In my early years as a market trader, I always had a question that tentatively preceded any conversations with prospective suppliers.
“Do you supply to market stalls?” I’d ask, feeling on some occasions like I should be ringing a bell and wearing a sign denoting my unclean status on the retail hierarchy.
Nearly 30 years later, with a successful chain store business behind me, I’m setting up a new pureplay online store and experiencing a noticeable sense of déjà vu.
The sheepish admission that my prospective business will be based solely online meets with a similar disdainful drop-off of interest from some otherwise eager salespeople, whilst others – usually the larger or younger companies – are far more positive.
There can still be awkward conversations to be had though, particularly about some of the unique ways an online supply chain can operate.
We’re a niche business, selling vegan and ethical products, and one of our key propositions is a depth of range.
But it’s unknown territory at the moment, so an obvious solution is to test the market using drop shipping or the ability to place small orders based on initial customer response.
“Some still regard the idea that we could speculatively use these on our website before we actually place an order is tantamount to heresy”
Most potential suppliers now have web-ready images available, but some still regard the idea that we could speculatively use these on our website before we actually place an order is tantamount to heresy.
Whilst there are an increasing number of companies who are happy to embrace new supply models, there are still those who believe that you have to buy into a product in order to prove your faith in it.
This practive ignores the marketing and presentation costs that online retailers still have to invest to present their lines.
Of course I can understand this. If I were in their position I’d much rather have a solid order than what amounts to a fishing expedition, but times have changed and the supply chain needs to be responsive to that.
When I operated physical stores I needed stock to show customers. But with a purely online business that’s no longer the case.
The idea that I should fill a stock room with goods that no one will ever see unless they buy them seems anachronistic, as does a process of fulfilment akin to a game of pass the parcel.
For the retailer, being able to present a much larger range of products than your upfront buying power would permit costs a supplier nothing and could pay dividends for them in the long run.
“The internet has prompted a radical rethink of the retailer-wholesaler relationship”
Surely having a larger number of stores offering their wares over a longer period is better than one initial order that may never be built on.
The internet has prompted a radical rethink of the retailer-wholesaler relationship, yet it seems there are still those who didn’t get the memo.
But with many more small retailers turning to the web in the face of spiralling property costs, the potential is there for a massive expansion of the virtual marketplace for those suppliers who embrace these new models.