The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown was a game-changer for all industries across the UK. No one could really predict what would happen, but it turned out to be highly beneficial for building merchants and in particular building merchants and timber merchants who were able to launch eCommerce sites quickly or enhance their current online channels.
In this article we discuss:
- How the pandemic affected the public and building merchants.
- How the building trade benefited from lockdown and online shopping
- Whether the new online trend will become a habit
- How ERP integrated eCommerce solutions, not just websites can future proof building merchants
- The benefits of a building robust eCommerce platform coupled with a digital marketing strategy
Building merchants benefited from the lockdown DIY trend
For those of us locked down in our homes, our outdoor spaces and homes came under intense scrutiny. The enforced confinement and need to work from home resulted in an increased focus on home improvement projects, maintenance, garden landscaping, and put-off DIY projects.
“An upsurge in garden projects during spring and summer saw an increase in demand for things like decking and fencing which meant our sawmills were kept busy during this period.” Terry Edgell, Chief Executive of Premier Forest Group.
This had a knock-on effect of increasing demand in the building supplies sector. 2020 saw an explosion of demand for materials and timber from both retail and trade customers. As the majority of DIY stores were closed during the first lockdown, everyone flocked online.
“Clients in the building sector were telling us that the pandemic had led to a big increase in sales. Everyone was making home improvements and builders’ merchants with an online presence really benefited. I believe that the demand for eCommerce solutions will only increase, even once we are out of lockdown.” Paul Walsh, Yoma Director.
For some builders’ merchants and timber yards, however, making such a seismic shift in their operating model was hard. For decades this traditional industry had been used to trading through bricks and mortar sites, with sales reps, and with glossy catalogues. Covid-19 left many businesses reeling. Some B2B and B2C companies, which had no digital presence or an eCommerce platform, were overwhelmed with demand by phone and email.
Builders’ merchants who did well during the pandemic were the ones who adapted to eCommerce quickly and improved their offering.
The companies that flourished, however, were ones with a strong online presence, adaptable eCommerce platforms with strong distribution networks and stores that could offer click and collect. Others like, Jewson were quick off the mark to get online, and were able to capture the boost in sales.
According to the Builders Merchants Building Index (BMBI), British builder’s merchant sales surged in September 2020 by 8.3% compared with the previous year. Q4 also showed strong sales growth with landscaping performing the best (+22.9%), followed by timber & joinery (+12.7%), and heavy building materials (+4.3%).
Wickes was able to draw on their digital platforms and adapt by using stores as fulfillment centres. They also saw an increase in sales by 3.6% at the end of 2020 when compared to the same time the previous year.
The new “Covid” normal of shopping online is here to stay
“Key product sectors related to home and garden improvement have performed particularly strongly in Q3 indicating that people spending more money on their houses and gardens was not just a lockdown phenomenon but a trend that is here to stay. Homeowners have accepted that the ‘new normal’ will involve spending a lot more time at home for the foreseeable future, and they are adapting their homes for homeworking. Many also have more money to spend on getting someone in to do the work properly, benefiting builders’ merchants.”
~ Mike Rigby CEO of MRA Research, cited in Professional Builders Merchant
In the second national lockdown, even though DIY stores were counted as essential shops, the winter temperatures and the new threat of Covid-19 variants still made having an online presence imperative. Online purchasing has become a habit rather than an exception. Online behaviors are now ingrained whether you are a trade or retail customer.
What does the post-pandemic future look like for builders’ merchants?
Online demand is highly likely to continue, even as we move out of lockdown and ease social distancing.
In a survey of 1,600 tradespeople, 36% expect to purchase more materials than usual in the next two months. Summer holidays also look unlikely, so many more people will be spending that spare cash improving their homes and gardens.
Even if things go back to the way there were, investing in digital solutions offers a sound way to future-proof building and timber merchants.
The trend for online omnichannel purchasing, self-service and hyper-personalised customer journeys is sweeping across all industries, and Covid has only accelerated what was already a growing trend.
