What is the role of pure online shops in the installation sector?

Ordering products online is gaining popularity among installers in Europe.

Ordering products online is gaining popularity among installers in Europe. However, most of these purchases are done at stores that also have physical shops. So the following questions are: how do installers perceive the role of pure online players? Are these gaining popularity as well? What are reasons to buy there instead of an online shop connected to a physical store?

Share of purchases in pure online stores in the installation sector is small, but full of potential Pure online stores are defined in this article as: online shops, which normally do not have physical stores. They exist only online and may be selling only installation products, such as onlineboilers.com, or plumbersstock.com, or may be selling different types of products among which also installation products, such as Amazon, or bol.com. As most of the (online) purchases of installers are done at wholesalers or directly at manufacturers, the share of purchases in pure online stores is still small. However, many installers know this channel and use it sometimes, especially in the UK. Almost all installers experienced an increase or a stable level of the share of purchases done at pure online stores. Only very few saw a decrease in this type of purchasing. Therefore, there is a huge potential for pure online stores to gain market share, if they know how to convince the installers visiting their website to order more products with them.

Why would installers buy at pure online stores? In order to fulfil this potential, it is important to be aware of the motivations from installers to buy products at a pure online store. Installers prefer pure online stores that are specialised in one or more types of installation products over pure online stores that also sell products other than installation material.

When the motivations of buying at a pure online specialised store are compared to motivations to buy at a regular specialised wholesalers, the following observations are made:

  • Attractive prices and an extensive product range are reasons to buy at either a pure online shop or a traditional specialised wholesaler.
  • The benefits that differentiate the pure online shop are the quick delivery, the fact that it saves time and the ease of use.
  • Traditional specialised wholesalers are chosen for the relationship with the people behind the counter and the helpful staff.
  • Spare parts, building controls/automationair & dirt separators/air vents and fixing products and systems are bought through pure online stores relatively often.
  • Despite the fact that in most countries the number of installers indicating that they buy the same share of premium versus economy brands is highest, it can be said that overall there is a tendency to buy more premium brands via pure online shops (probably because online often is cheaper).

  If pure online stores know how to exploit these aspects, they have the potential to gain market share over traditional specialised wholesalers (with an online shop). However, if the specialised wholesalers manage to give installers the same benefits as pure online stores, plus their unique benefits that come with owning physical stores, installers have no reason to switch to pure online players.

These are some of the results from the Q3 2015 report of the European Mechanical Installation Monitor (theme: Purchase channels). The survey is conducted on quarterly basis amongst 4,800 HVAC installation companies (annually) in 6 European countries.

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Hoogenboom(at)usp-mc.nl