A Closer Look at Wholesale Ecommerce

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Wholesale ecommerce is growing in popularity as more traditional B2B businesses move their operations online. In this article, we're going to deep-dive into the modern B2B buyer, the advantages for ecommerce for wholesalers, and what to look for in a wholesale ecommerce platform.

What is Wholesale Ecommerce?

Wholesale ecommerce is a business-to-business (B2B ecommerce) model where, instead of selling your products individually to consumers, you sell them in bulk and at a discount to other businesses. 

Within the supply chain, you’re basically the intermediary between the manufacturer and the distributor or retailer.

Additionally, since we are talking about wholesale ecommerce, there’s an element of buying and selling online — something relatively new in the B2B business model, but growing fast.

5 Ways Wholesalers Can Benefit from Using Ecommerce

Previously, the B2B sales process predominantly relied on salespeople building long-term relationships with prospects, even for more straightforward deals. However, the rise of ecommerce has changed the status quo, providing many benefits to B2B companies that choose to move sales online.

1. Automate manual processes.

Using an ecommerce platform to sell goods is a way to automate time-consuming manual processes. With the right platform, tasks such as checkout, billing and inventory management are done with apps instead of by hand. 

Employees can devote resources to other parts of the business, such as digital marketing or customer service. Additionally, sales teams can spend time working with larger, more complex accounts instead of handling order processing for bulk purchases that can be easily completed through a self-service model on the website.

2. Reach more customers.

Wholesale ecommerce businesses aren't bound by physical location. They can reach customers all around the globe via their website, social media and marketplaces

Because of this omnichannel experience, your customers have more opportunities to find you as they move between devices and channels.

Additionally selling wholesale online is a great opportunity to create brand awareness if you’re looking to expand into new markets and reach a previously unreachable customer base without investing in a physical location.

3. Get insights and data.

When you have a website, you can get more access to granular levels of customer data and insights, such as:

  • Which pages and products are viewed the most each day/week/month.
  • Number of visitors who clicked on a specific coupon.
  • Average length of time spent on a webpage. 
  • Percentage of users who bounced from the site vs. those who moved throughout it.

This data can inform your marketing campaigns, product mix, pricing and discounts, and so much more. Combined with the feedback from sales representatives and customer service, you can gain a better understanding of your customers’ needs.

4. Improve customer service.

Not only does ecommerce give you the opportunity to offer self-service portals to your customers, but you can also use personalization to enhance their experience. For instance, custom catalogues and price lists make it easy for customers to log into your site and get the products they want without the need to speak to a salesperson. 

You can offer added convenience by providing estimated shipping costs, product recommendations and advanced quotes that can be reviewed and approved by multiple stakeholders.

“A really great way to exceed expectations and make your B2B differentiated is to take the learnings of B2C and bring them into your site. There’s a few things you can do, but the most important thing, and the thing that I think is really cool, is showing an estimated delivery date.”

 Quentin Montalto, Chief Operating Officer at ShipperHQ

5. Sell through mobile devices.

Wholesale buyers are on-the-go. Many don’t spend time sitting in front of a desktop or laptop computer. Instead, they rely on their mobile devices to find information about products while they’re traveling or on a jobsite. 

Ecommerce makes it possible for them to research options and make purchases from right from their mobile phones.

The Wholesale Buyer is Changing

B2B customers are asking to buy products digitally. Which makes sense considering wholesale customers are the same people who shop online for personal items: 

  • They’re used to shopping on Amazon
  • They search Google for new ideas and products
  • They pay with credit cards and digital wallets
  • They browse social media on their phones

Plus, these buyers put a lot of stock into the online shopping experience. They do extensive research on a brand and its products before they even consider reaching out to a sales representative. 

For instance, B2B buyers conduct approximately 12 online searches before making a purchase from a specific brand. Additionally, 74% report researching at least half of their work purchases online.

Another part of this shift can be attributed to the influx of millennials in the workplace. In 2020, close to half of B2B buyers are millennials — nearly double the amount from 2012. 

