Back before the digital-first economy became a primary force, brick-and-mortar retailers staked their claim to the curious customer on their windows. In fact, as global retail consultant Debra Templar famously told her clients: “The first impression a person is going to get of your shop is from its windows, the front door and the outdoor signage. Many a decision on whether or not to enter is going to be based on this first impression.”
The concept of visual merchandising literally made iconic department stores like Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue. But it arguably has been lessened by eCommerce with its design demands on cramming as much product onto the home page as possible. But no matter who one is selling to, Heath Wells, co-founder and co-CEO at NuOrder told Karen Webster in a chat for PYMNTS ConnectedEconomy series, the basic rules of retail still apply. An offering has to be visually appealing. And yet while that kind of thinking is readily apparent in the B2C world, in the B2B space where NuOrder operates? Not so much.
“I think the unique thing about us is we’ve really taken the concept of eCommerce and applied it to the B2B side,” Wells said. “And if you see our platform, and go to our website, you see it looks beautiful. I don’t see that kind of same thinking in a lot of other B2B marketplaces. It’s either straight lines of code or images are all hidden under multiple clicks.”
And while this observation can seem basic, it has proven to be easy to miss. Too shockingly easy to miss. To build a connected B2B commerce experience, just as it in the world of B2C, companies need to make the online buying experience smooth, seamless and easily navigable for retailer buyers shopping for inventory. And NuOrder has taken the design concept into action. It connects roughly 3,000 brands to half a million retailers doing about $1.5 billion in B2B transactions a month in transactions between parties.
The goal, Wells said, as the firm continues evolving alongside the retail marketplace, is to build out a two-sided network designed not only to provide the next revolution in retail procurement but to power the great sea change that is coming to the ecosystem as a whole.
Replacing The Excel Spreadsheet
NuOrder didn’t start out as a marketplace. It first existed more as a digital catalog for retailers to search through, but added payments services in the back half of last year as it became increasingly apparent that this was a desperate need across the segment. He said his competition became the Excel spreadsheets that massive enterprise-scale retailers were using to manage their purchasing on the backend.
“We’re really replacing spreadsheets, that’s the thing no one believes,” he said. “The majority of retailers we talk to, $10 billion-a-year retailers and they are managing everything with Excel. It’s hard to believe that’s how they do their buying.”
What NuOrder has built is a full virtual showroom supported by a complex suite of ordering and, more recently, merchandising tools they can offer to retailers. The goal, he said, is to keep on delving deeper into the supply chain and unearthing and solving problems as they go. The NuOrder network is fully integrated and connected such that any solution is designed to function with all of the other pieces of the platform, with no additional integrations or product purchase necessary.
Perhaps just as critical, he said, as offering the digital space to make it all happen, NuOrder is equally committed to creating something of a digital Rosetta Stone so a host of brands and retailers with their own esoteric descriptions sets can communicate via a lingua franca that connects them all.
“To really unlock a lot of the AI and the data science, the first step is how do we get everyone talking the same language,” Wells said. “We think the brand should still be able to use their language. But then what should happen is we should all agree on a common language and a common nomenclature. That is our second language — the same for every retailer and brand on the platform so we can all map into this common language.”
NuOrder, he said, isn’t the inventor of this concept, but he said it is positioned with thousands of brands and hundreds of thousands of retailers to motivate the creation and adherence to that common core commerce language, as those brands want access to all those potential retailer buyers.
The Coming Reshaping
In a pre-pandemic world, the average retail buyer spent about 120 days on the road looking for products and making their decisions on fashion collections months and months ahead. The pandemic largely shut that down, he said, and gave virtual commerce hubs like NuOrder a great push, but buyers are going to get back out there again.
But, it won’t be the same. It won’t be the same weeks and weeks spent on the road sketching out purchases for collections shopped half a year in advance. Because the apparel industry is evolving beyond seasonality. Consumers aren’t interested in that long cycle, he noted, and that means buyers don’t have the time to be on a shopping tour for 120 days a year. Connectedness, he said, is changing the retail economy on both the front and back end. The digital commerce opportunity NuOrder presents is what merchants are going to need to keep up with the new pace of retail.
“It really will become a business in which there’ll be new drops every month or every few weeks,” he said. “And I think the customer is going to enjoy that. And at the end of the day, we don’t want to be buying down jackets when it’s hot outside. We really need to get back to … you’re walking, you’re enjoying your Saturday afternoon, you walk into the store [and] there’s a nice shirt. You want to buy it so you can wear it tomorrow. It has to be like that.”