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Pamela Welsh 6th May 2020

How merchants can prepare for changing customer behaviour in the post-crisis world

Whilst merchant stores start to re-open, it’s important to consider what practical steps merchants can take, in order to be prepared for what the new ‘normal’ looks like. We have come up with a few simple tips and steps that merchants like yourself can consider, helping to recover in the post-crisis world.

Who knew a few weeks ago that the COVID-19 pandemic would put builders’ merchants across the globe into partial lockdown or hibernation?

With jobs cancelled or delayed, supply chains disrupted, and staff furloughed, merchants have been forced to shut up shop and close their doors. Despite their major role in this crisis supporting critical sectors – let’s not beat around the bush - it is without a doubt that 2020 is going to be a landmark year for the sector and sales may suffer as a result.


For weeks now people have been adapting to staying indoors and avoiding going to the shops. Will these adjustments establish new and lasting habits? The answer is most definitely YES!

As stores slowly start to re-open their doors, you need to ask yourself will our customers come back and spend? Do they know we have re-opened? Are we set up to process sales and orders now to avoid missing the boat given jobs later in the year are cancelled?

If the answer is ‘NO’ to any of the above – stop and think before it’s too late!


1) Stockpiling Goods

With future construction projects down, you will likely find a spike in customer spend initially as they stockpile goods to complete current jobs, with spending reducing later in the year. In the short term, whilst average order values may increase - in the medium to longer-term, sales revenues may likely decrease.

Making the most of early interactions with your customers now is crucial to store sales so ask yourself:

  • Do our customers know when their local branch is re-opening?
  • How can we landgrab customer orders early to get them back in store?
  • Can we offer alternative products for those not now available?
  • Can we encourage customers to sign up for offers or promotions for preferential pricing to help secure these larger orders early?

2) Decreased Store Visits

With social distancing restrictions in place, this is going to have an impact on the convenience of in-store experience. Customers will be less likely to drop in on route to jobs picking up materials as they go, but instead will plan ahead reducing their need to visit you. Try to minimise the impact on sales as much as you can by considering:

  • What social distancing measures have we put in place to protect customers and staff? (following PHE guidelines is a good place to start)
  • Can we offer a click and collect service or deliveries?
  • Can we offer pre-booked collection slots and curb-side drops meaning we can retain customers that otherwise may shop elsewhere?
  • Have we let our customers know?
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3) Increased Online Shopping

Notably when customers are faced with shopping restrictions, they find and adopt newer ways to shop. It comes as no surprise that customers may prefer to shop online and so considering your website and having your products online will be key. Whether you are set up online or not, ask yourself:

  • Are your customers aware that your products are online?
  • Is this for viewing products only or can customers buy online too?
  • Is it easy to use?
  • Can you call your customers to let them know you are re-opening?
  • Can you increase staff on the phones to manage sales orders and enquiries coming in?
  • Can staff call your customers to understand upcoming jobs to quote on?
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Prepare for change, plan for a new future and communicate with your customers early so they come with you on this journey into the new post-crisis world!

In Summary

As we all long for a return to more ‘normal’ days seeing merchant sites busy with trade, it is important to acknowledge that this is not going to end anytime soon. What was once normal will be very different and sales may well be impacted.

Seizing the opportunity has never been so important and so if you want to retain customers and maximise sales at this critical time, give yourself the best chance you can. Accept that the nature of sales has changed, adapt, and make contact with your customers – they will appreciate the effort that you are making at this time in keeping in touch with them.

Prepare for change, plan for a new future and communicate with your customers early so they come with you on this journey into the new post-crisis world!

Written By Pamela Welsh
After completing the Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma, Pamela was awarded the Top Student in Yorkshire for 2015 and was also amongst the few that were entered for the Northern top student of the year award. She works on a wide range of engagement campaigns for clients in the public and private sectors.

Also written by Pamela