As a result of Covid-19 lockdowns, and social distancing guidelines, merchants are turning to e-commerce to ensure adaptability, and to continue to provide high-quality service to their customers. Abbie Smith sat down with Kerridge Commercial Systems to discuss the shift to online.
How has Kerridge CS adapted the services it offers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Right now, our customers are demanding solutions and services that enable them to trade in a new way, and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff and customers as they adapt. This pandemic has also accelerated the demand for digital technology and other ways of interfacing with the ERP rather than the traditional terminal.
From the outset of this pandemic, KCS swiftly adapted to these circumstances. Although our consultants were unable to physically meet with customers, we have been busy offering online business and product consultancy services. We have utilised technology solutions (voice and video) that have enabled our teams to work collaboratively with customers, without the need to visit them on site.
During this period, we have been able to help our customers implement complete business solutions, providing all the training and consultancy required to enable customers to go live and to get an immediate return on their investment. With a full range of classroom training sessions, webinars and personalised consultancy on offer to our customers during the lockdown period, we have been able to really help our customers effectively use the period of downtime to expedite projects and quickly get ready to meet the new business challenges.
Many customers are now seriously considering how they can quickly embrace digital technology and ecommerce solutions that can help overcome social distancing challenges in particular. Queues at the trade counter, or customers congregating at the branch are no longer desirable or safe at this time, paper-based deliveries are being seen as another risk – staff and customer wellbeing, together with business continuity and customer service, are first and foremost in their minds in considering these investments.
Establishing a credible online presence will be a crucial element to meeting the challenges that we all face and to servicing customers’ needs.
What kind of benefits can merchants expect when adopting new online platforms, even during (and after) such difficult times?
Deploying a web solution can bring significant benefits to a business. Right now, it offers the merchant a means to trade safely with its customers – builders can browse products, select the correct items and place an order online. These are then immediately available for processing. Whether secure delivery or planned collection is requested, the merchant can use resources effectively to deliver great customer service. Costs and delivery time are likely to increase as a result of lost productivity from implementing social distancing, so an online presence is key to minimising the impact of this.
Building a web presence also allows the merchant to broaden its customer base. Buying from an easy-to-use and informative website may appeal to new customers, who would not have historically thought of visiting a branch. Showcasing a range of products and services, the experience of sourcing product becomes less skilled and may appeal to a wider range of prospective customers
There are many opportunities to grow the business, finding new markets and customers, without diluting the traditional business channel.
What are the biggest challenges that are encountered when introducing an online platform to a merchant who perhaps has not previously had any experience with ecommerce?
Introducing a new website, particularly an ecommerce-based solution, is not an insignificant task. There are many factors that need to be considered to ensure this is a successful venture, not least of which is ensuring that you communicate clearly and effectively with your customers throughout the design and build process and ensure your site will meet their core requirements, both for buying products and delivering a great experience.
Ease of use of the site itself is crucial – the site must be simple to navigate, with easy access to product, stock and pricing details. Product descriptions need to be clear, the collateral associated with the product (images, how to guides, etc) needs to be professionally laid out and accessible. Whatever device your customer uses to access the site i.e desktop, tablet or smartphone, the experience needs to be a good one – make sure that your site is intuitive and the content relevant to your customers, otherwise you could find them looking for products elsewhere.
Duplicating information, such as customer specific pricing and terms, is fraught with difficulty. Web solutions that directly integrate with your core trading platform will ensure that you are offering the same terms as you would in branch and that the maintenance process is streamlined.
Managing your supply chain is also a challenge that you need to consider. From which branch should a customer order be serviced? Do you have stock in all locations to service demand, or do you need to organise branch transfers or arrange direct deliveries? There are many such questions to work through as you seek to build efficiency.
If you are adopting a B2C trading model, you need to ensure that consumers can find your products and services online. There are many means of achieving this, but you will need to be mindful of digital marketing techniques together with optimising your site so that consumers will find you when they search through Google and the like.
How can a website match the friendly, communal atmosphere that a builders’ merchant offers?
A trading website should really be seen as being complementary to that friendly atmosphere to be found at the branch and not a replacement, although in the current climate, merchants are seeking ways to minimise this social contact. However, when things get back to normal, your website will allow customers to place their orders online but still utilise branch staff for their core product knowledge and expertise – this is an integral part of the service that builders enjoy and find really helpful.
Offering an online click and collect or planned delivery service enables you to meet this challenge whilst satisfying your customer requirements. If we were not before, we are all now very familiar with buying online, booking services, paying bills, etc – customers are returning to the market with the expectation that they should be able to trade with their local merchant in the same way.