The importance of e-commerce in the builders’ merchant sector may not be a new view but it’s one that has been given a new perspective following the challenges of the last year. Sue Packer, Group Chief Operations Officer from online builders’ merchant CMOStores.com, argues that rather than keeping customers at a distance, developing a strong online presence can help build relationships and solidify sales.
We are very aware that here at CMO, we don’t fit the mould of a ‘traditional’ builders’ merchant. In fact, it’s something that we are incredibly proud of and one of the reasons why during the recent pandemic, we have been better placed than most to keep calm and carry on.
More importantly though, the fact that we operate in a completely digital arena and have made a success of this business model says more about our customers than us — they are the ones that choose to buy products online and they are the ones that are setting the bar even higher by what they expect in terms of price, delivery and customer service.
There has been a dramatic increase in customers purchasing online but rather than this being a temporary trend caused by the recent Covid-19 restrictions, we believe that they have only shone a light on preferences and behaviours that were already there.
The market is evolving and although none of us can afford to stand still, neither can we lose sight of our core values. One of the biggest misconceptions about online trading is that it is too detached — but if done correctly, customers can enjoy the same level of personal service and support as they would face-to-face.
So how can you balance online innovation with old-fashioned customer service? The answer is perhaps simpler than you may think.
More than just products
Whether your target customer is a trade professional or a DIY enthusiast, although the level of help and advice they require may vary, replicating the social interactions you would usually have in store is one of the most important aspects of creating a positive online experience. This is why we have developed a comprehensive help and advice portal across all of our individual store websites so that as well as browsing for products, our customers have easy access to a wide range of advisory articles and inspirational blogs.
This variety and quantity of useful content can be viewed at any time and in any place, making the whole process of reaching a project much more convenient and enjoyable for the customer. If there is a need or a preference to speak to someone, our customer service team is available to chat on the phone or respond by email.
Everything can be accessed via a mobile, laptop or tablet which in today’s world, are the essential tools of the trade. We may not be communicating to our customers face-to-face but we are certainly talking directly to them.
Improve the customer journey
Browsing a website is very different from browsing a shop but the same best practice principles still apply — you want your customers to be happy with their experience, to be able to easily find what they are looking for at the price and quantity they need.
In much the same way as you would help your customer navigate around the store, we have also invested in an innovative onsite artificial intelligence personalisation solution which makes recommendations and reminds customers about other key products relating to their purchase. Our team are well trained, ready to spot any missing items and will contact the customer directly to check they have everything they need to get their job done.
It’s not about upselling but about upholding standards — whether they are leaving a physical store or a website, customers should be happy and satisfied, and keen to return again. Treating your e-commerce site as a part of your shop floor rather than separate to it is an important step in making your business work both on and offline.
Restrictions may be easing but keeping a strong digital presence has never been more important. Indeed, there is much talk about the ‘new normal’ and what this may look like for the country but in terms of the builders’ merchant sector, continuing to invest and improve your e-commerce and online offering is definitely a strategy that should stay locked in your business plans.
To see CMO’s approach in practice, visit www.cmostores.com