If you’re reading this article online, there is a good chance that you’ll be doing so using a smartphone. There are an estimated 48.2 million of them in the UK alone and that is forecast to rise to 55.08 million by 2021*.

Smartphone access to the internet means many people are never really offl ine and the retail sector has been quick to capitalise, making it easy for consumers and businesses to buy what they need, whenever it’s most convenient. The result, experts estimate, is that shoppers now make 51% of their purchases online, compared with 47% in 2014.

For high-street retailers of smaller items that can be shipped easily, establishing online sales facilities has been straightforward. For timber merchants with more complex delivery and logistical challenges, it hasn’t been quite as easy.

Increasing numbers of merchants, however, are investing in technology to connect with customers online. Stock management software can be connected to a timber merchant’s website increasingly easily and more affordably, providing customers with real-time information about stock and availability and this is already helping grow sales.

For example, a joiner is working on-site and needs to fi nd a local merchant with a particular product. By making it easy for them to fi nd accurate, current product and stock information on your website using their smartphone or tablet, you will increase the likelihood of a sale. It’s very likely your customer is already researching and buying products online at home. Why should they interact with your company any differently?

By making it easy for customers to fi nd you online and obtain the information they need, there’s no reason why they would choose to buy from a larger competitor – especially if you can provide a better level of service.

Many businesses have been put off investing in software and systems because of the perceived high costs. In the last decade, however, technology prices have fallen, giving smaller businesses access to much more powerful systems.

There are now many software systems that have been designed specifi cally for timber merchants of all sizes.

Well-rounded systems will enable you to manage enquiries and sales (online and at trade counter point of sale) and also include picking, packing and delivery management functionality. Many will also include bookkeeping and accounting features.

Using a single system can make it much easier for your teams to collaborate. Information fl ow around a business is improved, increasing effi ciency and reducing risk of error.

Technology is now very much a buyer’s market. And if technology can help you become more effi cient and improve customer service and satisfaction, it’s ultimately you who benefi ts from increased sales and repeat business.

Technology is no longer just about ‘keeping the lights on’ – it’s about systems designed to provide a rapid, tangible return on investment. If you’re not looking to see what’s available to help your business, it’s highly possible that your competitors are.