Bespoke PVC-U windows and doors have opened up a big, new market for merchants, but those merchants who create a seamless customer experience between the ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ world will really scoop the benefits of sustainable growth.

Purchasing behaviours have changed significantly in recent years, in our personal lives and now in business. Some prefer to buy the way they have always bought; others prefer everything digital and online. Most of us though want to buy in a variety of ways, depending on what we’re buying, when and where we are.

Many start their buying journey online, doing their research to learn about the product they have in mind, what it might cost them, and where they can get them. Others now want to get a long way down the path and look at a virtual showroom, much as we do when buying cars, kitchens and bathrooms and other desirable products before they make contact. But then most still want to go and see the product in real life and talk to someone knowledgeable who can show them and clear up the uncertainties, and find out who can install it before they actually buy. Having done a lot of their research first customers are more confident, making the final stage of buying quicker and more focused.

The challenge for merchants is to be prepared for different entry points on the journey - online and virtual, in branch and hands on, or increasingly both – and creating a good continuous experience along the way. They need to match how they sell to the way people prefer to buy, whether that’s a homeowner or trade customer.

Merchants who sell PVC-U windows and doors with the help of in-branch and virtual showrooms, and online configurators sell much more, and more easily than those who don’t.

Tippers builders’ merchants, for example, has recognised the benefits of combining brick and mortar with virtual reality, and changing how they sell to create a seamless, effective customer journey. Investing in a new Crystal showroom and online visualiser, Tippers is creating a more engaging, immersive customer experiences for builders and contractors, making it really easy for them to buy. The company's trade customers can look online and show their customers, and touch the products in-branch.

It’s easy to create an aspirational visualisation of the installed product; easy to price a project and easy to order. Each stage completes the loop, and takes the thinking and work out of their customers’ hands.

It’s important that merchants and suppliers continue working together to deliver an Omnichannel approach to marketing high-ticket home improvement products. Smart customers go online first, to find helpful, relevant content and their perceived product solution. Then, ready to buy, they need help from merchants at the branch level to follow through with knowledgeable staff and strong representation of the product, backed by reliable, on-time deliveries.

Steve Halford, Group Managing Director, The Crystal Group.