As members of one of the oldest trades in the world, sometimes we in the stone industry can know all too well how easy it is for people to get stuck in their ways. The world around us has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and yet at some companies it can feel like the clock is stuck in the 80s. With changing consumer shopping patterns, an accelerated pace of business and the need for real-time visibility, the Information Revolution has created a great need for technological advancement in the stone industry; it is up to all of us to answer the call together or be left behind in its wake.

eCommerce has witnessed tremendous growth over the years, expanding steadily into services and larger items. Large single-item purchases are increasingly common on the web, with start-ups like Carvana and Purple finding great success in the automotive and mattress industries; Angie’s List, Avvo and a host of other service marketplaces provide convenient online platforms for pairing buyers with service providers. Customers are increasingly becoming familiar with purchasing items online that they never would have dreamed possible just a few short years ago, and we feel that hard surfaces should be no exception.

Even if customers don’t end up making their purchase entirely online, that does little to diminish the importance of a strong web presence in today’s economy. According to the latest research provided by the eCommerce Foundation, 88% of consumers will perform at least some research online before making a purchase. Unfortunately, a lot of fabricators’ websites haven’t been updated in years, and a good amount of those that have updated content still rely on outdated web technologies like Flash. Given the importance of online research in the modern economy, it is imperative that companies take a good hard look at their “digital showroom” to ensure that it’s on par with their physical presence; a great place to start would be the Digital Check-Up that we’ve included in this article.

The digital landscape has changed dramatically in the short time since Steve Jobs took the stage at MacWorld 2007 to announce the first-ever iPhone. In the decade since, smartphones have achieved near-ubiquity, finding homes in the pockets of about three in four Americans. These pint-sized powerhouses have changed the way we interact with the world around us; with near-constant connectivity and rich communication abilities, it’s no wonder that smartphone traffic accounts for 40% of all online sales and plays a role
in one-third of ALL retail transactions.

The advent of smartphones (in particular, their full keyboards and suite of communication apps) hasn’t just changed the way we shop, but the way we communicate as well. Millennials, who comprise a growing chunk of both the work force and homeowner base, prefer texting to calling at a rate of three to one; “always-on” connectivity has shifted expectations for reply windows from hours to minutes, for better or worse. At StoneTrash in particular, we’ve found that customers are far more likely to reach out via our chat functionality than they are through any other medium; the asynchronous nature of the conversation provides buyers the ability to shop at their leisure, and enables the StoneTrash team to dynamically field several inquiries at once, making it a win-win situation.

Transparency is integral to success in the modern economy, and the hard surfaces industry is no exception; more than half of shoppers seek out pricing while they’re exploring their options online, and they will gravitate towards companies that earn their trust by being up-front and transparent. This can pose a significant problem in our industry especially, as almost all fabricators’ sites feature vague information like “Price Groups” or “Call for Quote.” There are a number of factors that encourage this industry-wide practice, but it is incompatible with how today’s shoppers go about their business. We can (and must) do a better job of helping consumers make informed decisions at this increasingly important conversion point.

While some fabricators may worry that publishing material prices will erode their margins, they fail to recognize that you can still charge the exact same amount of money. Consider a hypothetical shop that has a relatively average $45/square foot remnant program, including fabrication, field measuring and installation. Publishing a price of
$10/square foot (or less) for remnants satisfies the customer’s desire for pricing data and draws them in to ask about fabrication; so long as they’re quoted $35/square foot once they’ve done so, there’s no palpable difference. In the course of our development, we’ve heard from many consumers that they truly appreciated the ability to explore up-front pricing.

While a lot of these shifts may sound revolutionary, most of the tools needed to undertake them are already available. This issue’s “Digital Round-Up” features a plethora of software and tech products that every fabricator should incorporate into their business model; even beyond that though, simple steps like a strong web presence (and search engine ranking), providing web-based communication options to clients beyond e-mail, and being more forthcoming about pricing can provide an immediate and tangible boost to your business’ visibility and success. Integrating new technologies can seem like a daunting task, but you aren’t alone in this fight. There are services out there that can help.