What Solutions are Available? | NBWA: America's Beer and Beverage Distributors
 

The decision to implement an online ordering system is, first and foremost, a business decision. From ownership to the sales team to back-office workers, everyone must be on board to successfully transition to an online solution. That being said, distributors must decide which solution providers they will work with and which solution they will present to their retail customers.

There are generally four types of solutions distributors can utilize for online ordering. Solutions offered by their Route Accounting System (RAS), third parties, major brewers or a distributor can invest in and build their own custom online ordering platform. As with any decision, each option has potential benefits and challenges a distributor must be aware of prior to making a decision. Additionally, ONE solution may not be the answer, and a distributor may choose to opt for multiple solutions. Below we will briefly discuss each solution type as well as provide links to some of the BIECC Associate Members who offer online ordering platforms:

RAS-Provided Solutions

Distributors know that selecting the right RAS provider for their business is a critical decision. RAS providers are depended on by distributors for managing nearly every aspect of their business, so it only makes sense that they would also be there to assist with online ordering. Each major RAS provider has invested in creating an online ordering solution for their distributor customers. 

The benefits of working with a vendor so familiar with your business are pretty obvious. Online ordering platforms offered by RAS companies seamlessly integrate and flow into your existing systems and cause little to no disruption to your current operations. In general, retailer recruitment and transition over to RAS-provided solutions is a responsibility that falls on the distributor since RAS vendors are not actively recruiting retailers onto their solution. 

For more information on RAS-provided solutions please visit the sites of our BIECC Associate Member companies below:

Third-Party Solutions

In this instance, third-party solution providers are companies specializing in offering an online ordering platform for retailers to place orders through their distributors. These businesses work closely with retailers to sell the benefit of online ordering and aim to work with each distributor in a market so the retailer can see all products available to them on a single platform. Platforms like Drizly have had great success with this in the business-to-consumer model where they connect consumers seeking local alcohol delivery with various retailers. 

Third-party solutions have a variety of benefits to offer. First, these solutions already have an existing retailer userbase in place, reducing the burden on distributors to drive adoption. Additionally, third-party solutions offer an aggregated marketplace where they can search across multiple distributors’ portfolios. Third-party solutions also specialize in working within the three-tier system and are accustomed to working with most RAS and complying with state-specific laws and regulations. 

When considering a third-party solution, make sure their software is compatible with your RAS and that it can handle unique pricing and geographic distribution territories for various brands you carry.

For more information on third-party solutions, please visit the sites of our BIECC Associate Member companies below:

Brewer-Provided Solutions

In an effort to assist their distributor partners in making the transition to online ordering, some brewers have built and offered their own online ordering platforms that their distributor network can use. 

Distributors can feel confident that a brewer-offered solution will offer top-notch training and education materials and ample marketing and promotional offerings to assist in signing up retailers. The BEES solution, provided by Anheuser-Busch, is able to feature the entire portfolio of brands a distributor carries and is not limited to only the brands produced by Anheuser-Busch. 

For more information on a brewer-provided solution, please visit the BIECC member company site below:

Distributor-Built Solutions

Another option available to distributors who may not be content with any of the previous options is investing in and building your own internal online ordering platform. Building a solution allows you to customize every aspect of the platform including, the search functions and results, the pricing and what the retailer sees about each product. 

While custom solutions can seem daunting, there are base platforms like SalesForce and Episerver a distributor can use to assist with building. This doesn’t mean a distributor would not need to make a sizeable investment to create their own solution, and it will still require frequent maintenance and updates once up and running. 

To see a few examples of solutions built by distributors, please visit some of the sites below:

Questions to Ask Before Determining Your Strategy

As with any decision, distributors must do their homework and ask the right questions before deciding on what solution is best for them. Some suggested questions to ask potential partners are:

  • How much will the solution cost?
  • Will this solution integrate seamlessly with my existing system, or do I need to invest in any other software or hardware to help the integration? How will the integration of systems work in the future?
  • What level of analytics reporting does the solution provide?
  • What security best practices are followed?
  • Where/how is the storefront hosted?
  • Will my retailers be comfortable using the platform?
  • Are online payments an option on the solution?
  • What features do my customers need within an online solution (i.e., past AR, business analytics, current and future pricing, promotions, marketing collaterals, order deadlines for future delivery dates)?
  • Will my sales team view this as a benefit, and does it create efficiencies for our sales structure? Do they have visibility into their e-commerce customers’ orders, and do they have the ability to audit and edit those orders?
  • Does the platform help market my brands and help us reach our company sales goals?

Decisions to Make Before Determining Your Strategy

Similarly, distributors need to make some internal decisions themselves before committing to a solution provider. Some decisions distributors need to make are:

  • What level of pricing do we want to be featured on an online platform? Do we want retailers to only see frontline pricing, or do we want all discounts and promotions featured online?
  • Which employee(s) in my operation are going to manage the online platform? How will each department be integrated?
  • How will the current sales team be included in the process, and how will we respond to an issue such as a mis-keyed product order or incorrect quantity?
  • What other information do we want to provide retail customers on the platform to create additional efficiencies for our company (i.e., delivery days, invoices, etc.)?
  • Do we want to link payment processing to your online portal?

Conclusion

As was said at the start of this section, transitioning to online ordering is primarily a business decision, but the technology and the solution you work with do matter. Please take the time to learn about all of your options and evaluate which makes the most sense for your business. 

One major consideration should be that the correct answer is not necessarily to implement just one solution. Implementing one solution does not mean you should not consider another. As discussed above, each solution offers different benefits, and it may prove necessary to work with a few different solution providers to best serve all your retail customers. Each distributor knows their business, their market and their customers better than anyone, so they’ll also be the best to know which solution or solutions make the most sense for them.

What Solutions are Available?
Retailer Interaction
Goal Setting & Analytics
Internal Distributor Onboarding