The business-business (B2B) sales process and supply chain can be notoriously slow-moving from making the sale, to order processing, to fulfillment. In the current age of technology and instant results, is the B2B industry evolving as well?
The answer seems to be yes. Wholesale has already started to evolve with the slow but steady adaptation of two things: e-commerce and m-commerce, both supported by technological advances that make selling through these channels much easier.
Consumers are already able to order their clothes, electronics, and even groceries online in the business-to-consumer (B2C) market, and that's creating a demand for online wholesale ordering as well. The global B2B e-commerce market is predicted to outgrow the B2C market in just a few years - showing that retailers want the same convenience when making B2B purchases. By some estimates, the B2B e-commerce market will be worth US$12 trillion by 2020.
B2B e-commerce + m-commerce
Many B2B sellers have noticed and jumped on the online trend, using B2B e-commerce platforms to move their business online. In one study by Forrester, 58% of wholesalers who responded said they planned to improve the experience of their customers by improving their online offerings.
It's becoming a competitive advantage to allow customers to access a B2B e-commerce store directly and place an order in their own time. With just a few clicks, retailers can place an order, where traditionally it would require a lot more interaction with sales reps, fax machines, and time.
In addition to going online, wholesale companies are beginning to recognize the advantages of mobile selling: developing apps that make the sales process even easier. Going mobile allows companies to sell on the road at trade shows and other non-conventional spots.
How this shift affects your supply chain operations
So from a wholesaler's perspective, how does moving online or to mobile impact your supply chain?
The speed with which the entire sales process will move will require changes in the way everyone manages inventory, fulfills orders and documents sales.
Online, customers expect faster time to market, quicker order fulfillment, and higher order accuracy. This can put a strain on the supply chain, at least at first, as you adjust to the new ways of doing business. Where customers used to accept a few days time lag between placing an order to receiving order confirmation, with e-commerce, orders have to be processed within a few minutes.
Overall, however, moving online will eventually make supply chain operations more efficient. The quick and transparent exchange of information allows for better communication between your sales team, warehouses, and shipping services.
Orders can be created, sent and received almost instantaneously, stock levels are updated in real time, and the flow of inventory in and out of the warehouse is tracked as it happens.
Also with B2B e-commerce, easily accessible data, and intelligence makes it even easier to forecast your own needs and predict your customer's ordering behaviors. This also means you will save time and money in exchanging documentation, tracking packages, and providing customer service.
The biggest impact of both e-commerce and mobile commerce on the supply chain will be automation. Most B2B e-commerce platforms are built on cloud based software, meaning that wholesalers can work from a place of centralized, up-to-date information.
Processes that used to be manual will become automated. For example, processing an order through to fulfillment offline includes filling out a sales order by hand, sending it off to the warehouse manually, waiting for more manual confirmation from the warehouse and marking the order as shipping. With online operations, processing an order simply includes creating a sales order in a few clicks, quick transmission to the warehouse, and automatic confirmation once an order ships.
Throughout the supply chain, this automation means a lot of time saved and efficiency between departments and coherency as products move along the supply chain. There will also be a reduction in manual errors and data entry.
The e-commerce effect
B2B is just like any other industry: wholesalers need to evolve with the times to offer the best experience to their customers. It looks like that evolution includes embracing the wonders of technology and starting to sell online - both on a beautiful website or on mobile.