Phil Davies, Commercial Manager of Border Merchant Systems, reflects on what’s changed in the industry and whether these changes will be temporary or more lasting.
Trends that were already established over recent years have accelerated in the last few months. The decline of the high street and the move towards online trading is one example of this.
As for merchants, companies that have multiple routes to market have been better insulated from the shock than those completely reliant on the traditional model of trading.
Border has been developing and supporting merchant software since 1990. We see web as a key component in how merchants will both trade and interact with their customers in the future and are developing our software system, CounterAct, accordingly.
Independent merchants have a competitive advantage by being flexible and providing a personal service for their customers. Rather than being impersonal, trading online can be viewed as another way for merchants to interact with their customers and also find new ones. It’s about making it as easy as possible for customers to deal with you.
You certainly don’t have to sell nationally or even have a huge online offering. Your website can be targeted at your local market and sell a core range of products. Alternatively, concentrate on a niche range that you have some specialisation in.
Your website can enhance your customer offering with useful tools like project calculators, specification sheets, questions & answers, videos and blogs.
Consider if your website integrates to your trading ERP system and try to take as much administration out of the process of fulfilling web orders as you can, whilst making sure it is as flexible as possible.
Think about if want to do delivery and/or click & collect for both trade and retail. Pre-ordering for click & collect can improve throughput speeds at the counter if you have a nailed down process for dealing with it. When customers start to see that pre-ordering is a quick and easy option, they will start using it.
Having an online account management portal is a great way of adding value for your existing customers. On the Border account portal, customers can log in to their account, see invoices, statements, quotes, delivery & collection notes, proof of delivery, generate a statement, get copy documents and pay their outstanding balance. The portal not only cuts down administration time and calls into the merchant’s accounts department, but it also makes life easier for the customer to deal with you.
Recent events have demonstrated that change can sometimes come a lot quicker than we expect. Having an online trading option isn’t a silver bullet, but anything that makes it easier for your customers to buy and interact with you is certainly worth considering.