In fact, according to a study conducted by Statista, the Business-to-Business (B2B) ecommerce volume in the United States has jumped from $2.7 trillion in 2006 to nearly $7 trillion in 2019.
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 — essentially as the intermediary between the manufacturer and the distributor or retailer.
In this article, we're going to deep-dive into the modern B2B buyer, the advantages of ecommerce for wholesalers and what to look for in a wholesale ecommerce store.
Wholesale vs. Retail for Ecommerce
The primary difference between wholesalers and retailers is that wholesalers deal in bulk, often selling directly to businesses, while retailers typically sell at a smaller scale directly to consumers.
However, there are other differences between the two, including:
Because wholesalers buy in significant quantities, ensuring that they get the lowest price possible is integral to their ultimate success. The less they have to pay for each product, the more money they eventually make.
It may sound simple, but the difference of a few dollars when dealing in significant quantities of product can make or break a small business’ profit margin.
On the other hand, while pricing is valuable for retail, they inherently have more flexibility because they don’t have to buy in bulk.
While marketing is an important area for both wholesale organizations, it is absolutely critical to the success of retail.
Wholesalers have a smaller customer base, selling primarily to businesses. Retailers typically market directly to retail customers. Because the customer base is ever-changing — and hopefully expanding — retailers must spend significantly more on marketing, which affects the bottom line and company motivations.
The level of competition any organization faces is dependent on the products and method of selling.
Wholesalers can choose from a large array of products and markets to target. As long as there are businesses interested in bulk purchases, wholesalers will have a market.
Individual retailers deal with significantly more competition than wholesalers, with most markets saturated with other competitors. Unless you’re going to market with an entirely new product, the journey will likely be more complex and the potential revenue more challenging.
For retail organizations, especially those with brick and mortar locations, location is critical. Retailers need to be where the consumers are, whether on an important street or located inside a mall — all of which can be expensive.
Wholesalers typically do not have this issue, as they do not sell into specific locations or markets, but to different businesses.
The primary focus of wholesalers are warehousing, shipping and fulfillment. This is their bread and butter, where the money is made. Wholesale organizations that are able to consolidate and streamline their fulfillment processes are the ones that will find greater success.
Retailers don’t have the same worries, as fulfillment is just one aspect of their business. Their primary focuses lie elsewhere with marketing and branding.
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3 Types of Wholesalers
It is essential to understand the distinction between the different types of wholesalers available, whether you’re looking to gain an entrance into the wholesaler market, or simply want to know how it works.
The following are the three wholesalers that businesses are most likely to see and work with:
1. Merchant wholesalers.
Merchant wholesalers align with the traditional business model. They buy large quantities of products from the manufacturer and then sell them directly to businesses.
These wholesalers typically have significant history, experience and knowledge within the market.
For ecommerce organizations looking to gain a foothold in the wholesale industry, building a relationship with merchant wholesalers can be valuable since they are often among the most trusted experts.
Within the wholesaler industry, agents and brokers are responsible for negotiating deals with manufacturers, either directly for merchant wholesalers or as independent contractors.
Their roles are self-explanatory — they are looking to get the best possible price for the wholesaler they’re working with. Their expertise comes from an understanding of the financials of the wholesaler market.
3. Sales and distribution.
Sales and distribution teams typically work out of a manufacturer’s office. They are the ones putting together wholesale deals, from calculating the values of their products to actually selling them.
Because of their direct connection with manufacturers, they are often less trusted than the other two types of wholesalers in terms of crafting equitable sales plans.
5 Ways Wholesalers Can Benefit from Using Ecommerce
Historically, 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 to an online store.
1. Meet buyers where they are.
Wholesale ecommerce businesses aren't bound by physical location. They can reach customers all around the globe via their website, social media and various marketplaces.
Because of this omnichannel experience, your customers have more opportunities to find you as they move between devices and channels.
According to research by Wunderman Thompson, 49% of B2B purchases are now made online, while 62% of B2B buyers would like to have dedicated smartphone apps through which they can purchase.
Selling wholesale online is an excellent 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.
2. Potential to grow revenue.
At the end of the day, what will drive most companies is the opportunity for increased revenue — and wholesalers are no different.
Wholesalers deal within the fine line of profitability by selling in bulk and at a discount. By using an ecommerce platform, they can lower or even eliminate unnecessary costs, all while expanding their online presence.
Too often, wholesalers find themselves held back by archaic methods of communication or outdated, immobile online sites. With the right website design, wholesalers can provide intuitive, interactive ways for prospective buyers to explore their inventory, identify what they want to purchase and expedite the process.
