Wholesale WMS Buyers' Guide
In the world of wholesale, your business rests almost entirely on your warehouse. It’s where your investments are and where your revenues come from, so the better you can control it the more likely you are to generate profit.
Looking for a smarter management practice often means considering a warehouse management system. But, choosing the right wholesale WMS is no small task. You want to take time reviewing your business and needs, plus the dozens and dozens of software options available to you. It’s a lot to manage.
That complexity is why we put together this guide. It’s designed to help you get from ideation to creating an RFP checklist and starting to flesh out that shortlist. Here’s what you’ll find inside:
- Business requirements for wholesale warehouses
- Useful WMS features for wholesalers
- Basic cost estimates for a wholesale WMS
- Well-regarded wholesale WMS vendors to kick off your vendor shortlist
With that said, let’s dive right into a discussion of your business and how that impacts the software you choose. While there’s no one right answer, you will see that there are plenty of needs to be met and mission-critical items you can consider a must-have.
You may also want to look at how your partners’ businesses are doing, especially if you provide drop shipping features alongside more traditional wholesale operations. If they’re growing now, you may be growing in the near future.
Growth will often mean starting or expanding the automation of your scanning capabilities, rising to the same systems that larger distributors often see. So, create a list of what you want or need, such as mobile RF scanners, plus the size of your warehouse space.
Your business depends on the success of others. That philosophy should guide the requirements you come up with for your WMS and other enterprise software. Look for ways to manage and improve your processes, as well as where these actions intersect with customer needs.
Customer expectations are continuing to change and move toward faster fulfillment demands. Amazon has made us all, whether in B2B or our B2C lives, more impatient. We expect our orders to arrive shortly after they’re placed. While consumer anger may be directed at your partners, their pressure is going to be put on you.
You must meet the changing world, or the ever-growing number of competitors will be there to claim that they can instead. Make sure the WMS you choose is designed to be a partner for growth and a way for you to generate a competitive advantage.
Some resources to help you out include:
- A step-by-step guide to help you plan and execute your WMS selection project
- Free WMS requirements template
- Features and requirement toolkit
Your best bet to successfully defining a features list is to look at the business requirements you noted above. Ask what objectives you need to meet and then look at the steps it takes to complete them. Each step should be supported by your wholesale WMS, from getting the goods to their final delivery.
We’ve called out some of the larger sections common to the WMS and needs of your industry to get you going, but this is just a jumping off point. Get your copy of our other free guides and build out that requirements template and RFP template as you go, because you don’t want to a good idea to strike when you’re not ready to record it.
Here’s your must-have list
- E-commerce tools and integration. The sales channels of wholesalers are changing significantly, meaning many of your partners are likely digital-only businesses. They’ll run a series of different online and e-commerce tools, meaning you need to support a wide range of shopping carts and order platforms. Your mix of e-commerce support might push you into some “next-level” considerations if your clients have custom or less-common software.
- Picking. Bread-and-butter for warehouse sales and distribution management software is picking. The faster you can pick and fulfill orders, the better you’ll be able to meet customer demands and provide a reliable service. The questions you should ask vendors from this section is if they support the size and common orders you have. Don’t forget about mobile readers and barcode scanner support too.
- Receiving. Another must-have is receiving, where you can take in goods and scan them into your system. Look for support for mobile barcode and other readers based on what you use today or plan to use soon. You’ll also want wholesale software integration so that you can manage everything within your ERP or other enterprise platforms.
- Location tracking. Every wholesale WMS should give you an idea of where your goods are located. What we’re thinking of here is the ability to track and locate goods across multiple locations. Wholesalers tend to fill orders in a complex way, and your WMS should support all the locations and options you use.
- Tracing by lot. You’re going to be using a variety of goods and products in many ways. Lot traceability will help you control these activities by allowing you to keep track of things by batch and lot level. Tracing gives you all the data you need plus allows you to immediately identify and pull items if there’s any report of inferior quality or contamination.
- Release for fulfillment. This feature is common in software for distributors and their merchant partners. The functionality allows your sellers to set up automated tools to release orders and tell fulfillment centers what order to fill. It gives everyone greater visibility and can help create better relationships with merchants.
