B2B Ecommerce for Canadian Wholesale Distributors

As Canadian retail comes to recognize ecommerce as a necessity, Business-to-Business (B2B) suppliers are also beginning to explore online opportunities to better serve their customers’ unique needs.

For the most part, wholesale in Canada continues to be stuck in the past. If they have a website at all, it’s usually poor quality and doesn’t facilitate online ordering. As a result, there is a virtually untapped, expanding digital market in Canada that could prove to be a significant competitive advantage for distributors. The few wholesale companies that are already selling online in Canada brought in $85 billion in online sales in 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

It may surprise you to learn that even larger businesses prefer to shop online these days. That’s especially true among the younger generation. These accounts are worthy of extra effort, including dedicated account managers and even custom shopping solutions.

“To compete for market share as a wholesale distributor, you need to be part of the industry disruption and give your customers what they want,” say the experts at BigCommerce. “That means not only having an online presence, but one that creates a seamless customer experience from search all the way through checkout.”

The good news is, serving wholesale clients online is now just as easy as serving a retail customer (you can even serve both from the same site, if you wish). Innovative ecommerce platforms facilitate private wholesale pricing that make it easy to offer different prices to different buyer groups, or even individual clients. They provide a secure buying environment and can offer a range of shipping options. It’s set up like any other online store, without the need to hire programmers or tech experts to support maintain it if you choose not to.

The automation and self-service of online transactions can improve your bottom line in a number of ways. The most obvious being in the ability to process more orders and reach more customers in less time. You’ll be saving money by not having dedicated sales staff for each customer, for example, and part of your business will be open 24/7 online. You can also extend your market reach exponentially, nationally or globally. In fact, there is funding available right now for Canadian exporters, which covers digital expansion.

B2B automation doesn’t begin and end with the actual transactions. Ecommerce solutions can include inventory management, customer service management, customer relationship management (CRM), returns/exchanges/warranties, marketing integration, and so on. If you’re still using printed sales collateral and catalogues, you’ll save a lot just by having electronic versions. Customer service costs can also be cut by providing online information, such as frequently asked questions (FAQs) and return policies.

When your online catalogue of products is ready, you’ll have the opportunity to use the same product information in different ways. It can be used for merchants, distributors, turnkey websites, and product feeds for resellers or affiliates. You’ll only need to sync inventory and other changeable items (like descriptions and images), or add new products.

Small Business Opportunities

The most frequently asked questions we hear from small businesses, are related to finding wholesalers in Canada. You no longer have to employ enough sales people to serve all clients and your profit margins are improving, so why not open your doors to smaller businesses?

Now that sales don’t necessitate as much one-on-one interaction, you can further improve your bottom line by expanding your market to include smaller businesses and smaller orders. Good ecommerce software allows for several pricing structures that are automatically applied, along with special promotions and coupons. You can have a pricing structure based on volume, with deeper discounts for larger orders, while still attracting smaller orders at a higher wholesale price for the same product.

Calculate how much it will cost to serve small businesses and fulfill their orders, then adjust your lower-volume pricing accordingly. Consider offering max/min orders online, but ask that those customers who want to purchase a larger number contact your sales department. Then, they can be set up with their own online ordering system that they can use for their convenience, while also having a sales person available to them if they need it.

Once you’re all set up, you might also want to consider drop-shipping options that further expand your market. When you use an expandable ecommerce solution, you can easily explore and implement options like drop shipping. The great thing about drop shipping is you can facilitate retail sales without competing with the retailers who buy from you. Basically, you’re providing fulfillment services.

Getting Started

To ensure your wholesale ecommerce website gets off to a great start, you’ll need to identify your requirements with as much detail as possible. Functionality is one of the most important parts of this process, including products, pricing structures, inventory management, payment options, delivery options, customer service, special content, and buyer accounts.

The Hard Way

You can build a custom solution but be prepared for it to take months to complete, and it will require constant input from you. Further complicating matters will be situations where your input is needed in areas you may not know much about. Everything from a user-friendly design to legalities will be your concern and responsibility. Once your ecommerce site is built, you’ll have to bring someone in every time you want to make changes or additions.

For wholesale sales specifically, you have to focus on a different type of user experience. B2B buyers need access to detailed product pages and images just like B2C buyers, but they also need an efficient way to order or reorder products once they’re familiar with them. Larger clients may also prefer to upload a CSV file when ordering. Once they upload it, they’ll need to have it automatically confirmed with prices, available inventory and so on. The process has to be as efficient as possible, especially for those that place large orders of multiple SKU’s.

The Easy Way

Alternately, you can use an ecommerce platform. The vast majority of Canadian wholesale distributors don’t require a custom-designed ecommerce solution and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. All you really have to do is find an exceptional ecommerce platform that’s built to serve your wholesale needs. For most distributors, that platform is Shopify. You can build the store yourself or have it done for your by one of their experts.

Either way, if you offer a quick and painless ordering process, buyers may choose to buy from you over the competition.

Open for Business

Once you’re set up and the processes have been tested, it’s time to notify existing and potential customers! Obviously, an announcement can be sent via email to your existing customers. I suggest calling your larger clients as well, assuring them that you will guide them every step of the way.

For new business, make sure you have your wholesale option featured on your main website, including a wholesale information page and a link to that page from all other pages. From there, you can direct them to fill out an application and have a sales agent contact them about setting up an account. Consider having a catalogue available for them to look through without pricing. It will show off the products you have and hasten their decision to apply for a wholesale account.

Your sales staff can now focus on pursuing leads, promoting new products to both new and existing customers, upselling, and convincing potential customers to buy from you. Support staff can look after the basics, like setting up new wholesale accounts. Information for new customers and promotions can be automatically sent out via email.

Purchases will be on autopilot for the most part, so you can fine tune your sales funnel into a more efficient revenue machine. What’s more, your new availability means you won’t lose sales from the many people who prefer to work outside of regular business hours.

Let us know when you’re ready to serve online wholesale customers in Canada, so we can refer inquiries to you! Join us for further guidance and discussion in the Online Business Canada Facebook Group.

You may also be interested in reading:

Canadian Guide to the Best eCommerce Platform Software

How to Start an Affiliate Program for a Canadian Business

Report: Digitized Canadian Companies More Resilient Through COVID-19

Recession-Proof Online Businesses to Start from Home book

7 Recession Proof Online Businesses To Start From Home

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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon is an internet entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in a wide range of online business models, backed by a formal business education and enhanced by training and mentorship. She has owned or managed both educational and ecommerce websites. Her book, 7 Recession Proof Online Businesses to Start From Home, is available from all major ebook retailers.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadianDigitalMedia.com, CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net, and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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I was only looking for how to distribute better online and now you have me thinking of all kinds of possible changes. 2021 is going to look a whole lot different than this year for lots of businesses and most of us aren’t ready for it. I relieved to read it’s not so hard anyway. I’m definitely looking into going national because \I planned to already. If I make enough and save enough I’ll look into small businesses too….maybe online only? First things first WEBSITE. Big Commerce looks like a good idea but lots of research to do yet.