The biggest issue facing most independents today is failure to appear in internet searches. I know, I know, many will say they are B2B only and don’t want random internet shoppers. However, these independents will never know how many local businesses searched for goods and services in their hometown only to find the competition.
The argument from many dealers continues to be that “we’re a relationship company and we build lifelong relationships with our customers”. That’s great, until Doris and Otis retire and Jaden and Maddox take over the purchasing. You won’t be getting a phone call or face-to-face meeting from a generation that grew up with the internet. That generation, like it or not, is getting close to pretty much everybody.
Closed door attitude
Many independents that do get found on the internet immediately throw up ‘stay away’ signs to internet-savvy enquiries. ‘Click here to shop’ is the internet equivalent of that room in the back of the store with the curtains and the ‘Adults Only’ sign. I’m not going in there. No telling what nasty virus you’ll catch. This is painfully obvious to anyone who is security conscious. Your link takes me to a different site that might not be secure, or worse, has someone else’s name on the SSL security certificate, and wants me to enter my credit card. That’s just not happening.
These shared sites — sites that all have the same base URL such as shop.xxx.com — and the ‘click here to shop’ sites have another major issue: they are not search engine friendly. None of the content on these shopping sites is searchable. In fact, most of them must intentionally block search engines in the robots.txt file. If you are on a shared or click here shopping site, then check your own robots.txt file for statements like “Disallow: /”. What this means is: “Search engines — stay away — I want to hide!”
When potential buyers do get to your site, find the item they are looking for, and then do not see any pricing, don’t expect to get their business. If a petrol station displayed outside “Come inside for gas prices”, would you stop and go in? And even if you did, would you be willing to give them all your personal information and fill out a credit application, just to find out the price? Not likely. Yet this absurdity is exactly the same on many ‘login for price’ and ‘no price’ independent websites.
I’ve heard all the excuses for why you can’t show the price on your site and they are all as bad as “the dog ate my homework”. The glaring contradiction here is that all the national players do show the price on their sites without requiring a login.
The most common excuse is “I’m afraid my biggest customer will visit my site and see a lower price than I am charging them”. If that’s the problem, your pricing is out of control. Chances are you started your current pricing strategy before the capability to show internet prices existed. This is really easy to fix from a technical standpoint, but seems practically impossible for some operators because for that to happen they need to change their way of doing things.
The second most common excuse for not showing prices on a website — and I hear this from a lot of the traditional jan/san resellers — is “it’s impossible because all of my customers get a different price”. This is just a variation of the first one, except instead of out of control pricing it’s just total chaos. Again, this is easy to fix, but the resistance to change is debilitating.
When confronted with clear evidence that the competition is running circles around them when it comes to pricing strategies, many independents retreat to their safe space: “Well, it’s more than price because we’re the experts when it comes to what polish to use on that gym floor.” Meanwhile, Amazon is ravaging your top line paper and commodity business, solely on price, while dealers are left on their hands and knees polishing that gym floor.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but independents have to change. Start with a modern internet presence and then switch to market-based pricing across the board. You really don’t have a choice.
Rick Marlette is the designer and creator of OPSoftware. He has worked independently for many years in various facets of the office products industry developing specialised programs and databases for independent OP dealers.