As UK wholesalers embrace digital technology and become ever more sophisticated, IT providers like Business Computer Projects and RWF are targeting the wholesale sector with technology designed for their needs. Wholesale buying groups like Confex are also bringing out solutions for their members. Among the wholesalers JJ Foodservice have embraced social media, running a ‘How did we do?’ campaign encouraging customers to rate their favourite employees on JJ’s Google My Business listings, generating over 2000 Five Star Google Reviews across 11 branches.

For people in wholesale who aren’t natural techies, the thought of going digital can be terrifying! Tanya Pepin, director of specialist insight company TWC, works alongside UK wholesalers, providing insights that underpin digital strategies to deliver business agility and competitive advantage.

“As with all walks in life,” says Tanya, “fear comes from the unknown. For many wholesalers going digital feels like a step into an abyss. But it needn’t. It’s about taking a methodical approach to your business. Where is it going in five years, do you have the right technology platform to support that vision and have you got the right partner to help you deliver it?” So, what are wholesalers so afraid of? Tanya reckons, “some of the fear is created by the word ‘digital.’ Replace ‘digital’ with ‘technology’, and suddenly it sounds less intimidating in the business environment and becomes a powerful – and less threatening – opportunity and force for development.

“I would also emphasise that a good digital strategy is underpinned by the unique insights a business holds, which means using the wholesale shipment data held in that business to deliver knowledge and information that is vital to success. It comes back to the key fact that a successful digital strategy is underpinned by excellent data and insight.”

David Hughes, Business Development Manager at Business Computer Projects, says the spectre of losing customers by going digital is putting many wholesalers off taking the plunge: “Digital technology is disrupting the wholesale sector and challenging traditional business models. However, going digital is a major and complicated undertaking, so it’s understandable wholesalers may be hesitant. Many don’t want to make changes out of fear they may alienate customers or lose valuable business in the process.

“We work with wholesalers to help them embrace the power of digital technology. Our approach begins with developing a clear and thought-out strategy that aligns with their long-term business objectives. This process is based on our forty years’ experience working with wholesalers and understanding the services and solutions they need. This not only enables us to ensure the expected return on investment is met, but also reduces the risks to day-to-day business operations.

“We have many customers who demonstrate how successful digital transformation provides significant operational improvements, including increased sales, improved productivity, reduced costs and more accurate order fulfilment.”

To help wholesalers benefit from the opportunities in mobile technology, David Hughes says BCP have also ‘mobilised’ their Accord system and its functionality:

“Our Field Sales solution is a powerful business tool, giving staff the functionality to work efficiently away from the office, including 24/7 access to essential stock and customer information. We have also partnered with TranSend to provide wholesalers with a fully integrated delivery management solution. The Electronic Proof of Delivery (EPoD) app integrates seamlessly with Accord WMS, providing two-way data between delivery operations and back-office teams.”

BCP are also one of the longest standing suppliers of voice warehouse solutions to wholesalers. Their Accord Voice WMS is a wall-to-wall system that works across all warehouse activities, from goods in to put-away, picking and distribution. It includes Voice Labour Management tools providing wholesalers with complete visibility of their workforce in real-time. BCP’s customers have reduced costs, improved accuracy and increased productivity throughout their supply chain.

BCP’s Sales Order Management package has been designed to help wholesalers handle and monitor all aspects of order processing. It offers a diverse range of tools, including a userfriendly telesales system that gives sales staff all the information they need to place fast, accurate orders. Maximising the revenue of each and every sale through up-sell, cross-sell, multi-buy features.

The Accord system also provides a comprehensive suite of procurement tools, covering all aspects of purchasing, from supplier relationship management, advanced demand forecasting and extensive reporting to make it easy to monitor and control the whole operation. BCP’s Product Information Management (PIM) system also facilitates closer collaboration between wholesalers and suppliers.

The other part of BCP’s offering is ecommerce. David Hughes explains: “In today’s fast-paced digital world wholesalers also need a platform that provides their customers with a smooth, responsive online experience. BCP’s Oporteo is an ecommerce platform specifically for wholesalers. Its industryspecific features drive market leaders and facilitates online trading of over £100m in annual revenues for our customers.”

