Due to the impact of COVID-19 a huge number of independent brands who are traditionally wholesale are rushing to take their business online. As retail shops remain shut across the UK those brands with an online presence have been able to maintain or even grow their business in recent weeks.
Whilst the demand for certain sectors has dropped dramatically, the consumer appetite for others such as homewares, DIY, beauty or food have skyrocketed. However, with the rush to take business online many brands who are unaccustomed to direct to consumer selling are making mistakes and missing the opportunity.
With this in mind, we have put together our top tips for small brands to consider ideally before taking their wholesale proposition online. We understand that now is not the time to spend 6 months creating a carefully considered strategy BUT there are things crucial to think about before just replicating your wholesale business online.
1. Who are you going to be selling to?
As a wholesale business you are likely to have very limited information about the end consumer, those who actually buy your product. You may get top level information from your stockists, you may already have a social media following that you can take a detailed look at, but these won’t be a representative sample of who may be buying your products once you start selling online. Don’t assume for example if someone has bought your product before from John Lewis that they will automatically be interested in buy from you directly. The online customer is often very loyal to the retailers they already shop with online. You will be starting your own customer database from scratch. So do take the time to have a good think about exactly who it is you think is most likely to want to buy your products directly from you online. What is important to them and how do they like to shop? Every decision you take from this point should be tailored to making sure your direct offering gives these people every reason to want to buy from you rather than anyone else.
2. How will selling direct impact your wholesale relationships?
Moving from a wholesale only business to a B2C brand means that at some point you will end up in competition with some of your stockists. Make sure before you launch that you have considered that and made plans for it. Are you going to communicate with them before launch what you are doing? Have you checked your contracts to ensure you haven’t agreed that you WON’T sell directly online? Make sure you have pricing agreements in place, so you don’t end up in in a price war with your own products as that benefits no-one.
It’s common place for brands to appear next to stockists online so that shouldn’t be a barrier, just make sure you don’t surprise your wholesale customers.
Tips for not annoying your wholesalers are:
- Sell a slightly different range on your site
- Never undercut them
- Notify if you are going to be promoting any items
- Don’t keep all the good content for yourself, make sure the product info and pictures you supply them is just as good as that you save for your own site. You do, however, want to avoid having exactly the same product information as your wholesalers online as Google will view that as duplicate content and ignore one of your sites.
3. Why will people buy directly from you?
Consider the reasons why potential customers will want to buy online from you instead of your stockists? What can you offer that others are not able to? What experience can you give on your site that will make people want to engage directly with you? Often the reason a smaller brand can compete with larger online retailers is through a personalised experience and a real connection with the brand, your values and the people behind it.
Make sure you tell your story, communicate your values, show the people behind the brand. As well as the expectation of a slick buying experience the modern consumer likes to emotionally engage with a smaller brand before buying. Make sure you give them a reason to.
Also consider the product range you will offer. It is a beneficial practice for a smaller brand who sells through other online retailers to keep back a selection of exclusive stock for their direct site only. There is no competition with wholesalers and customers have to purchase from you directly to get the product.
4. What range will you put online?
A common mistake for brand when launching direct for the first time is to put everything online. This is not necessarily the right course of action. There may be some products which are just not profitable for you to sell online. Their volume is too low to warrant the stock storage, they may cost too much to send via mail or courier, the margin is too low if you are not selling in bulk. Before you launch, pick a selection of the products that are likely to sell well and have enough margin in them. Choice for the consumer is of course good but make sure the products you put online are going to be the right ones for the type of customer you are going after. Better to have a slightly smaller but more relevant range of product that you can be more focussed with your marketing for.
5. How are you going to sell and fulfil?
You need to give your customers the best possible shopping experience, but also need to turn this around in the shortest amount of time. Therefore, using a ready-made ecommerce platform for most brands will be the best option. There are a wide range available but the most affordable / commonly used and those that will plug into the most 3rd party finance, stock, reporting tools are as follows:
a. Shopify basic
b. Woo Commerce
All have readymade and tested templates that can be easily repurposed and then refined at a later date.
Make sure you have thought about your delivery options and how much it will cost both you and your customers for delivery. Can you make a small profit on each delivery? Will you offer a free delivery threshold? Make sure you have factored in the cost of packaging too.
6. How are you going to get people to your store?
Ok so you have created a website with the right product and experience for your target customers. From a starting point of zero how are you going to tell people about it? At this point if you have never done any direct marketing before I would definitely get an expert involved to give you a plan, train you up, help you find people to do the things you can’t. The old adage “build it and they will come” just doesn’t work in a cluttered online world. If you have only been wholesale before you can’t just email customers to let them know. If you have a social following, then great that is a good place to start but remember don’t assume that those who follow you are not already loyal to one of your stockists. There are a number of ways you can launch and gain immediate brand awareness and site visitors but you need to pick the right one for your brand and budget. Paid search and social ads are the most immediate way of driving traffic, but you must make sure you are going after the right people with the right message or you will be throwing money down the drain. Longer term promotional work can often be more cost effective such as SEO, content, brand collaborations but they require a much longer period to get going and time resource as much as money. The best way to plan your activity if you have limited time and budget is to go back to your answer on the 1st point. Who are you going to be selling to? Have a real think about the following questions:
- Where do they hang out on the internet?
- How might they research a purchase?
- Who else do they buy from?
Using the answers to the above just pick a couple of ways you can get your message in front of them at the right time? Perhaps just a single social ad campaign, a joint giveaway with just the right brand or influencer, or a very specific set of Google Ads will be enough to get going.
Pick and choose your battles and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
As you can see just the above considerations can take a large amount of time and thought to get right, especially if this is the first time you have considered direct selling. Time however is not on anyone’s side at the moment. To speed up the process and help you get online quick the best thing to do is get someone to help you who has done this all before and can walk you through as you go.
If you want help in answering the above questions and getting online as soon as possible but in the right way, then please do speak to us. Email [email protected] or call 01273 322830.