NuOrder is a wholesale e-commerce platform digitising the buying and selling process for leading global brands and retailers. Hosting more than 3,000 labels, such as Tom Ford, Ermenegildo Zegna, Acne Studios and Shiseido, and 500,000+ retailers, including Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, the B2B platform supports thousands of market appointments and processes over $38 billion in orders globally across more than 100 currencies.
As business moved online overnight in 2020 to account for pandemic restrictions and non-advisable travel, NuOrder’s digital solutions buoyed many of fashion’s grounded physical events, partnering with the likes of Milan, Copenhagen and New York fashion weeks and American trade show group Informa Markets Fashion, which owns industry stalwarts Coterie, Magic and Micam — requiring just an internet connection and login for event attendance.
Keen to learn from their community of users during the disruption of 2020, NuOrder conducted multiple surveys to gather the concerns and strategies of an industry in flux. In its report, The Future of Wholesale, NuOrder found 87 percent do not plan to move away from wholesale into DTC. Forty-three percent of respondents hold a positive outlook for the future of wholesale distribution, while some 21 percent hold a negative outlook — a view predominantly held by smaller companies with $5 million or less in revenue.
Now, BoF sits down with co-founder and co-CEO Heath Wells to discuss the future of wholesale and what NuOrder has learnt about what to expect in 2021.
How do you expect wholesale to evolve in 2021?
The pandemic has forced everyone to adopt a technology platform. Before, you had buyers flying around the world, collecting samples or taking photos on iPhones and then trying to marry that with Excel sheets. You don’t get any visualisation of a total assortment on a spreadsheet. It was ineffective, meaning retailers were doing their best, but really had one arm tied behind their back — simply put wholesale was broken. Putting NuOrder aside, new technologies are just good for the industry because it’s going to be a win-win for everyone.
According to our Future of Wholesale report, nearly every respondent reported using a B2B software solution in 2020. We think about B2B e-commerce for both the brand and the retailer. On one side, a brand needs selling tools, visual line sheets, virtual showrooms, inventory, et cetera. On the other side, retail needs a cross-brand buying experience and an easy way to view the total assortment online.
Our USP is about how we pull both sides together into a single platform, and how we allow a brand to sell more effectively to unlock all the value for the retailer. For example, we ran an industry survey when Covid-19 hit to ask retailers questions like, “How many orders are you going to cancel?” We can then communicate to our customers’ findings on what we were anticipating from the retail community.
How is digital buying evolving as it becomes better embedded in the industry?
Our solution enables real-time collaboration, mimicking the virtual showroom experience. As a buyer, I could put together a live assortment with a counterpart in another city and even with the brand itself. It facilitates a back and forth, which is a key function of success for us. And the technology behind that sounds simple, but it’s damn hard.
New technologies are good for the industry.
We expose all of our data findings to buyers through pivot tables and visual components, which allows buyers to get back to what they are really great at — selecting awesome product. We then have algorithms that work out the allocation of where those should go by region.
To pick the right product requires art and science, and buyers are really good at the art part. It is our job to help them with the data and science part.
How are you evolving the forecasting capabilities you offer?
Forecast and planning is also a pain point for people — it’s a finger-in-the-wind type of thing. But we have the aggregate and standardised product data to inform our partners’ buying decisions, which we currently leverage on the retail side in terms of optimising size and allocation models. We help them make those decisions. Solutions around forecasting and planning is the area that the Future of Wholesale survey respondents reported as holding the highest value in the B2B market.
We want to do the same thing with brands, which is to say, “Here’s what we’re seeing on the retail side, here’s what you should be thinking about. For example, you’re just about to place this order of military jackets — NuOrder shows that they are trending so maybe you want to overcut that by 20 percent?” or “You’ve only sold a hundred units in three weeks, maybe it’s time to retire it or cancel a future order.”
How will the evolution in the marketplace impact smaller brands?
When Covid unfolded, we knew smaller brands had no other choice than to sign up to platforms like NuOrder, despite the challenge they have to afford a service like ours. Indeed, 37 percent of surveyed respondents not using a B2B solution said it was due to budget restraints. We felt it was our duty to help as best we can, so we started NuOrder Now. It is a free service that allows smaller companies to create and share product catalogues and line sheets, with up to 3 brand users and unlimited access for retailers, as well as learning guides and webinars.
We now have a full-time employee who handles education. They run webinars and teach people not just the basics but also how to set up your range and go to market. Tommy [Fazio], our fashion director, has been a strong advocate with New York Fashion Week and Informa Markets Fashion about helping smaller brands and being an advisor to them.
How did your experiences in 2020 inform your strategy?
Last year was a bit of a sprint. We launched a digital trade show in September, which generated a lot of traction, connections and leads — after all, 36 percent of the Future of Wholesale respondents said they rely heavily on tradeshows to secure retail accounts. From that event, we learnt that buyers want curation.
For example, the keywords that buyers searched for the most during Informa Markets’ digital trade shows were “sustainability” and “dropship” — when the brand will ship inventory directly to the customer on behalf of the retailer. The great thing about digital is that you don’t need to set up a new trade show to implement findings. We are taking these mass experiences and curating them for specific segments.
The luxury industry is looking for an upgraded solution.
Then, with the fashion weeks, we’re moving to a more commerce-based model. From your seat on the runway, how do you now start shopping? We threw a lot of things at the wall last year and learned a lot. It looks again like we may not be able to see collections and events in-person for another six months or so, which is disappointing, but we are here.
What are your main priorities for 2021?
The luxury market is a big focus for us. That industry is looking for an upgraded solution. They’ve got so many big business problems, and we offer assistance from merchandising to virtual showrooming to collecting an order. We’ve seen a lot of pickup demand from brands seeking a deeper and integrated company solution.
As a sidestep to luxury, Europe follows. We’ve got 200 people in the company and we’re growing as quick as we can in Europe. There’s a decent-sized team in Milan, London and Paris, but I’d say that would probably triple in the next year or 18 months. So, the next biggest priority is people. The growth that we’re experiencing is so large and we’re trying to hire as quickly as possible, but what you want to ensure is that you are hiring with culture in mind, with all the specific skillsets in mind, to make sure that the team is A+.
Finally, we are also building some cool stuff in product. We’re soon to be supporting a full 3D CAD. You can move it; you can turn it upside down. Then, you’ll be able to put it in situ to see what it looks like on the shop floor, for example. We’re also rolling out a Shop by Look feature and taking our digital trade show 365 into an advanced marketplace.
This is a sponsored feature paid for by NuOrder as part of a BoF partnership.