Getting consumers to click with brands in the wholesale channel

Today anyone can have an online store, but even in this new age of bits, the old adage of location, location still exists.  That's why wholesale persists, and fortunately for as all, the digital version of the department store is getting a lot more interesting.

I had a chance to think about the wholesale channel debate recently, while collaborating with the agency that built the first shop-within-a-shop experience on Those who make goods commonly use the term wholesale to describe goods sold through an intermediary.

For many of those makers the very concept of wholesale conjures up mixed emotions. Larger brands bemoan the lack of control over brand presentation and smaller brands shun the notion of lower margins.  Ask any aspiring designer how they plan to go to market and they’ll probably let out an earnest, direct!  Meaning they intend to sell directly to the consumer via the web. 

But even in a world of bits, the old adage of location, location, still exists.

No one knows exactly how many locations exist on the web. Give or take a billion seems to be the current estimate. The busiest websites represent less than 1%. That means, in the virtual universe, there is a small group of websites that receive the majority of the traffic.

And, traffic and sales go hand in hand or rather credit card in hand. Big brands such as Levi’s earn as much as eighty percent of their sales through wholesale.

For consumers there is no shortage of reasons to choose a big shopping destination such as or over a brand’s direct site. I can name six compelling arguments: convenience, loyalty programs, selection, ratings/features, shipping incentives, and last but certainly not least, trust.

But with so many listings, these virtual shopping centers pose the same challenge as before - how to connect brands with consumers in a crowded marketplace?

Crowded is an understatement. boasts two million sellers and from what I can guess carries about a thousand brands.

In response to the wholesale dilemma, many online shopping destinations have emulated physical stores by letting brands decorate their own corner so to speak. In the digital context, this is referred to as a brand page.

A little creative agency in San Francisco, called Iron Creative, knows a thing or two about these brand pages and wholesale channel marketing in general for that matter. The agency manages brand experiences for the likes of Levi’s and Dockers across numerous wholesaler accounts.  

Knowing the agency's efforts had a significant return on investment, Iron sought to help other brands navigate the burgeoning digital wholesale channel. The leadership team called me to collaborate on a piece of business development collateral. In doing so, I developed the methodology for the agency’s annual benchmark of wholesale digital innovation. 

Drawing on Iron’s core competencies – design, marketing, and user experience, internally, the methodology established a framework for the team to discuss brand initiatives across wholesale websites. Externally, the material substantiated Iron’s expertise in digital wholesale marketing opening the door to more business opportunities, a well deserved result.