It goes without saying that 2020 has been a strange and unexpected year. In recent months, a striking trend has been emerged in the purchasing habits of everyday consumers: individual buyers are now comfortable making large purchases online, and they prefer to do so in a manner that is painless, personalized and immediate. The purpose of this article is to outline our understanding of the modern consumer, and to describe an opportunity that is both unique and pressing for the current metal construction market: selling buildings online.
Here is what we know about today’s consumer:
- Today’s consumer spends more time researching a purchase before ever contacting the manufacturer or seller of the products they intend to buy, according to a report from Bain & Co., Boston, which is a global consulting firm. Increasingly, this approach includes customized and personalized products, which previously required direct conversation between the seller and the prospective customer.
- Germany-based consumer data company, Statista, reports that today’s consumer spends a significantly higher percentage of time researching and purchasing on mobile platforms. By 2021, over 50% of all online purchases are predicted to take place on mobile.
- Today’s consumer has high expectations for their buying experiences, framed by what is known as "The Amazon Effect," which is how the digital marketplace has affected traditional retail. Amazon makes shopping painless, immediate and possible from anywhere on earth. In being exposed day in and day out to this type of seamless experience (in 2018, almost 50% of all online purchases were on Amazon, according to emarketer.com), our brains have been completely rewired to expect this type of frictionless service everywhere we go.
- Today’s consumer is purchasing large metal buildings online at a rate like never before. Data from our online 3-D configurators show that since stay-at-home orders were issued, buyers have been building and saving structures online at eight times the rate of the past year.
Given what we now understand about today’s consumer, it is easy to draw several conclusions about the consequences and opportunities this presents for businesses the metal construction market.
- Your business must have an online component. E-commerce is replacing in-store purchasing, and the average consumer expects to both research and purchase from your business online. To put things into perspective, during the COVID-19 pandemic alone, businesses who could sell online gained an extra $107 billion in sales, according to digitalcommerce360.com. If you are not online, you are unfortunately behind.
- Your online presence must educate, delight and convert leads to sales. At a minimum, consumers will use your online presence to research your products or services. This process should be self-service, requiring minimal interaction with a physical salesperson in order to understand what you offer, what it costs and how it can be purchased. Interacting with your business online must also be pleasant and easy to navigate, or you risk confusing and losing a potential customer. Finally, your web presence must be optimized to capture information from potential customers in a smooth and coherent workflow so that you can rapidly convert them to closed deals.
- Your online presence must extend to mobile. Every aspect of your online presence, product exploration and purchasing opportunities must also be possible from the average smartphone.
- Your customers must immediately understand that you can meet their personal needs. The more information a business is able to provide so that a customer can make a fast, simple decision, the more likely they are to land a sale. Your goal should be to take that entire process and condense it into minutes. A salesperson can pick up the final details and close the deal, but at the very least, your customers should have the ability to visualize your products, design them to their exact specifications, and to see how this impacts pricing.
To summarize, consumers are moving from a passive state to an active one. They want to research your business, they want to find the building that best matches their needs, and they want the option of doing so online. Although in-person experiences will always be important to the metal construction industry, there is an emerging opportunity for businesses in this market to sell more, and sell more efficiently, by selling buildings online.