A few articles recently point to some interesting trends in consumer behavior, indicating a continued preference for good, old-fashioned retail shopping over e-commerce. But it’s not quite that simple, and there are some interesting lessons for building products marketers.

Retail Dive recently highlighted their Consumer Survey, which found that consumers still prefer brick-and-mortar retail stores to online shopping. Why? Because consumers still like to see and touch what they’re buying, and they enjoy the immediacy of taking something home that day.

Add to that the news that Lowe’s and The Home Depot both reported increased earnings, and it makes for very interesting news indeed for the building products category. But what are the lessons here? How should building products marketers act on this?

Here are the insights we see coming out of this news:

 

Customer Experience Matters…A lot

Anyone familiar with the world of software and digital products knows that customer experience (or user friendly experience, as it’s sometimes called) is paramount. So much so that it’s been called the new competitive advantage and the new marketing.

That can be seen in the news about the preference for physical stores over online. The two leading reasons originate from the customer experience — the experience of seeing and touching products, and the experience of getting it now. Big box stores (as well as mom & pops) deliver on this experience better than online.

It’s important for building products marketers to recognize this consumer preference. It’s also important to acknowledge that building products brands share the customer experience with the retailer; hopefully a positive, seamless customer experience results in agreement between the two.

 

Controlling the Digital Experience is Crucial

One of the important points uncovered by the Retail Dive survey is that consumers do not place much value on being able to talk to store associates, ask questions, and get advice. To understand why, we need to take a closer look at the customer journey.

We’re generalizing here, but the reasons homeowners visit home improvement stores usually originate from repairing or replacing something, making planned improvement, or crossing projects off the honey-do list. In the old days, those triggers would send people to the stores looking not just for products, but for how-to advice.

These days, people don’t even have to get out of bed to learn how to install a toilet. With smart phones, they have unlimited ability to learn how to use and install products, study the unique features and benefits, and read consumer reviews. Other than confirming what they’ve learned, there is almost no need for consumers to do in-store research.

The good news for brands is they can control this part of the customer experience. Well-designed content informs, educates and inspires your customers. One level deeper, well trained online customer service teams allow you to immediately address any concern that may arise … improving the product benefit to your customer, solidifying your reputation for responsive customer service, and further minimizing the need for in-store research.

The bottom line is that building products marketers need to track the needs and problems consumers have that lead them to buy within product categories. Armed with these details, marketers can develop an experience that guides consumers confidently through the sales journey. Whether consumers choose the retail store or online purchase, the touch-points along the pathway should create ever-increasing confidence that the product will fulfill their needs.

 

Don’t Forget the Pros

The building products category is unique in that many products — though still available at retail — are typically installed by professional contractors. If your product falls into this category, it’s critical that you view contractors as a crucial part of the customer experience.

In many cases, contractors will conduct the entire dialogue with consumers, from initial contact to the final conversation about warranties … possibly the only interaction consumers have with your install-only brands. In other cases, consumers may investigate DIY (Do It Yourself) online as well as go to the store to confirm their research, before ultimately deciding that hiring a pro is a better idea.

It is important that you track and understand all the ways (or as many as possible) that consumers arrive at the decision to buy your products through a contractor. With that understanding, you can build your content to reinforce desirable customer experiences that meet both needs and expectations.

As technology evolves and consumer behaviors change, sales and marketing become increasingly more complicated. News like what we hear about consumers still preferring brick-and-mortar stories is seldom as simple as it seems.

One thing for certain, however, is that the customer experience has never been more important than it is now. The more marketers can accurately understand about consumer needs and problems, the more successful they’ll be with these design and delivery of product lines. Even if the purchase is just a run to a big box store.