Everything everywhere

Digital catalogues and mobile order capture applications are transforming the way wholesalers are making their product ranges visible and revolutionising the way field sales teams sell. Lisa Moore talks to wholesalers and tech specialists to find out more

In an increasingly competitive B2B sector, companies are turning their attention to ways to make their product offer more visible.  Historically, wholesalers adopted an element of protectiveness to prevent their trade pricing and product range from being viewed and potentially copied by competitors.  Whilst that remains a relevant consideration today, the increasingly sophisticated technology available is providing wholesalers with a number of choices to help open up their businesses in a way they are comfortable with, which in turn allows them to grow and flourish.

Robert Williams, MD of Williams Commerce, a B2B e-ecommerce, digital marketing and IT specialist based in Leciester says: “One of the growing trends we see is wholesalers who now realise the need to make themselves and their product ranges far more visible to trade customers and the general public.  We are increasingly advising our clients about the importance of reducing the barriers to doing business online and one way to do this is to make product more readily visible across a number of channels.

“Historically printed catalogues played an important role for many businesses.  Even now, printed catalogues still have a significant role to play, particularly in the B2C sector.  Research by You Gov suggests that 24% of consumers are placing orders after browsing a print catalogue in the last year.   Smart retail businesses that have evolved their printed catalogue to work in harmony with their online offering are generating a healthy return on investment. However for many, the traditional printed catalogue is costly to produce, expensive to distribute and can date very quickly, but various digital options can make life easier for wholesalers.”

At its most basic, a business can make its printed catalogue available as a downloadable PDF, accessed either through a password protected gateway or downloadable after the web-visitor provides details such as email address and business name.

Online ‘flip’ books are another way to display a digital catalogue – allowing the user to experience a similar look and feel to a traditional printed format. Another option for wholesalers not quite ready to take fully take the web-ordering route is to display their business and products online via a simple, but effective brochure website.  Business owners can manage the content and product display on a daily basis through a content management system.

“However,” says Williams, “more sophisticated B2B ecommerce websites go beyond the simple brochure website, with the ability to offer tiered pricing, quantity break pricing and show products by category, by and brand. Customers can place bulk orders efficiently using comprehensive filtering and quick order upload features, and depending upon requirements, the more advanced trade ecommerce platforms can integrate seamlessly with back office systems.”

Chris Pass from specialist tech company Business Computer Projects (BCP) adds that aside from the inherent convenience of online systems, they also allow pricing and promotions to be tailored to individual customers, allow direct, real-time access to stock availability information and product details, such as ingredients and allergens.

However, he says for a web-ordering system to realise its full potential is must be fully integrated to back-office systems. “Some web ordering systems simply use stock balances from the previous night and just produce and email or print-out for re-keying into the sales order entry systems. This retains all the old re-keying problems and prevents accessing real-time information.”

Scottish wholesaler Filshill is one company using a variety of platforms to ensure customers can place their orders in a way that suits them.

MD Simon Hannah explains those order methods range from printed PLOFs to fax and telesales. Web orders can either be inputted from the drop-down menus on the website or by using the key fob scanner which retailers use to scan the physical retail barcodes of the products they want to order. The retailer can then plugs the scanner into theUSBport of his PC/laptop and the order is uploaded to Filshill.

But when it comes to more sophisticated technology, Filshill also uses two impressive pieces of kit. The first is a sophisticated Customer Relationship Management System that allows the sales team to use an infrared scanning wand to scan each individual product code in the PLOF which is then captured by the tablets and transmitted instantly into Filshill’s mainframe system.

The other isEPOSorders, which are generated based on sales through the tills in-store. Says Hannah: “A communication link is in place from the store to us here at head office which not only allows us to capture the orders, but also offer a whole host of additional services to help the customers. Promotional hosting, retail price maintenance, margin maintenance and product file maintenance are just some of the benefits.”

Catalogue apps are still in the minority in the wholesale sector, but where used they can be synchronised and updated regularly and are, in terms of development, a one-off cost for a business.

Williams says his company’s recently developed mSeller app, in collaboration with mobile data company Computoy, allows customers to sync their product ranges from back office systems and present product catalogues in an interactive and visual format, whilst sharing pricing and promotions and the ability to place orders directly.

What’s clear is the increasing transparency of digital catalogues is reaping rewards for businesses and their customers.  Wholesalers are no longer restricted to producing a set number of brochures per year.  Online catalogues are flexible, can be updated monthly, weekly or even daily.  And this allows manufacturers and importers to bring product to market faster and more cost-effectively. 

Filhill’s Hannah agrees, adding that it’s not only the flexibility of digital formats over printed, but the extra time it means for sales teams to actually help customers across different aspects of their business. “Instead of just spending time capturing orders, they can use that time to work with retailers to identify areas within the store that need more focus. Our sales team can work with retailers on identifying core range gaps, offer planogram advice, discuss NPD, seasonal opportunities and so on. We can also create customised digital PLOFS for customers. This provides flexibility to highlight NPD, promotions and, of course, the communication of legislation and manufacturer price increases much quicker.”


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