eCommonSense Comment: Q3 2020

Andy Scothern, Managing Director eCommonSense is BMBI’s Expert for Website & Product Data Management Solutions.

As the country slides into increasingly restrictive measures in response to the second wave of the pandemic, merchants must get onboard with the digitalisation of their businesses. In late October, the CLC (Construction Leadership Council) spoke at the BMF Digital & Technology Forum and highlighted that the digital economy is growing seven times faster than the offline economy and is accelerating quickly.

The first wave caused an acceleration of merchants getting their online operations up and running. The second wave is likely to benefit those merchants who acted early. However, building a website is not enough. It is about digitalising the entire business model. The most successful merchants have been the ones that have recognised that it goes across culture, pricing, product data, stock management, delivery and more.

One of the exciting trends that have emerged is the drive to buy local and the willingness to pay more for good local service. Big data company IRI revealed that more than half of consumers (55%) prefer to buy local brands. While this survey was focused on retail, it provides an insight for what customers want and are prepared to pay for and dispels the myth that by trading online, margins go down.

Our own industry data shows that merchants with a trading website get more than half of their web sales outside regular trading hours, so it’s easy to expect that this may be otherwise lost sales opportunities.

Merchants provide added value via the locations of their branches and choice of their delivery and collection services. Those that have organised their yards, stock management and online delivery, including click and collect, will be the biggest winners, but this all takes investment.

Some merchants may want to ride it out and sit tight – but even an optimist would see COVID continuing at least into the middle of 2021. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in June that only about 10% of the world’s population has had COVID, so it has some way to run. Throw in the uncertainties of Brexit and it is clear that businesses doing things the old way in a new world will not be as likely to survive as those who have embraced digital.

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Launched in 2015, the award winning monthly Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report is the only reliable measure of repair, maintenance & improvement (RMI) activity in the UK. Filling an important gap, it can be widely used in construction, and by economists, Government, national media, commentators and influencers outside the industry.

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