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News I published 16 August 2021

European contractors’ purchasing has become more traditional

In the previous article we showed that expected effects of the pandemic on the purchase behaviour of European contractors were not really apparent in research results. Indeed, contractors stated that COVID had not much changed where they purchased and only slightly affected how they ordered. This shows yet again that, even during a pandemic, the contractor market is rather traditional.

Be that as it may, that does not mean that nothing has changed in the shares of wallet contractors spent at the various purchasing channels. From that perspective, a European trend towards the most traditional way of purchasing, the three-tier system, can be seen when comparing the results of the H1 2021 report of USP Marketing Consultancy’s Contractor Monitor with our measurement of purchasing behaviour of contractors from eight European countries in 2018.

Purchasing amounts have shifted back from manufacturers to wholesalers

The traditional way of purchasing from wholesalers, who in turn purchase from manufacturers, has always accounted for the largest share of purchases by contractors. However, when comparing with 2018, that share has even increased on a European level, while the share of wallet contractors spent directly at manufacturers has declined by roughly the same amount.

Even though the shift from purchases directly from manufacturers towards purchases at wholesalers does not seem to occur in all countries, the fact that it is present in large markets like Germany and Spain shows that it is not just a one-country anomaly but an undeniable European trend. The question remaining is why this shift happened?

Overall trend or obscured Corona effects?

Even though contractors stated that COVID-19 did not change their purchasing behaviour, there may still be an effect, or actually an amalgamation of direct and indirect effects of the pandemic at play here. For instance, the pandemic caused material shortages at manufacturers, which destabilised their stock availability and delivery. In such uncertain times, the wholesaler around the corner offering alternative brands in case of stock problems may be the more secure option for a busy contractor.

This side effect of the pandemic may have been enlarged by larger trends, like the fact that the construction industry is still growing and labour shortages are a growing problem as well. This causes contractors to be ever busier, making the quick and reliable option of purchasing from a nearby wholesaler even more attractive, resulting in a larger share of wallet being spent there.

Aside from more secure availability and delivery, familiarity may have played a role as well. A lack of personal contact with manufacturers during the pandemic may have caused contractors who order from both manufacturers and wholesalers to order less from the former and more from the latter. Especially in more traditional markets like Germany, when a pandemic reduces possibilities for contractors to have personal encounters with manufacturers, but direct advice from the familiar nearby wholesalers is still available, it stands to reason that the share of wallet dedicated to wholesalers goes up.

Conclusion

The above shows that there are multiple interplaying explanations for the shift in the share of wallet that contractors dedicate to certain purchase channels. With that many variables, some temporary and others more lasting trends, it is not surprising that the trend seen in Europe as a whole is not as strong or even present in every one of the eight countries we monitor.

That makes it ever more relevant to keep your eye on the quaint details of local trends and mentalities as much as on the greater trends in the European construction market. For both a European overview and detailed information on the local markets in Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland, we refer you to USP Marketing Consultancy’s Contractor Monitor.

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