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Wholesale Distribution Industry Outlook: Operational Mobility

The wholesale distribution industry is changing. The days of solely delivering manufacturers’ products to retail customers at a competitive price are gone. Today, wholesale distributors are business partners participating in traceability initiatives and employing operational mobility to meet customers’ demands. Looking near term, wholesalers will continue to evolve their business, providing more value added services and employing analytics to help drive new business endeavors and operational efficiencies. Looking into the future, the retail revolution, technological advances and business integration could so drastically disrupt the face of wholesale distribution that it becomes almost unrecognizable.

Today’s post kicks off this new blog series, A Wholesale Distribution Industry Outlook. Over the next several weeks, I will walk through challenges the industry will face, starting with the near-term then working our way to the future. Our first topic is Operational Mobility.


For some industries, mobility simply adds a level of convenience or even a factor of cool. For wholesale distributors, mobility can make significant improvements in efficiency, equipping the many mobile employees to do more. It can also connect wholesale distributors to their retail customers, improving service levels, gaining speed as well as collecting data for analytics.

Placing devices in the hands of mobile employees provides them with the ability to execute planned trade promotion merchandising and displays for their customers. It also gives them the opportunity to collect real-time competitive and consumer information while on site with the retailer. Additionally, simply equipping this mobile force with the ability to recalculate and print customer receipts can improve efficiency and customer service. Providing retail customers, especially mom and pop shops, with the ability to place orders through a mobile device can improve efficiency and customer service. Some wholesale distributors today allow retailers to submit orders either through web-based portals or mobile apps. Some make it as simple as taking pictures of items that are low on stock and submitting them for replenishment.

Whether equipping internal mobile employees or retail customers with mobile devices, there are many factors to consider. Because mobile devices today are more available than ever and the skillsets to develop apps are readily accessible, it is tempting to jump in head first. Wholesale distributors should first develop a mobility business case, strategy and roadmap. Distributors need to identify the specific business benefits they are trying to accomplish and then create a stepwise approach to get there. Integration with the backbone ERP system is a critical step to making mobility a worthwhile investment. Automating orders, checking and securing inventory, finalizing trade promotion activities and integrating mobile data into analytics should all be considered. Other factors to consider are device allowances and mobile security.


  • Have you developed a mobility business case and strategy to get started?
  • How are you or will you leverage mobile data to improve core business operations?
  • Will you allow your mobile force and/or retailers to use their own devices or will you provide devices? If you are allowing them to use their own, what is your security approach?

Our next topic in this Wholesale Distribution series will address Traceability.

Tags: Supply Chain Technology