CHESS Conference: E-Commerce Tips for Wholesale Vendors

The "Critical Dot Com Strategies" panel offered great insight on how vendors can position their businesses to capitalize on e-commerce growth.  The panel featured Tracy Randall, co-founder and CEO of Cooking.com, Deborah Shearer, VP marketing and merchandising for Organize.com, and Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group.  Key takeaways include: 

  • Having robust product information and attractive product presentation on a website is extremely important.  The panel advised vendors to think about their products from the point of view of a consumer.  Since many vendors sell products primarily via brick and mortar channels, it can be easy to assume that the customer understands all of the nuances and details of the product.  It's essential to find a way to communicate the non-tangibles that might be easy to convey in person, but can be lost online.  The most important factor the online shopper considers when making a purchase is the quality of the product image.  Other important elements are the ability to see a selected product in a color of choice, having alternate views of a selected item, and having a product guide.  
  • It is important for vendors to understand the capabilities and functions of their e-commerce customers' websites.  Some online retailers cannot or do not execute based on what vendors give them.  This may be because they do not have the right technology base, or simply because they execute poorly.  To avoid this vendors should learn about potential customers before selling to them.  Some things that vendors should do prior to selling to an e-commerce retailer include understand their potential volume, research their site statistics (using tools like Quantcast or Compete), buy a product from them, note which other brands they sell, search for products they sell to understand how they rank in SEO, and finally talk to others you know who have dealt with them.     
  • While vendors may sell to many different web retailers, they should identify a handful as potential partners for collaborative sales initiatives.  They should learn more about these specific retailers by subscribing to their mailing lists, following them on social media channels, and studying their websites.  Assuming they see potential for a mutually beneficial sales initiative, they might suggest placement of a product on a certain part of the site or within a specific e-mail.  
  • Pricing strategy is a major point of contention for retailers and vendors alike.  Most vendors have received scathing calls or e-mails from retail buyers who see a product that is currently in their store available online at a lower price.  This issue is complicated by the fact that some vendors sell direct to consumer through their own websites.  In order to combat this problem one panelist suggested that vendors sell products only to those retailers that hold their price.  However, if a retailer that breaks price is a major account for a certain vendor, it would be difficult for that vendor to stop selling to them.   
The panelists concluded by suggesting that vendors should consider each e-commerce retailer individually.  While it can be easy to lump all e-commerce sales together, doing so inhibits a company's ability to form a solid e-commerce sales strategy.  As e-commerce continues to grow, vendors that adapt and prepare today will be rewarded in the future.   

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