Gareth Osborne, head of marketing for F & P, finds merchants are increasingly shifting to conducting business online.
“We are living in a time where so much of our everyday lives involve the internet. If ever we have a question to ask, we can find the answer in less than a second online; we can order shopping on the internet, knowing it will be at our front door the very next day. It is a strange realisation that the generation of today will never have known a time where shopping was just a physical activity, and not something that could be undertaken from the comfort of your sofa.
In recent years, suppliers and merchants have become more focused on the idea that the key to appealing to their customers and ensuring that they return time and time again, is how they interact with them. We have so much choice in today’s market and it is important that suppliers don’t forget this; as whilst this means a buyer can choose you, it also means they have the option to go with someone else.
With this in mind, companies across all kinds of sectors are interacting with their customers more effectively, and largely this starts online. Whether it is through targeted marketing – designing adverts specifically with them in mind, or informative websites that don’t require hours of navigating around for an answer. It seems now that the independent merchant sector too, is increasingly looking to the World Wide Web to help the whole supply chain work more seamlessly together.
At F & P , we have always been dedicated to delivering more to its customers and as we move into a new online era for the industry, this commitment is truer than ever. Having listened to our customers we found that 70% of them are confident enough to order our products online.
This statistic is really promising as it shows that more merchants are taking advantage of our online ordering facility, which is a great aid in making the operating of their own businesses more streamlined and efficient.
We know that the shift to online is a topic of debate in the independent merchant’s sector, with many people still preferring the more traditional ordering methods of phone calls and faxing. There is the argument that the use of computers and online ordering systems can have an effect on the level of customer service, making the whole process far more impersonal. However, I believe that consistency across all multi-channel ordering options, be that phone, email or online, is the key factor in building a loyal relationship.
If the customer knows that whichever ordering method they use they will always receive quick, helpful, honest service, be it through a member of our staff or through our easy to use online ordering facility, then they will build loyalty with us and trust us to always provide quality products and service.
Another issue that is often highlighted with online is that, many customers avoid using the internet for their orders due to difficult to use websites, concerns over reliability and the security of their details. With this in mind it was really positive to see that 80% of customers polled said that our site was easy to use and 85% felt that F & P rated ‘on par or above’ competitor sites.
All this shows that we are moving in the right direction with more people deciding to shop online. 60% of customers polled commented that online exclusives are a driver in this decision making process. However, I believe there is more we can do to convince even the most resolute merchants. One step towards doing this is showcasing the benefits of online beyond simply purchasing.
We understand that time is money and sometimes working days aren’t nine to five. In order for our customers to run their businesses more efficiently, we now provide an online flag system which will let you know the time it will take for stock to arrive with you, which is available to our customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Being able to check delivery lead times and order stock online is a fast and easy way to increase the flow of business and managing customer expectations, a plus for opting to go online.
I believe that the debate will continue and perhaps we will not see a completely online industry for some time. However, I feel that it is important as distributors that we are giving our customers the choice, and as long as we remain consistent in our approach our customers, whether online or by telephone, will always choose us.