Blog Post - Martin Girdlestone, Mar 9 2016

Disrupt or be disrupted: Digital readiness in the British wholesale sector

Disrupt or be disrupted: Digital readiness in the British wholesale sector

By Martin Girdlestone, Head of Consultancy, Salmon

Digital commerce, specifically the use of the Internet, mobile networks and commerce infrastructure to execute transactions with consumers or businesses[1], has been predominantly led by consumer-facing industries and organisations. But things are starting to change.

While being an industry slow to adapt, with the majority of wholesale businesses continuing to use traditional approaches to lead generation and sales, recent research[2] has revealed digital readiness in B2B businesses is growing. In fact, one third of businesses in the wholesale sector are already utilising desktop ecommerce as a sales channel[3] and real, tangible benefits are being seen a result of digital commerce. A third of wholesale businesses state digital commerce is important to their industry, with this figure set to rise to over half by 2020. Improvements in reputation and the ability to provide discounts and special offers are cited as the main incentives[4].

Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise. We are living in an increasingly digital society and organisations across most sectors are feeling the pressure of using digital commerce to interact with more customers, existing and potential, than ever before.

The fear is that wholesale businesses, despite making the investment, are not in the position to do so effectively and reap the benefits. After all, many wholesalers have already experienced challenges in adopting digital commerce. But, it’s important to note that the sector has the beauty of hindsight and in order to succeed it needs to review the challenges faced by other sectors to make sure it doesn’t fall fate to the same issues.

Here are three suggestions for businesses embarking on, or looking to enhance existing digital sales channels:

  • Make sure someone is responsible within the organisation. If we are saying that wholesale faces challenges in utilising digital commerce and making it work for the sector, who is supposed to be driving this? Without a certain level of confidence and action, the door remains potentially open for the sector to miss out on the sales opportunity digital commerce offers. Ensuring someone has ultimate responsibility within the business, to drive implementation forward, is key to success.
  • Secure support from the top. The most significant challenge in developing ecommerce for wholesale businesses is centred on a lack of buy in from the board or senior management[5]. Not only do they need to authorise any activity involved in incorporating new digital sales channels, but they will also have the ultimate say in freeing up staff time and resource. Once a lead has been appointed within the organisation, as per the above, this individual will need to engage senior players right from the start to create the best chance of success.
  • Don’t run before you can walk. New digital channels such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables are becoming increasingly attractive to businesses. Moreover, customers are consumers too, using mobile, smart and even wearable technology every single day to make them more efficient while saving time and money. This same level of ease and convenience will eventually be something they demand from wholesalers too. But, it is imperative businesses are being smart about the digital channels they are using, mastering the basics before endeavouring on adopting newer shinier technologies. For example, using mobile as a central sales channel is recommended for beginners – its potential has been proven, making it more reliable option than new, unpredictable technologies in the early stage of development.

The message is clear for wholesalers – chart your own disruption or run the risk of being disrupted.

The future of the world is ‘digital’ so, simply put, so is the future of wholesale. The experience wholesalers have, as they begin this journey, wholly depends on their approach to it.


Salmon's report, ‘British Business in the Digital Age’, explores the current and future state of digital commerce in Britain across five key sectors, including retail grocery, retail non-grocery, retail luxury, manufacturing and wholesale.


[1]https://www.gartner.com/marketing/digital/research/commerce/

[2]https://salmon.com/en/digitalbritain2015/

[3]https://salmon.com/en/digitalbritain2015/

[4]https://salmon.com/en/digitalbritain2015/

[5]https://salmon.com/en/digitalbritain2015/