ECI Software Solutions Comment: Q1 2024

Now we’re well into 2024, we are seeing what was predicted: timber prices continue to suffer, workforce challenges remain, and nationals swallowing up merchants and implementing even more modern solutions that make customer experience (for merchants and consumers) more convenient than ever. This means smaller merchants are tightening their finances, while remaining focused on customer loyalty.

Retail businesses have always been ahead of the curve in online shopping for consumers, but now they are investing in ecommerce for trade customers that goes beyond online shopping. Ecommerce systems integrated with your business operations systems, such as your ERP, are designed for more than ‘adding to basket’ and ‘click & collect’ functionalities. These connected systems allow tradespeople to organise their customers’ projects, lookup quotes and materials’ prices, and save orders for recurring projects. Merchants can offer loyalty programs and alerts on inventory changes to help customers keep tabs on their own stock needs.

The solution remains: merchants must invest in connected, modern technology to please their customers, and be efficient in their business operations. And now is the time, as you ride out this slower market.

According to Webb Analytics’ CS150 report in North America – of America’s key 150 timber and building materials, home centres and hardware chains:  “Fewer than half have customer relationship and warehouse management software, but given acquisition plans, those shares should top 60% soon.” Craig Webb notes that, “already, 68% of CS150 members have software that lets customers view their purchase history online, and another 20% plan to get it. Meanwhile, online invoice/account payment is in place at 61% of CS150 members, and another 26% plan to get it.”

Parts of the industry are moving faster than others in adopting modern technology. Reasons I hear to delay are fear of the unknown, the investment required, and hesitancy to address operational changes that support the shift. I understand the dilemma of not having enough time to implement new technology when business is thriving, and being hesitant to invest when the market slows. But merchants should note that customer expectations mean digital servicing is no longer a nice-to-have, or just about online shopping. It’s about a fully integrated system that includes a mobile storefront (ecommerce), in-branch experience (EPOS system), and accounting, business operations and stock management (ERP).

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