Five things you should never say to wholesalers when buying goods for your e-commerce business

Thinking of launching a new e-commerce business? Here are five things not to say to wholesalers when buying goods for it.

Gaynor Humphrey runs Best Years, an established business that sells green, eco and ethical toys. Over the past few months she’s seen a sharp increase in the amount of people contacting her with new businesses or side hustles they are now monetising.

So she thought it would be helpful to give some guidance on what NOT to say when approaching wholesalers if you want a good deal, and to build a great, long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.

So here are five things she recommends never asking a wholesaler – and one thing you SHOULD ask!

1) I’m thinking of starting a new business

It can be difficult when you first start a business because you are in a Catch 22 situation. You need to know how much products will cost at trade, but you have no website, no premises, or anything to show potential suppliers that you are an actual business.

While wholesalers may be sympathetic to your dilemma they are unlikely to release confidential information just on the basis that you may perhaps, with any luck, set up a business. 

It’s not only that the information is not for public consumption but also they are busy and spending time on someone who may or may not go on to set up a business doesn’t sound like the best use of their time.

When composing your initial request its good if you can point to or include things in your email to show that your business may be new but it is serious would be good.

Even if your business idea is still at fledging stage there are many ways that you can influence a wholesaler to consider you as a customer. 

Social media channels are always a good way to show off your business even if it is still at planning stage. Even if you are not at the point of selling your own products you can have ideas, inspiration and even mood boards of the style you will be selling.

So if you want to make and sell baby hampers then you could have pictures of ones you like, or don’t like and pictures of the colour palette you like. It all shows you are in touch with your market and are seriously exploring opportunities. 

Other ways that you can prove references from suppliers or customers if you have bought or sold anything, having an email address which is your business name (so not gmail) or even a good email signature with your business name included.

Just remember that for most wholesalers the decision whether to respond to your request positively will be a split second one and first impressions count!

2) I have a very small business

This is a very female thing to do and in fact in the 20 years I have been a wholesaler I have never once had a man email saying he has a very small business.

A lot of women start their email almost apologetically, minimising the value of their business, but for many wholesalers small businesses are the backbone of our sales.

In our own business about 25% of our customers spend over £1000 per year and another 25% spend £200 or less. We work with museums who only ever order £100 and in fact a national institute, a household name, started with an order of just £150.

Some wholesalers have high minimum order quantities, but if this is an issue to you just ask the question when you request trade prices. You can ask for minimum order values and carriage paid values without having to apologise for your own business when you ask it.

You may have a small business, you may never spend more than £200 in a year but if you’re cheerful when you order and pay on time you are still a valuable customer that most wholesalers will want to work with.

3) Is that the trade price or the RRP?

This may seem like an okay question but it shows that you haven’t done any research on the products that you are interested in. If you need to check it takes 30 seconds to google the name of your product and see what other people are selling it for, but if you know your market you should know the approximate retail of products you want to stock.

On a light hearted note it can also be quite insulting to ask if a trade price is the RRP. What you could be saying is that the product is worth less than half of what you are being quoted!

4) Can I have a discount on my first order? 

It is now commonplace for retailers to offer customers a discount on their first order, but for wholesalers the opposite is true and it is repeat or long term customers who are offered discounts.

If you think about it wholesalers rely on a steady stream of orders from their customers, and they want these customers feel wanted and valuable rather than irritating them by giving new customers better prices.

What you can do if you want discount is to sign up to wholesaler newsletters as invariably they will offer discounts on products at certain times or in certain circumstances. Alternatively, you can visit wholesalers at trade shows as again this is a time when they will be offering discounts on certain ranges or if you order on the stand.

I am sure that there may be wholesalers who offer discounts to companies they have never worked with or heard of before just because they ask but there are more wholesalers who don’t and who make offense at being asked.

5) Wots you’re prices?

Wholesalers are in business and they are not English teachers, but the only emails I delete without responding to are those where the combination of poor spelling and bad grammar make them difficult to read.

I am not saying I delete emails which use “your” rather than “you’re” but emails which look as if they have been flung together with no thought.

It is not so much that we are discriminating against people who write badly, nor non-native English speakers, but there are a couple of reasons why these emails put us off.

If English is clearly your first language and your email is littered with mistakes then there is a worry that if you can’t be bothered to proof read your email, or take care in the way in which you ask questions then how will you run your business?

We are worried that your email reflects a similar lacksidasical approach to your business or our products.

We are also worried that you are just firing off dozens of emails to any and every supplier in the hope that someone will respond rather than having any interest in our specific products.

And one question you SHOULD ask!

Do these products conform to UK testing requirements? Do you know where they are made and does the factory conform to internationally accepted standards?

Love more advice from Gaynor? Read how her business has thrived throughout the pandemic – and three things she’s learned from it.

Best Years supply green, eco and ethical toys to anyone and everyone who wishes to buy them.

Photo by Ava Sol