Finding a digital solution that works for your merchant business and your trade customers can be confusing. Andy Scothern, Managing Director of eCommonSense, the digital transformation specialists for the building materials industry, plots a route through the digital maze.
Plotting a course through the digital maze
by Andy Scothern, Managing Director, eCommonSense
if I offered to open a new branch for you. Not only that it could be
your flagship ‘one-stop shop’, be near to everyone, never be closed,
have the highest branch turnover and feature the full range of products.
It would have the lowest operational overheads and be the cheapest to
build and quickest to open.
store, of course, is not a physical branch - it’s a fit-for-purpose
digital branch that can offer everything that a physical branch can.
digital dream sounds almost too good to be true, and for many the
reality falls well short of the promised holy grail. So, why is that?
Well the short answer is that while many can see a simple path to getting online and starting to trade, they soon realise that unless you have an optimised solution that works for your business and your customers,
it will never deliver the expected returns and may even drive your
existing customers elsewhere. In other words, it could do more harm than
good by damaging your brand through poor customer experience.
than bamboozle with the science behind the tech, I want to simply
present a practical ten-point plan that will show you what steps you need to take to get you trading online in an optimal way.
1. Choose the right digital partner
is arguably the most important step. Get it right and you will be able
to focus on what you do best - selling building products, while your
digital partner can provide a solution that works for you, your
customers and your business.
it wrong though and you could be watching through your fingers as
existing customers go elsewhere to competitors with slicker online
experiences and new customers visiting once, but leaving quickly.
So how do you find the right digital partner? The short answer is that you need someone who understands digital AND
your merchant business, with all the unique complexities involved with
multiple pricing, deliveries and product data. Once you apply that
criteria the list will shrink considerably.
2. You get what you pay for
cheapest solution is rarely the best, but you can easily waste more
than you need. A fully integrated solution will allow automatic data
transfer between your website and back-office systems and fewer
mistakes. The biggest cost will always be that of lost opportunities
because your website is just not good enough. Sorry, no short cuts here.
3. Make your customers happy
people go to your website and have an easy and frictionless experience,
they will stay and return to buy more. Good websites are good for
business but it’s important to remember, the reverse is also true. In
terms of customer experience, you want your online customers to have the
same level of service as if they were to walk into one of your physical
branches, if not better.
4. Stay safe online
is a huge issue in today’s digital world. If you compromise your data
or your customer’s data, then it can be hugely costly. World class
security solutions are essential and they need to be continuously
updated as criminals do not stand still. This should be a given with any
system that you choose.
5. Keep ahead of the competition
and digital solutions need to be constantly evolving to ensure that you
stay ahead of your competition and up-to-date with the latest
functionality. Check that this is something that your digital partner
does as a matter of course and doesn’t charge you for every small
6. Don’t make me think
want to be able to find the right products easily. To do that, they
need to be able to find what they are looking for with ease, get their
price and all the essential product data. The structure of your site
needs to be intuitive so that visitors don’t get lost or confused.
7. Product data
with a great website, bad product data will hamper all your efforts to
make it a success. This is usually the biggest part of the project, so
working with a partner who not only understands the products and the
associated data, but has a product database you can access,
relationships with suppliers and understands how to clean and organise data efficiently.
8. Don’t forget mobile
If your website is not optimised for mobile, you will be missing out on more than half of your potential customers.
9. Content is king
content can make the difference between a good experience and a bad
one. When customers visit your website, they do so with a clear purpose
in mind. Make the content reflect and support this journey. Get rid of
the irrelevant and only include the useful.
10. Extras make all the difference
the functionality that your customers find useful and that saves them
time can be the difference between them coming to you and your
may want access to their invoices or their account, the ability to
build instant quotes or get help in being able to narrow down a search
for a product with 1,000s of options such as bricks by simply uploading a
you have tried trading online and it has not gone as well as you’d
hoped, remember that there’s no such thing as a bad idea, just bad
execution, but that does not mean that online trading is bad for your
Quite simply, you may just need a better solution than the one you have.For more information please contact Andy Scothern, Managing Director of eCommonSense at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared in the Winter 2019 edition of One Voice
Want to learn more? View the range of BMF digital training courses here
About the author
Scothern has spent the majority of his working life in the building
sector, initially as a joiner before establishing his own property
development and home improvement company.
the mid 1990s, he become interested in the internet and saw the
commercial potential for the building supplies sector. After developing
an in-depth and cutting-edge expertise through working with a range of
international multi-channel businesses, he joined Jewson as Director of
eCommerce and Digital with the responsibility for developing and
launching the company’s online offer.
After leaving Jewson in 2013, he set up eCommonSense, a company that provides specialist builders merchant website solutions.