Trade merchants are also demanding better online services. If these needs aren’t met, they could look at online competitors or even go direct to suppliers who may offer better customer touchpoints, better stock visibility and more value.
With our exit strategy from Covid-19 still unclear, what is clear, is that building merchants will need continuing support in adapting their online platforms and customer experiences to meet omnichannel demands and adapt to this new normal.
How builders’ merchants can benefit from building robust eCommerce solutions
Having an eCommerce platform can create a business that is robust and agile. But, having an eCommerce platform that is fully integrated into your ERP, can drive even more efficiencies.
What benefits can builders’ merchants achieve with an integrated ERP eCommerce solution?
- Reach new customers, beyond just your local geography
- Offers a 24-hour service to B2B and B2C customers conducting research or purchases out of hours
- Provide detailed product information, support and even educational tools for customer
- Improve data across your supply chain
- Improve communications between supplier and merchant
- Generate valuable customer insight about demand
- Provide live stock levels
- Manage inventory and forecasting
- Enable price transparency or bespoke pricing for customers
- Offer flexible payment platforms
- Support omnichannel growth
- Offer customer personalisation to improve loyalty and retention
eCommerce solutions need to be coupled with a digital marketing strategy
It’s not just about having a pretty website, however. To ensure long-term success, we recommend that all our clients, including builders’ merchants, consider implementing a digital marketing strategy that will fuel and optimise the online offering.
Utilising a mix of digital marketing services can help your business flex with demand and new economic and political challenges.
Paid search (PPC), email marketing campaigns, content marketing, and social media, all need to tie into your eCommerce platform. Targeted campaign planning can maintain brand consistency and make sure your marketing channels are consistent. Investing in a digital strategy can help you drive continual traffic, deliver value for your customers and increase conversions.
Yoma has worked with several B2B and B2C clients who had outdated eCommerce sites and had low conversions. They turned to Yoma to redesign the user experience, transform their design and functionality and create a complimentary digital marketing strategy that delivered month-on-month growth.
Deploying and delivering eCommerce solutions remotely
Both our domestic lives and work lives have been transformed in the pandemic, and Yoma has fully adapted to working remotely while still delivering excellent results for our clients.
As we are designing online solutions it is easy for us to share our progress with clients and 3rd parties to access, review and deploy remotely.
How builder’s merchants can build resilience with strong eCommerce solutions
At Yoma, we are experienced in integrating ERP systems for building merchants with eCommerce Magento platforms. Whether that is a new eCommerce solution or a redesign to meet customer needs, we have a proven track record in delivering results. We know the challenges and solutions of your customers and how to meet the demands of B2B and B2C markets with custom functionality and digital marketing support to deliver real results.
We understand the building merchant industry.
We know what is important. Whether that is in providing bespoke pricing or real-time stock inventory or quick order fulfilment.
“We are ideally placed to help builders’ merchants capitalise on this “new Covid normal” and the demand for online trading. With YOMA you get an eCommerce solution, not just a site. Your customers get functionality tailored to their needs and your business gets a full digital marketing strategy to ensure its long term success” – Daniel McCann, Yoma Director
We can also draw on our strategic partnership with Epicor
To manage the integration of your Epicor BisTrack with Epicor Commerce Connect (ECC) and your Magento Platform. With ECC, you can combine Magento, the world’s leading eCommerce platform with your industry-specific Epicor ERP emulating offline experiences online through your custom store. The two systems are closely integrated providing feature-rich functionality with ECC’s advanced commerce capabilities hosted on Microsoft Azure’s cloud infrastructure.
We also fully manage migrations from Magento 1 to Magento 2, so you benefit from enhanced tools and functionality.
With our deep industry knowledge of building merchants, coupled with our Epicor BisTrak and Magento knowledge, we are ideally placed to help building and timber merchants survive and thrive the Covid-19 pandemic.
No matter where you are on your eCommerce journey, Yoma can help ensure a robust and resilient solution that delivers more than just a website.
To discuss your eCommerce strategy, contact us on 0845 390 2121