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Slipping Through the ‘ Net

It may seem like the entire world is buying everything online—except building materials. But look again.

Last year, BuildDirect.com, a Canadian online retailer of heavyweight building materials, reported shipping more than 1 billion pounds of flooring to customers throughout North America. The Internet’s top retailer, Amazon, sells everything from Schlage locksets to plumbing fixtures—including that favorite dual-flush American Standard toilet with the elongated seat that every custom home builder needs, but no one has ever requested. They also deliver goods directly to the builder for free at a discounted price point.

As the retail environment expands into cyberspace and vendors move into areas once considered safe from virtual attack, dealers increasingly need to consider the threats of e-commerce competitors, particularly for sales of high-margin non-commodity goods.

Of the top 100 Internet retailers, eight sell many of the same products as LBM company: Amazon at No. 1; Sears at No. 7; W.W. Grainger at No. 15; The Home Depot at No. 43; Hayneedle at No. 77; Build.com at No. 80; Northern Tool at No. 85; and Lowe’s at No. 91.

According to Internet Retailer, Forrester Research predicts U.S. e-commerce sales will increase 13.4% this year over 2012, rising to $262 billion. Four years from now, online spending will climb another 41%, hitting $370 million. Used to having their wishes granted by online vendors such as Amazon, Zappos, and Nordstrom, which offer free shipping and returns with speedy shipping times, online shoppers expect the same from other service providers—including you. Even if most builders and consumers still like the personal touch,

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Kate Tyndall