- Product information management. Wholesalers tend to carry a variety of similar goods. Software for distributors and wholesalers needs to understand this and make it easy to differentiate items. If you can control individual characteristics or add new fields to an item’s description, you might end up with picking and packing that yields a sizable number of wrong orders and returns.
- Exchange and return management. Returns are common in the space, as you well know. Handling them easily and discovering their cause is a core tenant of your WMS. Ask all wholesale software suppliers how they help you manage this normal course of business.
- Quoting support. Integration with your partners is vital to them knowing how soon they can expect an order to be filled. If your platform can provide this data by automatically generating quotes, you’re in a better position to win business and repeat customers.
- Exception management. Get the power to automate the handling of order exceptions so that you can address them with minimal disruption. Look for capabilities that can partially fill orders and notify you about what’s missing, or flag orders that generate inventory discrepancies that need a closer look.
- QuickBooks inventory synchronization. This goes for any accounting platform you use, but QuickBooks is a standard, and most should be able to integrate with it. If you’re considering a WMS that doesn’t work with industry standards, it’s a promising idea to ask specifically about their integrations and what additional costs may come from that activity.
There are some capabilities here that may need to be a special request, depending on your vendor. Some functionalities include voice-based picking and voice controls systems, as well as support for any robotics you’ve got in use.
A special callout for your merchandise
Wholesale distribution software needs to be smart enough to handle all the things you do with your inventory. In the warehouse, this typically means handling bulk orders, pre-packs, break-packs, and any kiting you do once you receive a variety of goods.
Look for a WMS that allows you to maintain these order types and accurate inventory counts as you use goods in novel ways.
You will use your merchandise differently over the course of your operations. Sometimes, kits change seasonally while others may require breaking down bulk items into new arrangements of individual or kit elements each week.
A system that can inherently understand this process — plus help you track individually on characteristics like color or new style — will make your life a lot easier each time your business needs change.
A few next-level wholesale WMS features to consider
- Omnichannel analytics. Free accounting software for wholesale businesses will often look at a single channel to determine volume and cost. However, it’s hard to look at all your channels in a single view. Upgrade to a smarter platform that allows you to see demand and other analytics from every channel, plus helps you parse out how much time and effort is dedicated to each. You may end up being surprised about which channels perform best, especially when sorting via metrics that consider cost-to-fill.
- Multi-tier pricing and availability. Wholesale management tools can do more than just control your inventory. They can also help you put together custom pricing lists for different retailers based on your relationships, past order sizes, locations and more. Tools that let you set list prices for each customer or volume — with automatic rules for pricing and discounts based on this data — might be enough to convince some partners to order more products more often.
- Dropship fulfillment. Businesses grow and change. What if your customers need to move from bulk shipping to direct fulfillment to their customers? Can you support those types of requests and allocate your team effectively when they happen? Wholesale software that looks at a variety of fulfillment options, like dropshipping, may be the right path if you expect your partners to change or the nature of your efforts to change in the coming year.
- Support for partial and full delivery orders. The status of your warehouse can change quickly, especially as inventory is used. In some cases, you can use partial picking to create transfer orders for the outbound delivery in the WMS that starts order fulfillment with what you have and creates a backorder so you can meet customer demands more quickly. By creating transfer orders and updates even if you don’t have the full inventory required, you can best optimize your existing inventory and customer service.
- Workforce Optimization. Metrics on your workforce and productivity can help you better understand where to invest and improve your operations. Some leading wholesale WMS platforms can provide you with controls and tools to optimize performance. Consider taking this a step beyond to request capabilities around tracking individual employee performance. Paired with advanced pick-and-pack controls can empower brands like you to not only have the best team but assign tasks based on best success rates and efficiency levels particular to your staff.
- Order KPI and analytics. Look past the time it takes you to fill an order and uncover greater business intelligence with a platform that dives deep into your KPIs. This analysis can help you determine better pick orders, learn how to allocate stock differently, predict payments or returns, and much more. Complex data needs complex analytical tools, so speak with your talent to see what makes sense.
Hopefully, those give you some ideas about additional functionality to consider with your wholesale WMS. We do have one more quick question for you to consider in this space.
