Contractor Online Purchase Behaviors in Home Improvement

At this point, to say that popularity in online purchasing is growing is akin to saying the sky is blue. In fact, according to the Census Bureau's recent Retail E-Commerce report, online sales now make up over 9% of all retail sales, up nearly 17% from a year ago, growing  three times as fast as brick-and-mortar retail. Prior to contrary belief, home improvement products are no exception, and contractors have been embracing it at a fast pace.

 Source: The Farnsworth Group.  In the future do you expect to purchase more, less or about the same amount of hardware, home improvement or building supply products online?

Source: The Farnsworth Group.  In the future do you expect to purchase more, less or about the same amount of hardware, home improvement or building supply products online?

According to our Pro Online Purchase Behavior Study, more than three-quarters of professionals are making at least one annual home improvement product purchase online for their jobs, with half of them doing so at least monthly. When you include those that either purchase building products online or research building products online, that total jumps to 95% of professionals, with 78% doing so at least once a month.  Nearly all expect their online building product purchase to at least remain the same or increase in the future.

The primary reason for taking the online path will not come as a surprise to anyone who frequently researches and shops online; better prices and wider selection. The much-reduced overhead of an online storefront give those retailers the advantage of being able to lower the prices on the goods themselves and still maintain their margins.  In addition to price, several categories provide more options online than in-store such as: fashion plumbing, lighting and decor.

Beyond price and selection, convenience is another major deciding factor in online purchases. Contractors are increasingly choosing better prices and more selection over the immediacy and physical touch of purchasing it in a brick-and-mortar store.  However, certain products are needed at a moments notice.  So while certain commodity or consumable categories (fasteners, adhesives, accessories) have a lower online purchase penetration, one wonders what the future holds as delivery options become "same day" or even within 2 hours.

Purchasing isn’t the only thing for which many Pros are using the internet. It is a digital medium to better themselves and improve their business. According to the Home Improvement Research Institute’s Contractor Study, more than half of all professionals are using the internet for educational purposes every month, and an even larger number are using it to keep up with the industry as a whole.

 Source: The Farnsworth Group.  Survey of Homeowners who recently completed a remodel and Home Improvement Contractors.

Source: The Farnsworth Group.  Survey of Homeowners who recently completed a remodel and Home Improvement Contractors.

On top of this, a growing number of professionals are marketing their business and generating leads online. While word-of-mouth is still the most effective way for pros to generate leads (and even that definition is changing), digital lead has grown significantly, with nearly 30% saying it has changed the most over the last two years. There is growing popularity of new platforms made to connect homeowners with professionals, like HomeAdvisor, TaskRabbit, TaskEasy and yes even Amazon is getting in the mix with Amazon Home Services. Many professionals are dedicating more time to these new digital avenues in order to find the new generation of homeowners who make the internet their primary avenue for research.

Written by: Matt Craig, mcraig@thefarnsworthgroup.com