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How to navigate multiple routes to market

With an increasing range of choices for where to sell their products emerging, how can merchants take full advantage of the diversifying routes to market on offer?

Merchanting is changing. It’s been changing for a while, though the rate has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the environmentally conscious drive for climate change and of course, political upheaval worldwide. Some changes are positive, others present challenges, and few are clear-cut.

One of the opportunities is the growing number of sales channels and choices available for merchants. With a host of marketplaces springing up and a variety of new, digital platforms joining the tool kit available to merchant sales teams across the UK and beyond, the wealth of choice on offer could be confusing.

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at some of the routes to market currently available to merchants

Traditional, in-branch sales

“But that’s not new!” we hear you cry. Well, no, of course not, but there are plenty of new tools available to help merchants optimise in-branch sales.

  1. Better merchandising tools based on shopper behaviour analytics to boost sales in-branch

  2. Enhanced stock optimisation in ERP to better define stock profile and promotional activity based on data-driven insights

  3. In-branch digital kiosks and faster trade counter service to order missing materials or supplies on-site faster

  4. Digital marketing, like social media, search engine optimisation, online advertising, email, website communication, can have a huge impact on your branch footfall

  5. New digital tools like NearSt can help local tradespeople and shoppers identify which branches have particular products in stock, thereby using the reach, power and convenience of online to drive physical footfall

Direct online selling

In a nutshell – your website. Whether you offer click and collect or full eCommerce including delivery, direct online selling has been on a pretty steep upward trajectory for merchants for some time, and it’s not falling away any time soon. Digital transformation is well and truly here, and it’s here for the long term.

As with in-branch selling, there are plenty of ways for merchants to enhance their online selling opportunity, from brilliant digital marketing to stellar CRM. At its absolute heart though is the need for excellent usability. If the information is good, easy to find and factually correct, the customer experience will be good – and that’s incredibly important.

There’s a lot your chosen eCommerce platform can do to make sure your selling opportunities are optimised, but don’t forget that your back-office system (your ERP or trading / stock management system) needs to be able to integrate with it for optimum performance.

There are also plenty of options to increase the range you offer without necessarily having to stock all the product yourself. Take a look at Virtualstock, for example, which can extend the “digital aisle” almost infinitely.

Marketplace selling

With generalist online marketplace retailers like Amazon and eBay representing an increasing share of construction supply sales over recent years, it’s clear that the marketplace model represents a big opportunity for merchants. But can smaller independents compete on these giant platforms?

Earlier in 2022, B&Q announced it too was expanding its website to incorporate a marketplace model, open to third party merchants and suppliers to list their products. More specialist than its Amazon / eBay counterparts, this could be one to watch for merchants, though it will be interesting to see whether other more consumer-facing brands will join the party.

Interestingly, there are also even more specialist options emerging. One to watch is It’s Plane & Simple [add link], which offers the DIY market access to merchant sellers, giving smaller, independent merchants a great opportunity to compete with their national rivals with their increased reach.

Again, as with online selling, your back office system should be able to integrate with these platforms to offer a straightforward, no fuss way to get your products listed and merchandised. We've recently created integrations with eBay and WooCommerce for example, and are working on lots more to help our customers sell in the right ways for them.

“Point of use” selling tools

In the age of instant gratification we now live in, with almost every conceivable product available for delivery to where you are in record time, it was only a matter of time before the merchant sector climbed on board.

While your website may be able to offer this service this to an extent, via mobile connectivity and click & collect services, customers now are looking for an even greater degree of convenience. If you’ve ever been frustrated at the three day wait while your electrician or plumber waits for a particular part to come in, then you might like the sound of this next entry: Snap-It.

Snap-It app

A relatively new arrival on the scene and one proving very popular with plumbing merchants and electrical suppliers, the Snap-It app offers an on-demand order and delivery system for tradespeople on the job. Think “Deliveroo” but for plumbing supplies and potentially any other materials or products stocked by merchants.

Snap-It has a growing range of delivery options to accommodate stock from handheld to large-scale construction supplies, and a search function to locate exactly what the customer needs from nearby participating merchants. Currently flourishing in London, there are plans to expand to Birmingham and beyond – definitely one to watch!

Whatever options you choose, keep the foundations rock-steady

As merchants now have more options than ever when it comes to their routes to market, the back office software system is incredibly important.

Think of your ERP system as an anchor or hub in the core of the business, holding everything together and keeping the right information in the right places. More and more information within every merchant business is digital, from your PIM to your accounting platform to your CRM to your sales channels, so it makes sense to ensure you’re using a back office system that can not only cope, but can actively facilitate these complex pathways.

Any merchant trading system worth its salt should have a high degree of interoperability, giving you more options to link in with the best-in-class platforms you want to work with. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, it makes sense to be present and competing in more places, so choose a system that can ease your journey and flex to meet the changing needs of an increasingly digital market.

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