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February 7 2023

Wholesaler R&I Jones embraces tech innovation

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How the Sugro member from Wales has benefited from trialling new digital approaches

The shadow of a 13th-century castle might not seem like the most obvious place to look for digital innovation. Yet nestled next to Caernarfon Castle’s huge battlements and looming turrets, that’s exactly where R&I Jones is making its mark.

The Sugro member might not be the biggest wholesaler, but that’s not a boundary to trying out new technologies in order to streamline its operation and earn more revenue. And it’s a mindset that’s served the business well.

“Maybe 10 or 15 years ago, we had a wholesale customer who was selling stuff online on eBay, Amazon and their own website – I looked at what he was doing and he was selling stuff at decent margins, so we moved into doing it too,” Director Aled Roberts remembers.

“That got me interested in the tech side of things and gave us more insight into consumers because we’d never dealt with them directly before. We’d see that by putting an advert on eBay or dropping your price could see a spike in sales, and how having photographs and doing things in certain ways really worked.”

Aled’s interest had been piqued. So when Sugro rolled out an online-ordering portal for its members, he was quick to adopt – embarking on a journey that eventually saw b2b.store partner with the buying group to enhance that offering with the ever-evolving B2B eCommerce.

From a starting point of only a few orders trickling in, R&I Jones’ online orders now account for between 60 and 70% of all orders it receives and the wholesaler’s understanding of its customer base has increased too. It’s been well worth the time and investment to go online.

“Wholesalers – particularly the smaller ones – are a little bit reluctant to go online and similarly we found a lot of our customers were a bit unsure too, but once we got them signed in and showed them the platform and what they can do, 99% are still using it,” Aled says.

“There’s definitely a benefit to getting customers online. It gives us a good level of control and we could have featured products and banners so we can decide what to promote, while customers can pick their favourites and browse promotions. We don’t get it right all the time, but overall the sales definitely go up.

“The customer response is that it’s really good too – it looks good and it’s easy to use, and that’s what people want.”

R&I Jones’ digital adoption doesn’t stop there, though. Following b2b.store’s move to a modular approach in 2022, the suite of digital services on offer to wholesalers of all sizes has increased dramatically and Aled has opted to use B2B WhatsApp and B2B Open Banking too.

The first of the two R&I Jones went live with was B2B Open Banking, as the wholesaler looks to reduce the costs incurred through card transactions and cash-handling charges due to lower fees to use open banking. By including b2b.store’s open banking links on invoices, Aled hopes more customers will embrace a more efficient – and in some cases, more secure – method of paying.

“We’ve got a lot of customers who get statements emailed to them, so the open banking link is going in the email messages and that’s the first step in terms of seeing what sort of uptake we’ll get,” he explains.

“We also have a number of customers who pay cash to the delivery driver, so sometimes he could be left carrying £1,000 – I want to take that risk away as well as saving money on taking the cash. We’ll share the open banking link on the day before or on the day of delivery when the customer invoice is emailed, and show that there are clear benefits for everyone and is so easy to use.

“You look at the fees we pay for taking cards and cash and if I moved everything over to open banking as the only way to make payment, there is a big saving – although it might not fit for everyone so we won’t be doing that. But if you think about the scale of it, if 5,000 customers used open banking, there’s a massive saving there.”

The next launch will be B2B WhatsApp, which will allow R&I Jones to open up a new communication channel with its customers, initially used to share marketing and promotions, important company updates and drive people back to the wholesaler’s eCommerce platform.

The focus will be on quality rather than quantity of messages and Aled was sold on the potential using WhatsApp could have on his business, even if he wants to judge engagement to find out how he’s most likely to use it most in the future.

“When I first heard about B2B WhatsApp, I started thinking about the app I have on my phone and all the groups I’m in, but when I drilled down into exactly what it was, I can see it’s different and what a great tool it is to get something out to customers,” Aled says.

“Once we get customers onboarded initially, there are several potential benefits. We could use WhatsApp as an information thing or we could go to a supplier to see if we can do an over-and-above deal that hits this channel with hundreds of engaged customers to try to entice them to buy a certain product. We can work out what works best when we’re up and running.”

It’s an approach that has worked for R&I Jones before. Take the plunge and learn from technology to find out how to move the business to the next level – after all, innovation won’t happen by itself.