Click, then Drive: How Online Purchasing Can Help In-Person Sales

Below is an article from the June issue of Paint Dealer, written by Jerry Rabushka.  For additional information on online purchase behaviors, be it DIYers or Contractors, please contact us at

It’s likely that the last thing the owner of a brick and mortar (and wood and drywall and plaster) store wants to read about is an increase in online purchasing, but we all know a lot of folks are going the route of click and shop. It’s not necessarily bad news; we found some information you can use to bolster your own bottom line, plus ways to marry the cyber with the real to benefit your business.

Speaking of marriage, we had aphone date with Grant Farnsworth of The Farnsworth Group, a custom market research firm that serves thebuilding products, hardware and homeimprovement industries. “Our niche isfocusing on the DIY and contractor in relation to home improvement building products categories,” said Grant. The Group does a lot of private data collection for manufacturers and larger retailers in this segment to help them understand consumer behavior in order to better market their products. “The value we bring to our customers is in understanding the meaning of the data we collect relative to their category and the industry as a whole.”

Let’s get to the meat. Farnsworth’s data, says Mr. Farnsworth, indicates that while online sales are growing in both the DIY and contractor segments, they’re not in a position to put you out of business—in many cases this is because of the service and advice that comes from people doing business face to face with you, their local dealer.

Much online purchasing in the trades sidesteps the paint industry; power tools and like instruments make up the bulk of what people buy online. If you already know the drill, literally, it makes sense to order it online. Mainly, says Grant, price and selection are what convince people to stay home and buy—often there’s a perception that it’s cheaper to buy online. “Durables like power tools that are easy to price shop jump to the top of the line,” he observed. Click on a drill and seven vendors might come up with free shipping for the same tool. “In that case the customer knows what they want and will go with the cheapest,” he observed.

More available options also can command the customer’s click. “Let’s say a store carries say 100 fixtures, but there are 1,000 online,” says Farnsworth. “If I can’t find the look or design I want for my project at my dealer I’ll go online to get it.”

This falls way off when it comes to paint, even though he acknowledged that online paint sales are increasing. But, he says, they’re at a low tide to begin with, so even if they double this year, for example, they’ll still be a small wave on the beach without breaking the levy of your front door.

“Paint is at the bottom as far as online penetration, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more potential for it. Online sales are increasing substantially for the time being, but we don’t know where that will plateau,” he said. When it happens now, it’s more of a commodity buy. People are more apt to purchase something like say a five-gallon bucket of white ceiling paint vs. creative colors where they’ll need a designer’s help.

Because you’re special

All the good things about being independent and knowledgeable give you the advantage over an online purchase. Plus, our segment has yet to wake up. The paint industry, he asserts, is a good decade behind some other markets, but take a look at clothing or electronics as an example of where things could be headed.

Another item in the “good for you” department is that people have more money to spend than they did a few years back, which means that a homeowner is more willing than they might have been in 2009 to visit you and pay more to get your advice and expertise, compared to when it was a choice of paint the house or feed the kids. A painter as well may have a little extra money to spend on your quality materials and the support that comes with it.

Along with that, paint customers like to see and feel what they’re getting. Your painter might want to run his fingers through a brush, your designer might want to see the drawdown or feel the faux finish. “The need to touch and see the color or play with a brush is important,” says Farnsworth. Plus, they might need it now, they can’t do that weekend project if they are waiting for the postman.

From online to YOUR line

How can all this help? For one, says Farnsworth, even if customers don’t buy online, painters and DIYers are doing a lot of research before they come to buy. Having your own good online presence—and one that can backup what they see on a manufactures’ site, makes customers feel comfortable about researching online and then shopping—with you—in person. If they don’t buy it online, they still might want to order online and have it ready at your store for pickup. “Make sure there is consistency between retail and manufacturer sites and make sure online purchasing is easy,” he urged. Your site can also take the project approach by reminding customers who want a few gallons of paint that they’ll need caulk, tape, drops, applicators and…you! All this might make them want to come out and see…you.

If you deliver, ordering online makes sense for many customers, but even if you don’t, says Farnsworth, data supports that idea that when they come in to pick up an order, they will more than likely buy something else. What with apps and tablets and phones and whatever someone’s got, don’t think of technology as competition but as a partner that can help customers solve headaches.

“We see a lot of people start to use an app or some tool that has been developed by the manufacturer that helps them with their business,” he said. “There are likely some tools that will help track orders, save time in the store and may alleviate some headache they had 10-15 years ago.”

No doubt they like hanging around the store and wolfing down your free coffee and doughnuts, but sometimes you just gotta get to work. If they can order online, you have their order ready and they just load up and go, they’ll save that much more time. Perhaps they can come back for lunch before the glaze dries on the doughnut. “There is an advantage to the painter as the industry starts paying attention to online commerce,” Farnsworth assures us.

“Do we need to be concerned that Amazon and online is going to dominate this segment?” he posits. “No, but two percentage points here or there starts adding up. I still believe it’s going be a long long time before professionals get away from wanting a dealer’s service and support. The relationship with the dealer—knowing someone for ten or fifteen years and trusting their advice—is such a big component of the trade that online will not dominate any one category. The possibility to grow (the paint category) is there but it may mean minimal gains.”

Ryan Lee