They’re heavily involved in the purchasing process, too. A 2019 report found that 44% of millennials are making purchasing decisions while 33% say they are key influencers or recommenders in the purchasing process.

Accommodating B2B buyers, particularly millennials, is vital to succeeding in wholesale ecommerce. You can do this with a flexible ecommerce platform that creates consumer-like shopping experiences while also integrating with your existing systems to facilitate seamless order management.

How to Prepare for Building a Wholesale Ecommerce Store

Before building a wholesale ecommerce site, you need to make sure several things are put into place. Here are some of the steps you can take to prepare your business to move online.

1. Create your project needs.

Before building a wholesale ecommerce storefront, it's important to understand exactly what you want versus what you need. 

  • Analyze your competition.

When you search for your products on Google or in Amazon, who are your competitors? The search results will show you who you're up against. What are you offering that's different from your search competitors?

  • Determine which products you want to sell.

What products can you start with on your site? How will you expand that product line? Start with products that have a high margin. 

  • Determine how you will accept payments.

What payment processor will you use? What credit cards will people be able to use on your site? Will customers be able to pay on credit terms? Figuring out the answers to these questions now will make it easier to build your wholesale ecommerce site in a way that supports your payment methods.

2. Identify potential barriers.

No matter what industry you're in, there's likely to be at least one obstacle. These could include:

  • Regulations: What, if any, are the government regulations for purchasing the products in your store? For example, can the items in your online store be shipped to every state? 
  • Unknown order total: Some ecommerce sites have a system that calculates the shipping fee after checkout is complete, so the customer leaves the site not knowing the total cost of the order. 
  • Account creation: In some cases, a customer creates an account but they can't place an order until the account is approved internally. 

Some of these challenges are bigger than others, but it's good to identify them up front so you have a plan to prevent them from happening.

3. Clarify ecommerce platform goals.

Determine what your ecommerce site will offer customers that others don't. Now is also a good time to lay out some specific goals, such as:

  • What are your revenue goals?
  • Do you want to decrease the sales cycle?
  • Do you want to increase your fulfillment speed? 

Answers to these questions will help you prioritize your wholesale platform goals.

4. Select your ecommerce software.

There are many platforms out there, and it's important to ensure the platform fits your specific needs for wholesale orders. Use this time to really learn about your options. Try a demo. Ask about their customer service

Plan to spend a good amount of time on this step. Choosing the right wholesale ecommerce platform is an important business decision. 

What to Look For in a Wholesale Ecommerce Platform

Once you have a plan in place for digitizing your wholesale business, it’s time to select an ecommerce platform. Here are some other things to consider:

1. Meets your budget.

When selecting an ecommerce platform, you need to ensure it fits within your budget now, but also that it will fit within your long-term strategy.

Here are some potential questions to ask:

  • What's the total cost of setting up the site? Are there any out-of-the-box integrations that will help you cut costs?
  • What is the difficulty level of maintaining the site? What will be updated for you vs. what will you have to update manually? 
  • Are you responsible for managing security and upgrades? 

For instance, building an enterprise-level store on Magento Commerce can cost over six figures depending on the complexity of the build, design, extensions and additional integrations required. And keeping up with the security patches and version updates necessary to have the latest secure version of Magento is time-consuming, labour intensive — and best handled by Magento Certified developers. 

On the other hand, BigCommerce has a lower total cost of ownership than Magento Commerce, partially because as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform updates, security patches and ecommerce hosting are handled for you. This enables you to focus developer resources on creating a better buying experience for your B2B customers.

2. Extensive integrations.

The days of monolithic systems are gone. Nowadays, your ecommerce platform must be able to integrate with other software systems in order to create a seamless purchasing experience for your customers. 

Make sure the ecommerce platform that you choose has versatile APIs that allow you to integrate with your existing business systems (ERP, CRM, PIM, etc.).

3. SEO and content marketing capabilities.

Wholesale buyers often use the internet to search for products. Good content is important to help shoppers not only find your site but also make a decision once they’re there.

Your ecommerce platform should enable you to deliver SEO-optimised content that answers the precise questions buyers are asking. Additionally, once they’re on your site, clear product page content — from descriptions to technical specifications — can make them confident they’re getting the exact products they need.

