Writing in PBM’s July/August issue, editor Paul Davies considered the vital role of effective data use in delivering an essential ecommerce offering whilst also ensuring maximum efficiencies in back office systems…
Speaking at the virtually-held BMF Digital & Technology Forum back in mid-May, eCommonSense’s Andy Scothern repeated the stark message that, with an estimated 23% of building materials sales, merchants now “have a declining share of a growing market”. As the construction and wider building & RMI sectors continue to lead the charge of the nation’s post-pandemic recovery, it is yet another reminder that the world is a different place…
And whilst there are a number of reasons why the merchant sector finds itself in this position (not all of which are related to the rise in ecommerce), the dangers of digital disintermediation have been put into the spotlight by the longer term changes in customer behaviour which themselves have been compounded by coronavirus trading conditions.
Of course, ecommerce is not a new concept for a great many merchant business — witness the testimony of Grant & Stone’s Darren House at the BMF event, highlighting the sustained success of the merchant’s Trading Depot online platform over a number of years.
However, Andy’s message is that “having watched the parade go by for too long” with digital, the sector is now at a crossroads. Tech giants such as Amazon are already making significant inroads into the sector, including approaching and indeed working with key suppliers, whilst trade customers now increasingly see online purchasing — and access to information — as vital for their jobs.
“In a construction boom, busy tradespeople are not simply going to return to old habits that will now cost them precious time and money.”
As carpentry and construction business owner Ryan Caws told us for one of the articles in our IT feature later in the issue: “This past year has really made my priorities change. I cannot have my guys driving around, back and forth between merchants looking for bags of cement anymore. I need to be able to go online, see that what I need is in stock, and place an order for collection there and then.
“I just don’t have time to be calling around asking for copy invoices or making payments. I’m often working late into the evening, and so being able to access my account online to look up prices, place orders (and) arrange collections is essential so that we can get a running start the next day.”
In a construction boom, busy tradespeople are not simply going to return to old habits that will now cost them precious time and money.
Echoing Ryan’s comments, a key theme of the BMF webinar was the importance of data. Whilst transactional websites are a necessity, they can only be as effective as the information they contain. Detailed product descriptions and imagery can help to secure a sale at the front end, whilst effective data management will help to increase the efficiencies of your back office operations.
Fully integrated IT systems, collaboration with suppliers and initiatives such as NMBS OnePlace and the BMF-led ETIM project as referenced in the seminar will see the dial move even further.
Clearly, so much more can be said on the subject but a final point is that an improved digital presence will also enhance offline operations. For instance, during the session Andy noted that there was a “huge spike” in account applications made online at the start of the pandemic — and these have ultimately helped to drive significant new custom to the physical branch itself.
It is with much sadness that we announce the recent passing of our publisher, Bryan Shannon. In a career spanning more than 50 years, it’s no exaggeration to say that Bryan helped change the established order of trade magazine publishing in the UK. His visionary ideas on distribution — utilising the trade counters of leading merchants and wholesalers — plus a commitment to editorial excellence and market-leading circulations quickly established the Professional series of titles as essential reading for thousands of hands-on tradespeople.
As well as considerable magazine success, Bryan’s other great legacy is the wonderful opportunities afforded to legions of budding journalists and advertising sales representatives to cut their teeth at Hamerville Media Group, many of whom have subsequently gone on to run their own successful businesses within the sector.
The iconic cockerel figurehead which he chose to reflect the importance of ‘being up first with the news’ will continue to have much to crow about in the years to come.