“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Widely attributed to Albert Einstein, the truth at the centre of this famous quote is clear: if we want to bring about change, we have to change the way we do things. And with sustainability top of our collective agenda, against a backdrop of global economic and political unrest and an evolving customer base, change is definitely needed.
Merchanting is a deeply traditional industry, dealing at its heart with construction materials in all their complex physical form. Therefore there will always be a limit to how digital or remote its workforce can be. But that should not be a limit to innovation.
The role of technology in helping merchants to drive forward and innovate is a vital one. The product itself may be physical, but there are multiple ways in which digital tools can help to improve efficiency, sustainability, accuracy, productivity, profitability and customer service.
In this short round-up we take a look at 5 technology innovations which have great potential benefits for merchants, from specific providers to broader concepts - and they’re not all about being online! Digital technology can revolutionise the in-branch experience and bring people to your depots, as well as your website, and can ensure they have a much better experience once there.
We’d love to add to this list so please let us know what tech you’re using to build better business!
Impartiality notice: We have not been asked to promote any of the businesses mentioned below, nor do we receive any form of payment or incentive for talking about them. We just thought you might be interested!
NearSt. is a service which enables customers to see exactly what stock is available in a local branch via Google or Facebook. Customers can either look up a particular store or branch to browse the available products, or can search for local outlets selling a particular product. It saves wasted trips and gives merchants a huge opportunity to showcase availability to their local market, as well as gain valuable insights into how local markets behave.
One of the brilliant things about NearSt is that it can integrate with any stock or inventory management system using its own tech to identify inaccuracies and clean up data, so it can successfully work alongside legacy systems as well as newer digital systems. It doesn't even necessarily an online presence or webstore at all, as its own tech does all the heavy lifting, making it a great additional to the sales toolkit for a wider range of merchant customers.
Find out more at Near.St
There are plenty of other innovative businesses out there helping merchants to extend range and ease access for customers - check out VirtualStock, for example, providing businesses with "new generation supply chain and procurement solutions allowing [them] to compete in the digital age" by helping extend product range online via dropship.
Availability issues have plagued the construction supplies sector in recent months and those challenges aren’t going away any time soon. Sites like Woodscanner make it easier for merchants to track down suppliers of materials they need to procure, as well as offering additional awareness for the merchants and suppliers concerned.
More and more online services, such as price comparison sites and availability checkers, are springing up, so it pays to keep track of what’s out there, as things are moving on fast. Having trusted platforms at the ready can really augment your customer service proposition and product availability so it’s always worth a look.
Discover more about Woodscanner here.
Better Branch is a great example of digital technology helping to drive physical sales. Using robust customer behaviour and psychology modelling, Better Branch helps merchants to optimise layout and flow in-branch to boost sales; in fact, they calim to:
"increase your average basket value by 40% or more while improving customer safety and satisfaction."
There are loads of other examples of innovations helping customers get a better experience in-branch – point of sale hardware and software integration, in-branch digital kiosks to facilitate product search, information and ordering and digital signage, to name just a few.
Find out more about Better Branch here.
Better ERP / order and stock management systems
Not just blowing our own trumpet here, as there are lots of great systems out there in the market. The improvement in cloud-based ERP software in recent years has been truly revolutionary, going from highly complex, unintuitive systems requiring vast amounts of training, physical server-space and clunky upgrade capability, to streamlined, user-friendly digital systems which keep all your business information up to date and easy to access.
Stock management has improved in leaps and bounds and merchants can really benefit not just from stock management software that is more accurate and up to date, but systems which can massively improve efficiency, predict and minimise errors, help drive greater turnover and profitability, and offer intelligent insight into how products are selling to help inform replenishment, merchandising, pricing and much, much more.
If you’re still thinking your manual system or legacy software is doing the job, it really is worth scouring the market to see what’s out there – it might be getting the job done to a point, but there could be huge scope for improvement.
For 30 days of free online demo access to Merchanter, just register here.
A pretty tongue-twisting term but a vital concept in modern technology. Interoperability basically means integration. It means merchants can move away from cumbersome, monolith ERP systems which claim to do every single function in your business, instead offering a less disruptive, best-in-class solution allowing merchants to hook their order and stock management system up with the very best in the market for PIMs, product data, eCommerce, CRM, financials / accounting software, logistics and transport planning, dropship SaaS platforms and much, much more.
These days, there is no need (or particular advantage) to having one system that does absolutely everything. Yes, a comprehensive ERP system can often do the job, but for merchants, the major benefits of industry-specific ERP software is usually in the product management and stock optimisation – the things which set merchants apart from other retailers. For accounting, for example, they’re unlikely to rival systems like Sage, Xero or Quickbooks – and they don’t need to.
Modern system infrastructure allows for experts in each sector of industry to link together for the best possible combination of opportunities.
The future’s not set
Famously spoken in Terminator 2, this line has never felt more relevant.
We may not have total control over what happens in the wider world, but we do have control over the decisions we make in business today which will have an impact on our collective future. Embracing the possibilities that technological innovation have to offer in the world of merchanting and construction can open a whole range of possibilities to a brighter, more sustainable future.