Established in 2009 RNF became the first developer to create a bespoke mobile ordering app for foodservice wholesalers. They currently work with 18 wholesalers, including Blakemore Wholesale Distribution and Bestway Wholesale. “We help wholesalers take the fear out of going digital,” says Rob Mannion, founder and MD of RNF, “by making it really simple, both in the way we guide them through the process and our product offering.

“We have developed a white-label solution with low set-up costs, starting from £5,000, and a commercial model that removes the risk for the wholesaler. We use our sector knowledge to help ensure they get the most out of the digital channel, showing what has and hasn’t worked for others.”

RNF’s new digital sales platform, Beam Commerce, is a one-stop-shop for wholesalers, integrating with ERP systems and allowing wholesalers to add eCommerce capability to existing websites with a single click. It combines an ordering app that synchronises across mobile, tablet and desktop, an eCommerce module for those not already trading online and RNF’s award-winning customer engagement platform. Rob Mannion explains:

“The Beam Commerce app allows wholesalers to offer customers 24/7 online ordering on any device, with useful tools including a barcode scanner, POR calculator and saved shopping lists.

“The customer engagement platform has two main functions. It enables wholesalers to send out rich push notifications to app users. These can be used to send sales and marketing messages as well as service information. As a marketing channel the response rates are proving better than email. It also allows wholesalers to manage advertising space in the app such as banners, as well as ‘featured’ products. Both these marketing channels can be sold onto suppliers, creating an important additional revenue stream for wholesalers. RNF have a customer whose app has become cost-neutral because of this income.

Beam Commerce apps are built using Progressive Web App (PWA) technology. They are also available to download free via the Apple App and Google Play stores. Beam Commerce could also help suppliers, says Rob:

“We are investigating solutions with a number of the big brands, looking at how our platform could work for them. Since we launched the industry’s first ordering app in 2014, the wholesale sector has gone through significant changes, with mobile becoming the fastest-growing sales. Technological advances mean mobile apps look better and offer greater functionality, adding value for customers and helping wholesalers optimise sales through greater use of personalised, contextually-relevant communications. “With further developments such as voice-activated ordering and Artificial Intelligence just down the line, it’s never been more important for wholesalers and suppliers to embrace the digital opportunity and effectively put their wholesale depot in their customers’ pockets.”

In a separate development RNF has partnered with Erudus, a leading provider of food product data. Users of RNF’s Beam Commerce platform who sign up to Erudus will receive enhanced product data during the purchasing process. This is Erudus’s latest move in promoting use of manufacturer data across the industry, having partnered with Nielsen Brandbank and launched integrations with other app providers last year. The partnership comes during a boom in demand for apps among wholesalers, with five wholesale foodservice apps now in use.

Erudus has experienced significant growth in the last year, seeing user numbers 800%. The data provider, which launched in 2014, hosts the specifications of major manufacturers including Heinz, Kellogg’s, and Unilever.

Erudus is available on all devices. Users can access key product specification data instantly to update menus and answer customer queries. Erudus enriches the wholesalers’ ecommerce offerings, providing data that gives customers legally required allergen information at or before the point of sale.

Caterers searching for products can see specifications easily and clearly and make informed purchasing decisions. Before hitting ‘buy’ they know whether a product contains allergens, avoiding costly instances of only finding out when it arrives.

Caterers can also plan and update menus based on information available to them while browsing for products. This can lead to cross-selling and upselling, and develop customer loyalty. To help wholesalers further, Erudus have an image library containing 250,000 product shots for use in marketing material, price lists, ecommerce sites, and mobile ordering apps.

Graham O’Rourke is CEO at Aphix Software, a digital transformation specialist with over 350 live wholesale and distribution projects in their client portfolio:

“Digital ordering solutions mean wholesalers can allow customers to have 24/7 access to their business, place orders, make payments and manage accounts through a self-service portal. “It makes a massive difference to wholesalers in terms of the time and cost saved on administrative tasks such as re-keying orders and handling errors. Wholesalers who go digital can add many new sales channels and introduce their products to a new generation of customers. All these combined elements will help streamline and grow their business.”

Aphix Software provide a secure, robust eCommerce platform from which wholesalers can launch multiple digital ordering products. Their products work out of the box, containing all the features a wholesaler or distributor needs to manage their digital sales channels and integrate with all leading ERP systems.

