David Bickerstaff 18 September 2023 4 min read

How Foodservice Distributors can drive productivity in FY24 - Part 4: Ecommerce

It's time to go beyond the 'B2B portal'.

As we round out our foodservice series on driving productivity, we've so far discussed the power of automation, as well as the benefits of a purpose-built CRM for your field reps. Today, in our final instalment, we turn our focus to the critical role ecommerce plays in the modern foodservice world. 

By now, most wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers in the foodservice sector have some form of ordering capability on their websites. If you've invested in ecommerce, you may be thinking there's nothing more to do as far as your online platform goes.

But if you're looking to really drive productivity and efficiency within your foodservice business, removing friction is the name of the game. And to remove friction, you're going to need much more than just an ordering portal. 


B2B ecommerce, then and now

In the early days of B2B ecommerce, adding products to a cart and sending the order off to the supplier was seen as quite innovative. But what seemed magical 15-20 years ago is today considered the absolute bare minimum. 

Customers now expect far more than basic ordering functionality. Particularly in the 24/7 world of foodservice, there are B2B ecommerce features that can dramatically streamline operations - for both you and your customers - driving productivity on both sides. 

What makes a comprehensive B2B ecommerce system? 

Your web presence isn't just about taking orders - it's an extension of your customer service team, your sales reps, your delivery drivers... B2B ecommerce today is more than a portal, it's a holistic approach.

For B2B ecommerce to really drive productivity, it requires: 

1. Self-service capability

Think of all the interactions you have with your customers in the course of doing business each day. Your ecommerce platform should play a role in making each of these interactions more efficient, offering:

  • product lookup
  • contract price queries
  • stock availability
  • order tracking
  • account statements
  • returns
  • invoice payments

Empowering your customers with this kind of self-service capability not only provides them a better experience, but it removes friction for your internal staff who would otherwise be answering these queries, spending more time on admin.

2. Powerful search 

The B2B portals of yesteryear were limited to basic category or keyword queries, which weren't the most helpful when searching for a product.  A truly modern B2B platform should search not just on keywords, but a range of attributes including: 

  • brands
  • SKUs
  • colloquial names
  • country of origin
  • certification type (halal, kosher, vegan, organic)
  • style / colour / size variants

Allowing your customers to filter on dynamic criteria will give them targeted results, quickly. Speed and search accuracy reduces friction and expedites the ordering process for your customers, which has positive downstream implications for your own productivity as well. 


3. Marketing features

Your ecommerce platform can provide a wealth of information and insight about your foodservice customers. Their browsing and ordering habits, the regions and markets they service... A purpose-built B2B platform can also help you make use of that data, allowing you to target your messaging and marketing campaigns at the right audience for greatest impact. 

We're subject to an increasing level of daily 'noise', which makes it more important than ever to get our message out specifically to those who want to hear it. 

If we can reduce unnecessary noise, we reduce friction. We also maintain relevance in a crowded competitive landscape. 


4. Personalisation

It's something a stock standard B2B ordering portal just can't give your customers. Personalisation is what ties all of the above capability together, creating a seemingly bespoke user experience. 

The foodservice industry spans just about every culture, demographic, lifestyle and customer segment you can think of. This kind of diversity presents distributors with a fantastic opportunity to engage with customers on a more personal level.

A comprehensive B2B platform will provide you the tools to efficiently personalise content. Each customer can be presented with their own catalogue, their own pricing, their own product suggestions...

  • Personalisation can prevent the smallgoods distributor from blasting a Christmas ham promotion out to their halal customer base.
  • Personalisation enables tailored campaigns down to the customer level - vegan cafes are served a 'featured product' carousel full of fresh produce, not cheese and seafood. 
  • Personalisation makes each visitor to your website feel at home.   

While the above list is by no means comprehensive, it gives a good indication of the type of ecommerce functionality that can truly make a difference to foodservice productivity - in FY24 and beyond.

Why does it matter? 

Today’s buyer has grown up online. Digital natives expect a B2B site to behave and offer all the same features as the intuitive B2C applications they use every day.

The millennial cohort (and those following close behind) want the power to self-serve. They will judge suppliers on more than just price, choosing those who can offer the flexibility to transact and engage online, in the ways that feel most natural.

B2B ecommerce today is about more than just a well-priced product in a cart. Capability has become just as (if not more) important.

Powerful functionality for B2B is no longer a ‘nice to have’ - it’s non-negotiable. 


The wrap up

We thank you for coming on the journey with us, and I hope we've served up some valuable food for thought in this series.

If it's time to review your own digital capability - whether in automation, mobile field sales, or ecommerce - we'd love to speak with you

Productivity is our passion, and we think FY24 is going to be the Year of Productivity for foodservice businesses like yours.