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Seeing is believing: why merchants have the edge over online
Published:  16 April, 2019

Despite the general increase in online sales, research by Van Vault has highlighted that tradespeople still prefer more traditional methods of buying equipment.

The recent survey, covering a number of trades, including builders, electricians, plumbers and carpenters, showed that when buying secure storage solutions for their van, the preferred choice is to purchase in-store from a merchant.

In recent years, the overall value of internet retail sales has steadily increased. According to latest statistics (from the Office for National Statistics) online sales in February were up 9.4% year-on-year, currently running at 17.6%. Online sales have reached a value of £1.19 billion.

Despite this, the study revealed that merchants are going against the current retail grain, with stores being the first choice for tradespeople, rather than online. Van Vault based its independent research on 300 interviews with tradespeople.

The survey revealed that 41% of participants prefer to buy secure storage solutions in-store from a local or specialist retailer. With 38% claiming that they purchase goods from national brands such as Wickes or Screwfix. With 51% of UK consumers currently preferring to shop online rather than in-store, these results were certainly surprising, but not unusual.

When it comes to buying secure storage – which is driven by a wide range of issues from replacement to theft, and from needing extra storage to getting a new van – often tradesman do their research online first before making a visit to store to purchase.

The research showed initial online research is done to look for product information, but visibility in-store are important as they want to actually see the product before purchasing in-store. This is because it is easier to see the quality of manufacture as opposed to simply looking at a picture online. They are provided with a better understanding of the size of the product, storage capacity and the tools that it can hold, if they see it in-store.

Danny Hudson, Managing Director at Heat Group Supplies, said: “Having a product physically on display is quite striking in the trade counter environment and has, without doubt increased sales but also sparked other conversations and in turn sales for other product types.

“Customers feel more comfortable making this type of purchase when they are able to see it and feel the quality of the materials used, making it an easier sale than if it were simply seen in a catalogue.”

Deborah Hunt, Marketing Manager at Van Vault, added: “Merchants have a vital role to play when it comes to providing customers with advice.

“Our report found that 38% of tradespeople rely on merchants/stores for recommendations and information and 1 in 4 seek expert advice from a member of staff.

“That is why at Van Vault, we ensure merchants can support their customers in the best way possible and respond to what they want – security, functionality, quality and peace of mind – providing extensive and in-depth information.

“Our research shows that leading brands, such as Van Vault need to invest in their retail customer base whilst responding to the changing shopping habits of the trade.”