“The B2B buyer is going to be looking for a volume pricing type of relationship and that changes the nuances of how you’re expressing the product.”

 Christian Hassold, Vice President for EMEA for Salsify

4. Catalogue browsing and search functionality.

When you have an extensive catalogue with numerous SKUs, you need to make sure that customers can find the exact products that they need. One solution is to offer faceted search, which lets shoppers filter by certain product features (e.g., size, weight, color) to narrow down their search results.

Another option is to use AI-powered search technology, like the one from BigCommerce Partner Klevu, to ensure buyers find exactly what they’re looking for.

“Shoppers using search are your highest intent buyers. They know exactly what they are looking for, and it’s important that they find just that. So using an NLP based, or natural language processing based search technology, will ensure relevant search results — no matter the complexity of the query.”

 Ford Crane, Strategic Partnerships Manager at Klevu

5. Payment versatility.

Reducing friction is increasingly important for B2B businesses. How businesses accept payments can have a profound impact on the success of their ecommerce channel overall, and the payment gateway and payment options you choose make all the difference. 

Additionally, B2B payments are not as simple as punching in a credit card number or logging into a PayPal account; buyers might not want to put a forty-thousand dollar order on a credit card. 

“Look for a payment gateway with advanced functionality that supports your business and its growth. Also, give your customers the ability to pay in the ways that work for them. By offering the ability for customers to pay electronically, with ACH or cards using a link from the invoice or even by phone via virtual terminal, you make electronic payments easier for them and you no longer have to wait for checks to arrive in the mail.”

 Casey Griswold, GM Invoicing Solutions at BlueSnap

Examples of Wholesale Ecommerce Websites

There are many wholesale ecommerce websites out there. Let's take a look at some examples of BigCommerce merchants that have successfully launched wholesale online.

1. Berlin Packaging.

Berlin Packaging Distributor Ecommerce

Berlin Packaging opened in 1938 as a tinplate packaging business and has evolved into a modern glass and plastic container store. Today, they fulfill B2B orders for a wide variety of businesses.

When Berlin Packaging was looking for the right ecommerce platform, they had to consider APIs, the legacy cost of IT and the benefits of cloud-based versus on-premise. They ultimately went with BigCommerce because of its pricing, configurations and functionality.

Shipping coordination was one of their biggest challenges, with more than 200 different partner vendor locations and dropshipping. Working with agency Americaneagle.com, they were able to create unique system integrations via the BigCommerce API.

2. Casey's Distributing.

Caseys Distributing Wholesale

Casey’s Distributing is a sports memorabilia retailer that works with several thousand resellers across North America, distributing for more than 50 manufacturers, exceeding 50,000 SKUs. 

According to Casey's Distributing, they tried working with platforms such as Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and Volusion. 

The 50,000+ stock codes they manage each year require regular updates. The team was searching for a catalogue management solution that would allow them to manage that without a huge cost and without a headache. BigCommerce was able to provide that solution. 

In less than one month, Casey's Distributing went from having an old, outdated website to a modern, mobile-responsive site with BigCommerce.

3. Clarion Safety Systems.

Clairon Wholesale

Clarion Safety Systems has been in the B2B market for more than 25 years as a designer and manufacturer of product safety labels and signage. Between the company’s online ordering system being sunset and underlying issues, like poor user experience, the brand decided it was time to migrate to BigCommerce. 

With help from an agency, Clarion Safety Systems was able to fully migrate over to BigCommerce in 18 months. Additionally, the brand was able to overhaul everything from navigation to checkout, creating a more streamlined experience for customers.

In total, the brand uploaded 9,000 SKUs, increased traffic 43% and increased revenue by 10%.

4. Mountain Crest Gardens.

Mountain Crest Wholesale

Mountain Crest Gardens is the fastest growing online succulent seller in California. In the 1990s, they stuck to B2B. 

Today, they sell to both B2C and wholesale buyers.

