Around three years after the invention of the internet, on August 11, 1994, someone bought a CD by singer Sting in what was the world’s first secure online transaction. Since then, online purchasing has grown at a scorching pace as people recognised its convenience, speed and ease of use.
Research company Frost and Sullivan expects that global business-to-business e-commerce sales to rocket to more than $6.6 trillion – over £5 trillion – by 2020.
And my own company’s online performance reveals just how far building services businesses have come in terms of online purchasing. In 2013, around a fifth of our customers bought online. Since then however we have seen a 20% increase in the number of customers now transacting online, and the number of orders placed online has increased 170%.
In terms of product types, Brymec sell a wide range of components for the building services sector. The most popular items have historically been plumbing and refrigeration copper tube followed by end feed fittings and channel. However, our customers buy everything from refrigerant gases to cast iron valves and duct fans to access handling equipment, many of them buying online.
Indeed, no wonder businesses have embraced the online revolution so enthusiastically; the advantages of buying and selling online are compelling. For sellers, it offers smoother stock management, allows them to show their entire product offering in one place at one time and also it is real-time, meaning that unlike a printed catalogue it is constantly being updated with new products and offers.
Buyers benefit from faster delivery times and greater delivery flexibility. It is also more convenient; our own website, for example, has the functionality that allows us to work with a customer to build a tender quote for a project and for the customer then to ‘call off’ products against this online.
Furthermore, introducing a digital platform results in massive efficiencies, eliminating the risk of errors in translation as information is passed between the engineer, site foreman, project manager, purchasing team and supplier.
The best online accounts provide their customers with up-to-the-minute pricing with offers tailored specifically to them. Some, like brymec.com, go a step further giving customers the ability to save orders as a list or tag items as favourites to revisit later.
However, beware – e-commerce is less than useless if the website that hosts it is poorly put together. That’s why it’s important for the website to be responsive and work seamlessly across all devices and any location and be intuitive and easy to use.
It should in essence hand control over to the user, allowing them to interact online as best meets their needs. With brymec.com we have built a platform that is scalable for any customer. The account area allows customers to manage their team structures and permissions so, for example, a site worker can raise a requisition with product details, quantities and commentary for approval by a central buyer, thus allowing customers to take ownership of their supply chain and becoming their procurement solution if they do not have a solution in-house.
Brymec’s website also offers a number of features aimed at making customers’ lives easier. So it includes help videos, advice through recommended and associated products and very shortly be live chat.
So there has been a massive shift in the way specifiers, contractors and installers purchase products as online buying continues to grow in popularity. E-commerce in the building services sector is set to dramatically change the way business is done in our sector and I for one am pleased that we have been a pioneer with the offering we have for our customers.