Consider TYGRIS, a wholesaler of cleaning and protective solutions. For years the company was selling primarily through email or over the phone. Combined with a shortage across the UK for sanitizing products, TYGRIS found the sales process increasingly challenging.
By working with BigCommerce to craft a specialized website, TYGRIS was able to clean up the sales process and reach customers much more effectively. TYGRIS sales orders grew by 99% in the first year, leading to a 138% increase in revenue.
Because TYGRIS’ ecommerce website provides stock levels, pricing and product information, prospective customers could easily find what they were looking for and confidently place orders.
3. 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 performed with apps instead of 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.
For example, automating the right portions of the quoting process. Through their ecommerce platform technology, B2B customers can enable their buyers to request quotes directly from the storefront. Customers can go through adding items to a cart and submit an RFQ in a matter of clicks.
This leverages the online catalog, the customer's pricing and funnels these leads to a centralized location to be quickly managed by sales and customer service.
Depending on the setup, the rep can quickly reply with a quote linked to the B2B cart, allowing the customer to complete their order online without further human intervention. These quotes are generally stored and accessible via the customer's account portal. They might also still submit the PO manually, but if set up appropriately, your CSM or Sales rep should be able to convert that quote to an order in a few clicks.
Streamlining this process where both the customer and sales staff can go from quote to order in mere clicks removes one of the most tedious daily manual tasks for both parties.
4. Improve data-driven decision making.
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, discounts, etc. Combined with the feedback from sales representatives and customer service, you can better understand your customers’ needs.
5. Enhance customer relationships.
Wholesale buyers are often 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 traveling or on a job site.
Wholesale ecommerce makes it possible for them to research options and make purchases right from their mobile phone. The move to the online marketplace has made shopping more convenient for B2B buyers who know what they need and have negotiated wholesale prices since they can go through the processes without having to involve sales.
Take, for example, the company Tectran, an industry-leader in air, hydraulic and electrical components.
Since pivoting to ecommerce with a partnership with BigCommerce, Tectran has experienced a 30% increase in average order value, a 98% increase in orders and a 157% increase in revenue. Additionally, the company has seen an increase in new customer sign ups and more customers completing transactions online — instead of faxing or emailing in their orders.
By making the move online, Tectran now has a much more active relationship with its customers, allowing them to better understand their wants, their needs and how they can best serve them.
Choosing a Wholesale Ecommerce Platform
Once you have a plan for digitizing your wholesale business, it’s time to select a wholesale ecommerce platform.
Here are some features and capabilities to consider:
Meets your budget.
When selecting an ecommerce platform, you need to ensure it fits within your budget and 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?
The days of monolithic systems are gone. Nowadays, your ecommerce platform must be able to integrate with other software systems to create a seamless purchasing experience for your customers.
SEO and content marketing capabilities.
Like every other business, wholesale buyers use the internet to search for products.
Quality content driven by SEO optimization is essential to help shoppers find your site and make a decision once they’re there. Your wholesale ecommerce website should enable you to deliver SEO-optimized content that answers the precise questions wholesale customers are asking.
Additionally, once they’re on your site, a concise landing page — from descriptions to technical specifications — can make them confident they’re getting the exact products they need.
Catalog browsing and search functionality.
When you have an extensive catalog with numerous SKUs, you need to ensure that customers can find the exact wholesale products they need.
One solution is to offer multi-faceted search capabilities, allowing shoppers to filter by certain product features — e.g., size, weight, color — to narrow their search results.
Another option is to use AI-powered search technology, like the one from BigCommerce Partner Klevu, to ensure buyers find 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
By giving consumers more ways to view your products, you'll expedite their shopping and open yourself to more significant revenue opportunities.
Reducing friction is increasingly crucial for B2B businesses. How businesses accept payments can profoundly impact the success of their ecommerce channel overall, and the payment gateway and payment options you choose make all the difference.
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. By understanding what payment methods are available, from traditional credit cards to Buy Now, Pay Later systems, organizations can add flexibility to their purchasing process.
The Final Word
Wholesalers who use ecommerce to sell to B2B buyers can transform their business, allowing them to streamline their finances, expand their online presence and increase their hold on the market.
As more and more wholesale businesses take their operations online, you will 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.
With BigCommerce, organizations can handle their wholesale orders with a single front and back-end experience, automated customer groups, order management and built-in price list functionality for client customization.
Everything you need, in the palm of your hand.