New research gives insights into wholesale customers’ online habits

When it comes to online habits, wholesalers would do well to remember that their customers are fundamentally shoppers.

So said Katie Hemmings, commercial director of him! Research & Consulting, who  unveiled some new research at the Scottish Wholesale Association conference last week (june 10-11). The company carried out more than 2,000 interviews with retailers and foodservice operators across the UK.

“We are not ‘B2C’ but wholesale customers are shoppers but we can learn from those market-leading consumer retailers. The big retailers such as Tesco are getting smarter, the wholesale channel cannot afford to get left behind.”

“We found that there were many frustrations,” she said. “These included poor functionality and system processes which could impact on orders and deliveries; being unable to easily find the information they needed to complete their orders; and it taking too long to complete an order. These customer frustrations are a challenge but if they can be addressed they present an opportunity.”

The majority of the information customers used and wanted was not on their wholesaler’s website, making it time-consuming to switch back and forth.

The information retailers wanted online included: shelf life (48%), case size (35%), nutritional information (19%) and product size or weight (20%). For 79% of foodservice operators, brochures were still the most important source of promotional and NPD information; well over half (59%) of retailers would be more likely to buy NPD and promotions if they saw them in a C&C depot than online – the reason being that websites were often too difficult to search, or had prror quality information or photography.

Hemmings added that while the standard of foodservice websites was high [generally better than those aimed at retailers], too many of them were not optimised for mobile – again providing opportunities.

Retailers were creatures of habit, she said, with predictable purchasing patterns (ordering the same day each week, ordering the same products, etc) which provided yet more opportunities, both in disrupting these patterns and in meeting them.

Hemmings said that North London-based JJ Foodservice was a good wholesaler to study.

“They are leading the way with their website – it has great functionality and the [personalised]landing page is based on each customer’s ordering history. JJ estimates 80% of sales come from that landing page.”

Finally, the him! research revealed too much choice was a barrier to sales. A survey of the biscuit category had revealed that there were 4,205 products from 344 manufacturers, and 1,783 brands. Yet 80% of sales came from just 8% of those 4,205 products. In a test with a number of Bestway Best-In retailers, the biscuit range was reduced from 90 SKUs to 66, with a sales uplift of 25% from the category!

“You get bigger by getting smaller,” said Hemmings. “Simplification is key. Reduce range, make it easy in-depot and online, make more of the big sellers and be an educator.”


  • 1. The most common way retailers and operators create their order is via “gap checking” (systematically covering store or stockroom, looking for low levels – fewer than four items on slow selling lines, under 10 cases on fast sellers)
  • 2. It takes an average of 93 minutes to create each order
  • 3. Stock levels are managed by a combination of rate of sale info, shelf and/or storage space, experience/gut feel and the weather
  • 4. Nearly half (47%) of customers have never created an automatic order, preferring a flexible approach



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