Technology and digital have had a profound effect on businesses of all shapes, sizes and sectors; yet retail has been one of the hardest hit. The likes of click and collect, e-commerce and rapid home deliveries have all boosted convenience for the end-user, flipping traditional operating models on their head.
In the DIY sector, builders’ merchants have long relied on the footfall of both consumers and tradesmen at large floor plated warehouses full of materials, displays and products. Yet, these assets are becoming increasingly costly to run, drained by large rental agreements and a need to staff them, regardless of footfall and sales.
For these retailers to remain competitive and safeguard their future, re-invention is the only option. Those that marry a brand’s physical presence with an innovative and attractive digital offering, seizing the opportunities presented by the likes of artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), will drive demand and steer themselves into a new age of success.
Driving demand through digital
Window-shopping and aimless browsing is common in fashion and beauty retail, often seen as leisurely activities that lead to an impulse purchase or two. Yet, public and trade customers of DIY retailers are more likely to be driven by pragmatism and necessity, requiring a specific product or tool to complete the task at hand. At the same time, e-commerce allows for online research and comparisons without going in-store, making for a more direct buying approach, less limited by store opening times and stock availability.
While a challenge, DIY retailers should see digital as an opportunity to be proactive in their approach to reaching audiences and boosting demand. Not least, AI can be used to track audiences’ online behaviour, interests and searches, meaning that digitally-savvy brands can showcase relevant products, services and deals via targeted, personalised advertising. Using this technology, retailers can take a more active role, not only in serving the needs of their customers, but in offering relevant products or services to drive additional sales.
VR is also proving hugely helpful, allowing consumers to see what a specific product or display could look like in the context of their home. Great examples include Ikea and Topps Tiles, which provide website visualisers to help customers and tradesmen to bring to life various room layouts with their products, before purchasing them in a few clicks. Contrary to some retailers in the space, Topps Tiles announced a pick-up in sales in the final quarter of 2018.
DIY retailers that want to ensure they are not left behind when it comes to technology should be hiring individuals that understand how to seize opportunities and foster innovation. Those with a grasp of e-commerce, marketing and digital, but also a track record in applying this to the macro and micro levels of their organisation to boost performance are in high demand. While previously, sales know-how might have been sufficient, today’s leaders must have the expertise to implement an end-to-end approach using 360° tactics. A successful leader will work with the entire buying process in mind, anticipating the touchpoints that initially get customers’ attention, before using tactics to convert purchasing decisions.
For an example, look to Andy Gault, director of e-commerce at Howdens Joinery. His former background at Screwfix saw him lead flagship omnichannel strategies. By implementing click & collect, next day delivery and a 24/7 hour contact centre, Gault ensured that Screwfix adapted to improve customer accessibility and benefit from digitisation and, skills now to the benefit of Howdens. Leaders with a readiness to identify customer needs before providing digital solutions, are key to a bright future for DIY retailers.
Finding leaders with the breadth of vision necessary to respond to a rapidly changing digital landscape requires fearless and inclusive recruitment. Iain Bell’s appointment at building merchant Parker Building Supplies is an example of a forward-thinking organisation looking for talent outside of the sector. Previously responsible for Samsung’s move to Apple-esque and experience-led stores, Bell brings vital experience in leading R&D and innovation to the DIY industry, as well as an awareness of the importance of browsing experience and holistic sales approaches.
Other DIY retailers would do well to take Parker’s lead and think outside the box when it comes to new recruits. In other industries such as electronics and automotive, it is already standard practice to bring products to life for customers. DIY brands that embrace individuals from these areas may avoid stagnation.
By embracing tech, retailers can ensure that the digital age works for them rather than against them. It’s no longer about maintaining the status quo and being slow on the uptake, it’s a matter of survival.