Maneuvering the Product On-boarding Maze with Retailers

Many suppliers think that once a buyer wants their goods, the hard part is over. Unfortunately, this short sighted thinking causes long term problems for the company. Sales is only the first step in the process to place goods. Retailers have a complex hierarchy of onboarding systems that encompass everything from insurance and transportation to case pack quantities and planogram placement. Making sure that all the necessary arrangements and agreements are completed in a timely and complete manner can make the difference in actually seeing your products in the store or not.

On-boarding Can Be Overwhleming for New Suppliers

If you are unfamiliar with the onboarding systems, the process can be overwhelming. There are several departments that need to be contacted simultaneously and forms that must be filled out with complete accuracy. Recently, I heard a story that unfortunately occurs all too often. After having a product accepted by a major big box retailer, the manufacturer began the onboarding process. This being their first time, they were immediately overwhelmed by the sheer volume of forms and detail of questions. Many of the questions they couldn’t answer because they didn’t understand the question! What could take as little as a week, dragged into a two month process and at the end the manufacturer found out that they had not contacted the transportation department and therefore could not ship directly to distribution centers. Purchase orders had to be cancelled and the product was put onto the back burner.

Product On-boarding Best Practices

To avoid being part of a disheartening experience like the previous one, take a few pre-emptive steps:


  • Information Gathering – Gather all insurance and bank account information in advance. When signing the initial agreement, most retailers want this type of information. Make sure your insurance meets the minimum requirements for your industry.
  • Team Assignments – Decide who will be part of the contact team for vendor portals. It is important that you have a team leader, this person should be aware of what each team (EDI, Transportation, Marketing, etc.) is doing during the on-boarding time so that nothing gets missed. They will also be the person to alter the portal in the future, attend training for the retailer, etc. Assign someone that is flexible, yet pays attention to detail.
  • Test the Retailer’s System – Get your Electronic Data Information (EDI) team to undergo tests of their system while you work on uploading images and writing copy for the product. Most retailers now use electronic systems to place and track orders, your company’s systems will be tested to ensure that they can communicate with the retailer. By doing this step simultaneously, you will save time in the long run, especially if there are errors.
  • Review Requirements and Communicate with the Retailer’s Transportation Team – Contact your transportation department and send them over all relevant information for transport. Although retailers have similar transportation guidelines, each one has some specific requirements that the transportation team should know about. Most retailers provide material that can be read in advance. Make sure that you communicate what your shipping abilities are, eg. direct to store, to distribution centers only, to warehouses only, all of the previous, etc.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Although retailers are similar, each one has their own unique system and you must not be afraid to say I need some help. Letting your buyer know from the beginning that you are new to their system will give them a heads up to make sure you follow every step of the process.

It takes a lot of patience to maneuver these systems. To put the process in perspective, you can think of a maze. Everyone eventually finds their way out of the maze, but the person who has gone through before finds their way out much more quickly. As your sales team has more and more successes, you will become more familiar working with on-boarding systems. The biggest key to making it through the onboarding process is to know that you will make some mistakes. The good thing is that you will also correct them!

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Priti Mathur is the Director of Global Business Development for The International Trade Group, a full service, end-to-end sales and marketing firm that provides global manufacturers with a step by step process designed to bring their products to the North America Retail Markets. itg offers global manufacturers logistical, tactical, and sales marketing expertise in retail consumer package goods and commercial professional classes of trade. itg guides manufacturers the total selling process to ensure your products reach the shelves of all types of North America retailers and the shopping carts of their customers. Priti can be reached at 410-741-1644 or at