Their wholesale side of the business runs on the exact same site and product pages as the B2C side. They do not have a specific wholesale landing page. Instead, they have a wholesale section of their site, as well as bulk pricing call outs.

Conclusion

Wholesalers who use ecommerce to sell to B2B buyers experience many benefits. And as more and more wholesale businesses take their operations online, you'll need to create more personalized experiences to stand out from the competition — which you can easily do when you have the right ecommerce platform powering your website.

Wholesale Ecommerce Frequently Asked Questions

What is wholesale ecommerce?

Wholesale ecommerce is when one business sells goods in bulk and at a discount to another business to sell. Typically, the wholesaler is the intermediary between the manufacturer and the distributor or retailer.

The main thing is that wholesaling typically means you’re selling to anyone but the end user. For example, you might sell to:

  • Distributors and retailers
  • Boutiques and brick-and-mortars that are not your own
  • Partner or reseller websites
  • Schools and universities
  • Coaches and organisations
  • Tradeshows and conferences
Is wholesale ecommerce the same as B2B?

Wholesale ecommerce is a type of B2B business, although the terms are often used interchangeably.

What is the difference between wholesale and retail?

The main difference between wholesale and retail is who you’re selling to. Wholesalers sell to other businesses, and retailers sell directly to customers. Additionally, wholesalers usually offer products at lower price since they are selling large quantities. Retailers purchase from wholesalers and therefore need to mark up prices to turn a profit.

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What is an example of a wholesale ecommerce business?

An example of a wholesale ecommerce business is Berlin Packaging. Berlin Packaging opened in 1938 as a tinplate packaging business has evolved into a modern glass and plastic container store. Today, they fulfill B2B orders for a wide variety of businesses.

When Berlin Packaging was looking for the right ecommerce platform, they had to consider APIs, the legacy cost of IT and the benefits of cloud-based versus on-site. They ultimately went with BigCommerce because of its pricing, configurations, and functionality. 

A challenge Berlin Packaging faced was coordinating shipping. They have more than 200 different partner vendor locations and drop shipping, but they worked with Americaneagle.com, an agency that created unique system integrations via the BigCommerce API.

What are the benefits of having a wholesale ecommerce site?

There are many benefits to having an ecommerce site, including:

  1. Can eliminate unnecessary costs. Automation can mean fewer employees to manage, and fewer physical locations can cut down on real estate costs.
  2. Offers access to more consumers. A website provides global and mobile access to customers.
  3. Provides additional customer analytics. Data collection paints a picture of how visitors are interacting with your site. 
  4. Allows for mobile growth. Shoppers can make purchases right from their phone.
What are critical features needed in a wholesale ecommerce store?

Some of the critical features needed in a wholesale ecommerce store include:

  1. Flexible APIs for integrations with other systems (ERP, CRM, PIM)
  2. Ability to segment customers for pricing, product access and promotions
  3. Advanced search capabilities, such as faceted search
  4. Robust SEO and content marketing capabilities
  5. Broad payment options, including quotes for multiple reviewers
  6. Included security, as well as upgrades and updates
How can a wholesale ecommerce website support custom ordering?

A wholesale ecommerce website can support custom ordering by automating as much of the process as possible. Depending on the products sold on the website, there might be a specific form for custom orders or built-in parameters on what can be customised and what can't. Depending on the platform, customers may also be able to create account profiles to save their custom order specs.

How can wholesale ecommerce serve personalized experiences?

One way is to use customer groups in your ecommerce platform to segment your buyers. Then, you can use banners, carousels, and other tools to offer special discounts.

Additionally, you can use the data you collect about your customers to send them reminders that it’s time to reorder products, or you can make recommendations for new products based on their past purchases.

Do wholesalers and distributors function differently?

Yes, wholesalers and distributors function differently. A wholesaler buys goods and sells them in bulk to other businesses. A distributor resells products and services, usually on a contract basis with a manufacturer.

What type of industries can wholesale be applied to?

There are several different industries that utilise wholesale products. Retail is a popular wholesale example, which includes small shops and big-box department stores. Other industries, including medical, automotive, and food service all purchase goods from wholesalers.

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