Looking to the internet to make your Grand Designs a reality

10th May 2016

The UK’s online shopping revolution is well documented. Online retail sales are tipped to reach £60.04 billion this year, up 15% on last year’s £52.25 billion. With an average spend of £1,174 each in 2015, Brits are the biggest online shoppers in Europe.

A less talked about, but similarly striking, shift in consumer habits is happening with the construction trade industry. Plumbers, electricians or builders may not traditionally be associated with internet know-how and savvy digital marketing, but we’re increasingly going online to find them. In the past, if you needed a leak fixed, an oven installed or someone to make your Grand Designs-style dreams a reality, you might rely on word of mouth, previous experience or traditional advertising. But today — whether you’re building a Finnish log cabin, an urban space pod, or a house shaped like a curvy seashell (or if you just need someone to fix the boiler) — it’s more than likely that the World Wide Web will be your first port of call.

Research shows that an incredible 85%* of us will search online to find a local tradesperson. This mirrors the wider popularity of the internet as a tool for seeking and sharing information, and purchasing goods and services. In Britain in 2015, 78% of adults accessed the internet every day, or almost every day. That’s 39.3 million people. 76% of adults bought goods or services online, up from 53% in 2008. But this consumer demand for online information isn’t necessarily being met by tradespeople.

A new Nominet initiative aimed at helping tradespeople promote their businesses online found that 35% don’t have a website. According to the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, there are 956,000 construction businesses in the UK, so this equates to 334,600 without a website. There’s also huge variation between regions and trade types.

If you’re in Glasgow, your online search for a tradesperson is far more likely to be fruitful than if you’re in Leeds. 74% of tradespeople in Glasgow have a website, compared to 53% in Leeds. Other towns at the top of the table in terms of tech-savvy tradespeople include Bristol, where 72% have a website, London (71%), Manchester (70%) and Liverpool (70%). At the bottom, there’s Newcastle (56%), and Birmingham, Southampton and Plymouth, each on 59%.

Your luck may also vary in terms of the job you need to get done. Finding an aerial fitter online should be easy, as 81% of them have a website. Finding a painter decorator, however, may prove more difficult — only 49% have a website. If you’re looking to tame an unruly garden, or do some spring cleaning, you’ll find that just over half of gardeners (51%) and cleaners (52%) have a website. Rounding out the bottom of the table are plumbers (56% with a website) and builders (59%).

Why are some tradespeople slow to get online? Our research shows that almost a quarter (24%) say they wouldn’t know where to start, while 1 in 10 believe it would be expensive to set up. This might have been true a few years back, but it’s a different story today, with ready-made website packages dramatically shrinking both the time and money involved. We found that tradespeople with their own website pick up on average an extra 21 jobs per year, potentially leading to an impressive £16,590 in additional earnings. Setting up a website would cost a small fraction of this amount. In fact, they can do it for free — by visiting one of the .uk domain’s ‘Bacon & Web’ cafés in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, tradespeople can get a free website built over breakfast.

No matter where they’re based, it’s important for tradespeople to respond to the habits of their customers. Because, whether Brits are converting concrete cow sheds in the Somerset countryside or building cave-houses in Worcestershire — or just looking to get that pesky leak fixed — an online search is more than likely to be the first step.

* Local Consumer Review Survey (2012)