance and streamline the ordering process for your wholesale business, delivering greater convenience to your customers. At the same time, it greatly reduces the number of manual tasks that you and your staff need to perform, providing more time for the things that really matter! 

in News