Why It’s Construction’s Time for E-commerce

While the business-to-business wave of e-commerce technology might not be generating as much buzz as the platforms people are most familiar with (Uber, Amazon, etc.), it can deliver serious benefits for equipment and materials procurement in the construction industry. 

According to estimates by market research firm Forrester, business- to-business e-commerce will reach $1.2 trillion and account for 13.1 percent of all business-to-business sales in the United States by 2021. At the end of 2017, Forrester expects e-commerce to reach $889 billion and represent 11 percent of total business-to-business sales in the United States.

From buying generators, barges and pile-driving equipment to sheet pile, barrier wall and wide flange beams, e-commerce can help construction companies save money on equipment and materials and gain access to more suppliers, which will improve their competitive edge.

One of the biggest challenges that e-commerce platforms face is the industry’s traditional culture. Older professionals in the workforce have relied heavily on field sales representatives who can drive results by engaging directly with their customers. E-commerce may eliminate this comfort with human contact or feel too impersonal to maintain close business relationships, even though the incoming millennial generation has mastered it. 

The trust factor also can reduce traction for e-commerce platforms. Can the customer trust the unknown party on the other side of the transaction? After all, there is a big difference between buying books on Amazon versus buying several truckloads of pipe and barrier wall online. Further, while internet shopping may work for standard parts and supplies, sceptics of e-commerce stress that no project is alike. Therefore, the equipment and materials required to build them will not be standard and cannot be found online. 

All this considered, the construction industry is starting to experience the benefits of using e-commerce to buy, sell and rent used and surplus equipment and materials, and the benefits realized could far surpass any advantages that the industry might have imagined to achieve from online procurement. E-commerce and its use through mobile tablets and smartphones has radically changed the process, thereby increasing the speed of transactions, lowering costs, reducing project timelines and even improving the planet’s carbon footprint.  

Construction companies should consider adopting e-commerce practices for four main reasons. 

One-stop Shop  
E-commerce platforms have the power to link buyers and sellers right from the comfort of their home or office in multiple categories. No more chasing and bidding for equipment. Project managers can request the equipment and materials they’re looking for, and suppliers can post their complete suite of available products online—extending their offerings to builders immediately and consistently.

Speed of Delivery 
E-commerce offers project managers the ability to offload or shop for and purchase equipment and materials online in a matter of minutes versus weeks or even months. Orders can be quickly transacted, shipped and tracked in real time on their way to a location. Managers also are freed up to focus more on operations while awaiting or shipping their goods, as most online distributors manage transportation logistics. 

If a change is required, they can even leverage the power of e-commerce technology to immediately update and modify the delivery logistics of their order. 

Additionally, e-commerce quickly helps meet rapidly changing customer demands, allowing for a quick and nimble response. This is vital to ensure customers achieve bottom line results and also slash time off of project deadlines, getting to completion quicker and more efficiently.

Cost Containment
The surplus and used equipment market is incredibly fragmented and complicated, with multiple pathways and intermediaries between buyers and sellers. With so many participants in the marketplace, value to the customer has been replaced by margin proliferation. The use of e-commerce solutions offers these customers a different option to buy, sell and rent online, eliminating the need for a middleman and allowing for increased cost savings and containment.

Further, e-commerce enables accounts payable to pay invoices more efficiently and on time through secure web-based environments, accurately match invoices and deal with less manual intervention—meaning the industry could net millions of dollars in savings per year by eliminating the laborious paper trail.

Elimination of Waste
Another benefit of using e-commerce in the construction industry is the elimination of wasteful practices. E-commerce allows project managers to obtain environmentally friendly materials. Further, equipment and materials that would typically sit and waste in a scrapyard can be quickly recycled, resold online and transported for use elsewhere, while also adding to the builder’s bottom line.

If the industry jumps on the e-commerce trend, construction companies can come to expect lower costs, quicker project timelines and improved environmental conditions. It’s a win-win for all involved. 

Andrew Norman is chief operating officer and co-founder of Eiffel Trading, an online marketplace for used and surplus equipment and materials in the heavy civil, marine, and oilfield industries. For more information, visit eiffeltrading.com.