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Much has been written about new competition, the workforce crisis, and significantly changing customer expectations in Wholesale Distribution. The traditional business model of breaking bulk and selling product at a low price with quick delivery turnaround is no longer enough to survive in our digital world. Additionally, forcing your customers and employees to use antiquated technology is bound to create an environment where customers move to competitors, and you have a revolving door of employees.


To combat these disruptive forces, distributors need to face the challenges head on and take a close look at adopting what might have been considered visionary and futuristic solutions not too many years ago.


Consider the following, which can differentiate you from your competition, attract new customers, keep your existing customers coming back for more, and ensure long-tenured, engaged employees.


Image Recognition for Spare Parts:

The customers of wholesale distributors often look for more than just product delivery from their supplier. Additional value-added services are one way for wholesalers to distinguish themselves from the competition and drive customer loyalty. Services that help companies be more efficient and simplify day-to-day operations can be especially powerful. One such service is spare part recognition, using image recognition technology, to simplify re-ordering and/or maintenance. This service can be further enhanced by prompt delivery of the necessary part using Uber-like drivers, and even include installation on-line documentation using artificial reality showing all the tools and supplies needed for implementation.

Intelligent Ecommerce:

A major strength of wholesale distribution companies is the knowledge their sales teams have about market, products and customers – enabling them to give profound recommendations. Web shops currently cannot offer the same level of expertise – if at all. Bringing some of this product and project expertise into Ecommerce can better assist customers in projects by providing recommendations, up-sell, cross-sell, project related information, technical documentation, “side-effects”, prerequisites, and additional services. Building on a flexible data model, a customer could ask an Alexa-type application their questions and receive advice, all of which can be enhanced by Machine Learning and visualized by using AR / VR technology.

Internet of Things Enabled Stock Management:

Keeping track of stock and re-order supplies in a timely manner is often not the most important thing on the mind of a distributor’s customer. This can result in out-of-stock situations and unnecessary project delays.

With today’s technology, monitoring spare parts stock can be easily automated, for example with connected crates, scales or sensor technology. When real-time stock insight is available, replenishment can be triggered automatically, ensuring all the material is available according to the project plan and real-time consumption.

Engaged Employees:

Today, employees expect to be able to conduct their business transactions in the same, easy and intuitive manner in which they conduct their personal transactions (think of your own on-line, one click shopping experience or easy banking with your mobile application). Up to date business process technology can offer your employees easy ways to interact with systems as they provide companies with embedded analytics, KPI driven-work patterns, and predictive capabilities to streamline tasks and make smarter decisions.  Today’s solutions include applications that focus on addressing specific business tasks such as overdue stock or slow moving items in an efficient and flexible way.

The new generation of employees not only want easy to use business process applications as outlined above, but continuous learning experiences – on demand. Distributors need to be able to provide a rich “catalog” of virtual training offerings on topics such as negotiation skills, effective communication, leadership development as well as task execution training for all roles within the company.

The Digital World is here to stay, and those who lead the charge in embracing new technology are certain to win, and win big.


Karen S. Lynch

Global Head of Wholesale Distribution Industry Business Unit SAP

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