• Alison Folwell

Has lockdown sparked a tech revolution for merchants?



It may have taken extreme circumstances, but some merchants are suggesting that lockdown has advanced their adoption of technology by 5-10 years - and they couldn't be happier about it.


On 10th August, the TTJ ran an excellent webinar, “Coming out of Covid,” discussing how timber merchants are approaching the easing of lockdown and a post-Covid – or continuing Covid – world. As you might expect, there is widespread uncertainty about the longer-term future; while currently merchants are rushed off their collective feet, the issue of supply remains a major factor and is likely to have a big impact on timelines and pricing into the autumn and beyond, especially while demand remains incredibly high.



But one of the unexpected side-effects of lockdown has been the acceleration of merchant adoption of new technologies; in particular, video conferencing was raised as a surprise benefit of remote working.




How isolation helped human connection


Video conferencing, while perhaps a little uncomfortable at first, has been seen as a great step forward for many merchants. It makes it much easier for groups of people to discuss subjects quickly, facilitating faster decision-making even across multiple stake-holders. One panellist said they had noticed much better communication with suppliers as well as customers, with the face-to-face element contributing to better relationships and conversations. And of course, the huge time and cost savings of not having to plan meetings and travel to them were universally praised.


Face to face meetings still have their place of course, but the panellists agreed that embracing the new ways of working had had significant benefits, with one merchant claiming it would probably have taken 5-10 years to get to the current level of tech-acceptance without the external pressures of lockdown. Everyone agreed that suppliers and customers alike were enjoying the improved levels of communication and that some of the measures imposed by necessity had actually improved supplier experience, such as click and collect and pre-booked delivery slots etc.


“Lockdown has accelerated merchant adoption of some new technologies by 5-10 years”
Geoff Arnold, Pinewood Structures

Benefits include:


- Faster decision making

- Better quality of conversation and relationships

- More regular and more effective communication

- Major time savings

- Much less expensive than travel

- Environmental benefits

- Work life balance improvement


So what can we learn from this?


It’s not new news, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that technology doesn’t have to be the enemy – it can actually increase human connection, and drive enormous improvements in efficiency. It doesn’t have to replace the human role – but it can enhance it dramatically, leading to greater productivity but also to more satisfaction in staff and day-to-day engagement.


Change is rarely comfortable. Yet it is essential to meet the shifting demands of a challenging commercial environment. Many merchants are reporting that they have never been busier – and while the longer term outlook is difficult to forecast, there seems to be a new spirit of open-mindedness around the adoption of new technologies that is heartening to see. In order to manage a higher workload and less predictable market, advanced analytics and intelligent reporting can really help merchants to flex and meet these shifting demands.


The benefits of video conferencing have become apparent, and hopefully it won’t be a big leap to see how other digital solutions can help as well, like cloud software, remote access, digital documentation and process automation. A cloud-based system facilitates not just working from home, but all remote working and multi-site management, enabling all users to log in and access the latest information from anywhere at any time.


There will always be some hesitation around the adoption of new technologies, and bigger changes will always take longer to bed in. But technology as a whole represents a vast range of powerful tools to help merchants and suppliers to get more out of their businesses; to simplify everyday jobs and make systems more efficient, reporting more intelligent, and processes more effective. Trust may take time to gain, but technology is an invaluable tool with untold potential for merchant operations. Let’s not let the end of lockdown be the end of this new open-mindedness to technology – let’s work together to get the systems in place that would make any future crisis easier to manage, with more responsive, agile solutions that work for you.

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