Are you a specialty provider?
In the realm of sales and distribution software for wholesalers and WMS tools, we see a wide range of specialty service. Everything that can be supported is supported, and that means a wide range of compliance concerns and unique rules or needs.
For example, pharma wholesale software might need to look for features that specifically support outpatient providers like nursing homes and clinics. Sometimes, there is enough information provided in the order that you’ll need to maintain compliance and records security, especially if you provide equipment and refills for anything related to a sensitive condition.
In the U.S., there are also additional requirements for monitoring pharmaceuticals. If the medicine you provide is addictive or can be used to create narcotics, then you’ll be required to collect a broad set of information, verify deliveries, and review your orders on a regular basis to flag potential abusive practices or customers of yours.
There’s no safe way for us to provide a price estimate for wholesalers because your size runs the gamut from a small warehouse and a team of under a dozen to hundreds of thousands of square feet across multiple locations and a small army running things.
We don’t want to be misleading or provide an estimate that feels comically low or too outrageous and causes you to stop the project altogether. For smaller shops, you can look at inFlow and Odoo that start at virtually no cost, while more common wholesale partners like Fishbowl will have pricing that starts around $4,400 but can quickly scale up.
ASSIST4 Warehouse Management has a one-time fee of about $5,000, though it may not be as robust as you need to grow.
Oracle’s NetSuite has been putting in work on the warehousing and wholesaler side, so it might be worth noting at a baseline of $999 for the system per month and an additional $99 per user, though other things can increase that price too.
These prices are hopefully going to give you an idea of a baseline to start expected and judging by your size. We also offer a more complete pricing guide as well as a detailed look at how to budget for a WMS before you start the RFP process.
So, where does that leave you? It can be a tough place, especially as you’re facing so many choices. Getting together a shortlist can feel like a long, long task. We’ll give you one more hand with it by sharing a few profiles of companies that range from significant support (and sometimes significant cost) to a few smaller players that might be right if you’re just starting.
Take a look, and get that notebook ready for lessons and options.
Emerge wholesale management software
Emerge is a multi-channel tool designed to help you purchase and manage inventory with accounting and CRM tools available as well. Its focus is on B2B wholesalers, so you’ll get tools that help your specific type of ecommerce. It emphasizes relationship building and customized pricing with strong reporting designed for your practice.
Fishbowl inventory software
Fishbowl Warehouse is a WMS designed to facilitate warehouse processes and increase productivity. It has support for a broad range of mobile devices and common tools like QuickBooks Inventory, as well as support for carriers. The Fishbowl software cost can make it attractive, especially if you need support for large inventories, multiple currencies, and more than one distribution center.
Sometimes you want someone who knows you. Iptor aims to be that for wholesalers who are a little different. It focuses on being able to automate as much as possible, so you can use its more specific tools to capture the 10% of orders that are outside of your norm. Customers tell us that this philosophy comes through based on customer service and capabilities.
JDA is a name you’ve likely seen, and it is a common WMS for wholesalers as well as companies who use a blend of brick-and-mortar and ecommerce channels. It’s supposed to have one of the better user interfaces around, according to customers, and provides real-time support and alerts. The system is strong enough to run across a broad set of locations.
Brightpearl offers an omnichannel wholesale WMS that was purpose-built for your industry. It provides a big push for real-time inventory and accounting options. Warehouse tools are robust, and it helps with retail CRM services and automation tools. There’s plenty of sales order processing, fulfillment, reporting, order management, and POS in one tool.
Oracle’s NetSuite is a cloud ERP that can help with larger operations. It has a variety of tools to meet all kinds of business demands. It flexes well for most sizes and is one of the better options around for QuickBooks integration.
On the other end of the spectrum is the inventory tool in QuickBooks. It allows you to match up orders to what you have in your warehouse, track inventory, and can help you buy inventory for resale when you need more. It’s a good option if you already rely on QuickBooks and are satisfied with its capabilities. While not the most robust, it’ll be familiar, and that can often make a world of difference.
You can see a few other recommendations for potential wholesale WMS options or start your journey by building out an RFP based on our selection tips.