It is the best of times and the worst of times for construction businesses to embrace e-commerce. The industry is booming, and according to Oxford Economics, global construction output is expected to reach US$13.3 trillion by 2025. However, companies must also contend with supply chain challenges, labor shortages, and rising inflation rates. To architect a structure that will sustain the continuing waves of change, the blueprints must include digital solutions.
Prior to the pandemic, many companies had e-commerce on their “someday” list. Government-mandated shutdowns forced a change to go digital or disappear. The good news is that this forced change accelerated a shift that was long overdue for the industry. New data from McKinsey revealed that B2B buyers today use more online and digital channels today, up to and sometimes more than ten channels. This is up from seven channels two years ago.
Buyers have spoken and sellers that are not listening will be left behind.
While e-commerce increases efficiency and adds savings to the bottom line, it does not overcome the current challenges of supply chain and labor shortages. This makes it increasingly important to be meticulous about every controllable component of the customer experience. It is not enough to have an e-commerce solution, you must have a solution that delights your customers.
B2B construction buyers will often place repeat orders in large quantities from the same supplier. In fact, 81% of buyers rely online for their repeat purchases. The loss of just one customer to a supplier can have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. In our technologically advanced, omnichannel world, customer relationships matter even more.
If your company has largely relied on face-to-face sales meetings to negotiate purchases, the transition to online ordering can feel like a step into a cold, robotic future, but technology does not diminish the need for relationships. In fact, our research shows that four out of five B2B buyers rate the relationship between themselves and suppliers in the buying process as important. Further, 84% claim they would be more inclined to buy from a supplier they had a great relationship with, even if the terms of sale were not as good as a competitor.
E-commerce is not a replacement for the human touch but it can support your efforts to sustain long-term relationships. As you adopt an e-commerce strategy, keep in mind a few key points:
Details matter. Your e-commerce solution should accurately reflect your inventory and prices. There is no faster way to frustrate buyers than to show that something is in stock, only to have the process fail because your inventory system is not integrated to your e-commerce solution.
Like it or not, Amazon set the tone. When adopting an e-commerce solution you want it to feel effortless for your customers. The system should streamline the ordering process for them and be intuitive to use. Remember your customers have been using consumer online ordering for years, and as such have expectations of how it should work.
Customize the experience. One way to set the tone for winning customer relationships is to personalize the e-commerce experience. Your buyer wants to feel valued, even when the interaction is purely digital. As you consider a solution, look for a platform that can process bulk orders and complex discounts. You will also want to tailor your process for repeat buyers by storing data such as order preferences, contact information, and specific pricing.
As we navigate the twin towers of an industry boom and economic vagaries, an e-commerce solution, done well, can guide the way. E-commerce will not only help you satisfy the demands of your B2B buyers but can also allow you to leverage market trends such as the DIY, and B2C market. However, as you “build” your solution, be sure to do so with buyers in mind. A clunky solution that is riddled with errors and inaccuracies will do more harm than good.
Tim Beyer is the global COO of technology scale-up Sana Commerce, an ERP-integrated B2B e-commerce solution provider and certified partner of Microsoft Dynamics and SAP.
By Tim Beyer, CEO Americas Sana Commerce