As consumers continue to make more buying decisions online, the building materials industry is no exception. While it’s not right for every business to dive into ecommerce, exploring the possibilities is critical to figuring out what the right path forward is for your business.
Why Start an Online Ecommerce Store for Building Materials?
Traditional distribution channels for building materials companies are complex and convoluted, with multiple points of contact — including over the phone and in-person. Moving online opens your company up to a wider audience and makes the sales process more efficient for all involved.
By opening an ecommerce store, your brand can create new B2B or D2C channels that allow suppliers, dealers, businesses and consumers to browse your offerings and make purchases with little to no input from your team. Not only will this save your sales team time while resulting in greater revenue, but it will also give your business deeper insights into your audience.
If building an ecommerce website seems daunting, there are multiple ways to go about it, and they don’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Additionally, you can get your building materials online by working with distributors and established platforms like Home Depot.
Ecommerce Web Design and User Experience
When designing an ecommerce website for your brand, it’s essential that you take the time to learn about the established conventions and best practices. For starters, you need to design a fast website that is easily accessible across devices. Meanwhile, your product listings should have vivid imagery and clear descriptions.
If you aren’t experienced with web design, you can easily outsource the process to a skilled agency or freelancer. From there, you’ll want to work with a marketer that knows the building materials industry to help you optimize your listings and landing pages to drive organic traffic.
From the Forest is a sustainable hardwood flooring and molding company with a fantastic example of what a building materials website can be. With educational blog posts that rank well for competitive search terms along with robust landing pages, this brand illustrates what you can achieve by moving online.
Managing Your Online Inventory
Inventory management might seem complicated if you’re bringing ecommerce into the picture, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you already have physical inventory management down-pat, your ecommerce store can integrate with the system you’re already using.
The key to managing virtual or online inventory is to use tools that update in real-time as you make sales across different platforms. The best Ecommerce inventory tools also forecast demand, ensuring that online orders can’t be placed if they might exceed your capacity once other channel sales are factored in over the coming hours or days.
Ecommerce inventory tools also have the capacity to manage out-of-stock and back-in-stock notifications, along with backorder management in case a customer wants to get on a waitlist and receive their order whenever your company is able to fulfill it.
How to Grow Organic SEO Traffic
Having an Ecommerce website gives your brand the chance to establish a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy and start attracting organic visitors. Even if you’re on the fence about ecommerce, SEO is a proven way to grow your brand and get more leads.
By targeting specific audiences with carefully selected keywords, including local keywords, you can begin establishing a strong online presence for your building materials company. The SEO analytics that go along with this process can also help you better understand your target customer base by tracking interests, demographics and purchasing habits.
When combined with ecommerce listings, SEO can enable your company to secure a spot in the search results for “purchase intent” keywords. That means you can pull in visitors that are primed and ready to buy, greatly increasing your revenue.
Even if you don’t sell directly to consumers, social media is a powerful tool for creating a strong brand for your building materials company. Still, the types of customers you target will heavily influence which social media platforms are worthwhile to pursue.
Regardless of your audience, it’s a good rule of thumb to start with just one to three social media channels that you feel best represent where your target customers can be found. From there, focus on creating engaging content that speaks to the key pain points and benefits behind your products.
Social media can also be used as an advertising platform to directly push your products in front of targeted users. However, it’s just as valuable as a content marketing tool for gradually building recognition and trust in your brand.
The Power of Paid Advertisement
Traditional advertising mediums like direct mail and cold calling are still valuable, but online advertising offers a level of scalability and control simply not achievable by other means. With real-time analytics and the ability to get highly targeted with who your ads reach (and where), online advertising can’t be ignored.
Some of the key places to consider advertising online include Google search results, social media and on industry websites. You can easily get your ads on a mix of channels by going through a third party, like Google Ads. Millions of websites are in the Google Ads program, allowing your company to reach a broad audience while only having to manage one campaign.
Selling Building Materials Via Online Marketplaces
Home Depot, Lowe’s, Amazon and Etsy are some of the many online marketplaces where you may want your products to appear. Industry marketplaces like Home Depot and Lowe’s are able to access a wide variety of buyers, including construction companies and contractors. Meanwhile, sites like Etsy and Amazon are ideal if you’re trying to reach DIYers and other consumer buyers.
Each marketplace has its own process for setting up your store. Home Depot requires you to submit an application, whereas Amazon makes it as easy as registering for an account and submitting documents to confirm your company’s status before you can make a listing.
If you’re considering an online marketplace instead of or in addition to an ecommerce store, take the time to understand the marketplace’s demographics, fees and return policies.
The bulkier and heavier your products, the more you will pay for warehouse storage, packaging and shipping fees. If you intend to store your inventory at your own warehouse and ship directly to the buyer, consider the logistical and technical complications, along with aspects like processing time.
Importance of Online Reviews
If your business is online in any form, then you are open to online reviews. In general, getting reviews is a great thing as it shows other potential buyers that you are a legitimate business with a strong reputation. Of course, you’re bound to get a bad review at some point, even if it’s not from one of your own customers.
Online reviews can heavily influence buying decisions, especially negative ones. As soon as your brand is online, even with a Google My Business listing, you should be taking the time to monitor your reputation, respond to reviews and remove any inappropriate feedback.
Managing Your Online Building Materials Business
Selling online might be the biggest decision your business ever makes, and it’s bound to pay off if you plan in advance and get the right information in order to properly handle the inevitable challenges you’ll face. Here’s some advice to get you a head start.