Looking at Aphix’s products, the Aphix WebShop is an online store which can be accessed by both B2B and B2C customers. The Aphix Digital Ordering Portal is perfect for suppliers to host digital product catalogues: users can view real-time stock levels and customer specific pricing for ease of ordering and account management. The Aphix PocketShop app makes it easy to place orders with a supplier. The products displayed within the app can be lists of favourites, recently ordered products or related products. The Aphix SalesRep app works both online or offline, allowing field-sales reps to haggle, compile orders, place orders and manage accounts while on-site and face-to-face with customers.

As well as offering wholesalers their own branded B2B or B2C WebShop, the Aphix platform connects to all major global marketplaces, giving access to sales channels such as Facebook, Amazon, eBay, Google and Instagram.

The Aphix Platform integrates with all leading ERPs so users only have to manage one system. It increases online ordering by improving site design, SEO & usability for customers and provides mobile ordering to customers, along with a complete view of live orders. It allows customers to self-service more including access to invoices and credit notes, building their own order lists, etc and ensures ‘one version of the truth’ for pricing and stock. The Aphix Platform integrates with best of breed marketing tools such as Hubpot, Mailchimp and Google Ads.

Honeywell’s hardware update

Honeywell’s Xenon XP 1950g scanner offers superior scan performance, capturing even the most difficult-toread or damaged barcodes. Designed for retail environments that demand high-accuracy scanning of barcodes, whether at a distance, or even on damaged barcodes, the Xenon XP 1950g scanner reduces strain on the associate – decreasing the need to bend to reach barcodes on the bottom shelf or bottom of the basket.

The Orbit 7190g scanner continues the proven, superior 1D laser scanning performance of Orbit series scanners – but adds an area imager for seamless scanning of digital 1D, 2D and PDF codes in a single, convenient device. To speed retail checkouts, the Orbit 7190g scanner features a unique dual-modes design that is optimised for both the cashier and the customer – enabling seamless product barcode scanning and scanning of digital codes off customer smartphones.

Foodservice buying group’s digital transformation

Fairway Foodservice is a buying and marketing organisation, which operates on behalf of wholesalers based in the UK, Ireland and Spain. Founded in 1984 by five frozen food wholesale distribution companies, it has grown from a collective turnover of £7m in 1984 to £801.5m in 2019.

Fairway Foodservice has kick-started its digital transformation to shake up how foodservice companies interact online. Fairway has launched an innovative website, which includes an industry-first intelligent on-site search for its own-brand range, as well as Fairway Insider, a newsletter for caterers.

The search function for the Fairway Assured range steps into the realm of ecommerce, with caterers picking products and finding their nearest Fairway member.

Additional benefits include an easyto- use site structure, which allows caterers to search directly for a product as well as by cuisine type to support creativity with recipes.

Toby Jordan, marketing strategist at Fairway, says: “We recognise the importance of embracing online technologies and supporting our members and caterers to integrate it with their marketing and business activity. We have invested a lot of time and resources into our digital revamp, and our members are thrilled so far with the results.”

“The intelligent search of our Fairway Assured range is particularly exciting. Caterers are often incredibly time poor and our functionality speeds up the buying process as well as offering new ideas for recipes and menus. They will also be able to view product specifications including nutritional information, thanks to integrating Erudus with the site.”

David Cocks is CEO of CloudTrade Technology, who provide a simple, nondisruptive way for trading partners to send electronic invoices, orders and other business documents, straight into the receiving organisation’s processing application.

CloudTrade’s solution is a low cost, easily deployed alternative to EDI, enabling fully automated processing of any application-generated document such as orders, invoices and logistics documents. Inbound documents arriving into the wholesaler can be processed by CloudTrade and uploaded to their ERP or management system.

For customers ordering from wholesalers, CloudTrade’s e-ordering function enables the customer to create orders in their purchasing system and send them through email as a PDF. The setup is fast, around 20-30 minutes of business rules writing per new sender and thereafter the system is fully automated. As the data is extracted directly from the data layer of the PDF itself, once tested it delivers 100% accurate data directly to the wholesaler’s order management system.

The same is true for processing invoices coming from suppliers for einvoicing. The supplier creates the invoice from their system as a PDF and sends it by email. Like the customer orders, the data is extracted directly from the PDF’s data layer, at line level, and posts directly into the wholesaler’s ERP. In both cases, the business rules can be enhanced to include data validation and/or augmentation rules.