Shipping and Delivery Challenges
Your business has shipped building materials before, but online purchases open the door to all sorts of new and interesting situations. You may have experience shipping large pallets via freight or delivering with special carriers to construction sites, but do you know how to handle residential addresses or even postal mailboxes?
There are many unique issues that come along with delivering building materials. To streamline logistics, you may need to partner with a network of carriers who can do last-mile delivery (including loading, unloading and pallet removal) for small orders and residential addresses.
If you want to avoid some shipping challenges altogether, you can set up a checkout that does not allow people to place orders under or over a certain size for specific products. You can also blacklist P.O. boxes, require a commercial address or make the buyer confirm that someone will be on-site to receive the delivery.
Sunday, a modern lawn care solution, offers customized lawn care products delivered straight to shoppers’ doorsteps. They utilize a subscription box model, shipping on a set schedule to manage customer expectations without having to cover rush shipping fees.
Customer Service in an Online Setting
Offline customer service often happens face-to-face or at least over the phone, which gives your team a more controlled and direct opportunity to empathize with customers and offer truly personalized experiences. Online customer service can be very different.
Online customer support is often more removed, but that’s sometimes what buyers prefer. For many consumers, quick — if not instant — customer service is the only thing that will satisfy them if they’re experiencing an issue or have a question. As such, once your brand is online, you may consider offering phone support, email support and live chat in addition to an FAQ page.
Delgado Stone offers a chatbot on its website to answer visitors’ questions in an interactive way without the need to hire a 24/7 customer service team. They also have a phone number in the footer and a contact form, providing interested parties with multiple options to get in touch in a way that works for them.
Return and Refund Policies
Ecommerce sales come with their fair share of challenges, including late and damaged deliveries, and buyers who simply don’t want to keep what they bought. To avoid expensive mishaps, it’s important that you outline a clear return and refund policy. This will also help build trust amongst your audience.
For large purchases that require freight shipping, you may not offer returns at all. Shipping insurance should cover damaged and lost deliveries. Otherwise, if a customer is just having a change of heart, your shipping policy should make it clear that you don’t offer refunds.
For all other orders, consumers might expect you to offer a full refund if they change their mind under any circumstances within 30 to 90 days of their purchase. Of course, you can adjust the window based on your company. You should also determine if you’ll cover return shipping, deduct it from the refund or ask buyers to cover the cost.
Comparing Online Sales with Brick and Mortar Sales
If you already sell your building materials in brick-and-mortar stores, you have a solid foundation for moving into the world of ecommerce. However, many things will be notably different.
Advantages of Online Sales
Enhanced Customer Insights: You can’t see who is walking through the aisles and looking at your products in a brick-and-mortar store, but you can find out all sorts of information about who’s visiting your website, what they’re looking at and what clicks lead them to a purchase.
Unique Marketing Strategies: Modern technology opens the doors to a more dynamic and creative way of marketing and selling your products. Think VR and AR technology that allows buyers to visualize projects, like how that siding will look on their home. These tools drive engagement and sales.
Wider Audience Reach: By overcoming geographic barriers, ecommerce allows you to reach a wider audience, even an international one. While you’ll need to handle the logistics of shipping far and wide, ecommerce breaks down the limitations of brick-and-mortar sales.
Easier Collaboration and Partnership: Being online makes it easier to establish and maintain relationships with distributors, partners and customers. A simple retweet or email can lead to new opportunities and strike up conversations without hard sales tactics.
Challenges of Online Sales
Maintaining Brand Consistency: When moving your brand online, it’s critical to establish a consistent image across all platforms, both digital and traditional. This takes a good deal of planning and constant evaluation to ensure your image is strong, recognizable and relatable for your target audience.
High Delivery Standards: Shifting consumer expectations and the likes of Amazon Prime have set delivery standards higher than ever. This goes for all online purchases, even bulky items like building materials. Multiple shipping tiers can help you meet customer needs without losing profits.
Intense Competition: Online marketplaces are extremely competitive, even in the building materials space which is really just recently moving online. Competition is healthy, but it could mean a lot of stress for your business, especially if you don’t assemble a well-planned and executed strategy. If you need help navigating this complex landscape, Venveo’s building materials marketing experts can help.
Creating a Cohesive Digital Marketing Strategy
Bringing your building materials company online and starting an ecommerce store is a big move, but surely one that will pay off if you spend time in the planning phase. Setting up a website is a strong start, but you’ll need to come up with a well-rounded digital marketing strategy to drive traffic and sales.
Most digital marketing strategies will combine elements like social media, SEO and paid advertising in order to drive results in both the short- and long-term. Some of the other strategies to consider include:
Email marketing: Offer a newsletter or downloadable guide to collect interested users’ email addresses and market to them later. Email marketing has the highest ROI of any digital strategy because it costs nearly nothing once you have an email list.
Content marketing: Content marketing builds trust in your brand by cultivating relationships with your ideal buyers. Instead of directly pushing products, content marketing is all about gradual education and building interest in the solutions you offer, so you’re top of mind when someone is ready to buy.
Video marketing: Video marketing is extremely engaging and offers a creative way to express your brand’s personality while demonstrating products, answering questions and showing a glimpse of what goes into innovating new solutions.
Selling building materials online can give your company access to a far broader audience of potential buyers, whether you plan to sell to distributors and contractors or everyday consumers. The trick is to make sure you have a strong brand and then come up with a solid strategy to build awareness for your brand and its products across channels.
Now more than ever, embracing ecommerce and digital marketing strategies can completely transform your business. If you’re interested, but not sure where to go next, let Venveo’s marketing experts lead the way. Get started today with a free consultation.