Dealers Finding New Paths To E-Commerce Parity

By Alan Wolf On Mar 26 2012 - 4:01am




NEW YORK – When it comes to ecommerce, observing the old adage “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” has never been easier for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Between thirdparty marketplaces, transactional sites like eBay, and the scores of e-tail services offered by industry buying groups, even the smallest independent dealers can readily leverage the web’s low barrier of entry to create an outsized presence online.

For dealers like George Manlove, president/CEO of Montana-based Vann’s, e-commerce was a necessity due to the vastness of the state and the long distances some customers travel to reach his stores. Seizing on an opportunity, Manlove became an e-tail pioneer with his 15-year-old Vanns.com, which was among the first e-commerce sites to receive CE vendor authorization.

More recently, he, like many independent dealers, has followed the money and broadened his brand’s reach by becoming a third-party seller on Amazon.com’s marketplace. “I compete with Amazon, but the traffic it generates is significant,” he told TWICE. “There’s been a seismic shift toward doing business in the marketplaces. It’s like a virtual Walmart – you’re just putting stuff on their shelves and letting the customer pick and choose.”

Despite new limits on marketplace sales by LG Electronics and Panasonic, and restrictions on marketing to Amazon customers, Manlove said the Amazon platform “gets lots of eyeballs, and that’s where consumers are shifting.”

Seth Brown, marketing director for New York IT, CE and A/V specialty dealer DataVision, said his company has found a direct correlation between marketplace participation and visits to its own website, DataVis.com. “There’s been a pretty dramatic increase in clicks on our site. It really creates awareness of the brand,” he said.

Not surprisingly, DataVision’s revenue and volume of orders has also grown as it expanded its presence from Amazon to the Best Buy, Buy.com, Barnes & Noble, and Sears marketplaces. “It really lets us extend our reach,” Brown said.

DataVision has also shifted some of its fulfillment function to Amazon, which “cuts down on our shipping and labor costs, exposes us to a whole new pool of consumers who shop through Amazon Prime, and provides the best customer service,” he said.

Retailers including Abt Electronics, Adorama, J&R Music & Computer World, Huppins’/OneCall and Vann’s are also finding new sales opportunities on eBay. The ecommerce platform is working to change its perception as a collectibles auction site and is revamping its CE section by highlighting brands and authorized dealers; developing a MAP treatment to help keep dealers compliant with vendors’ pricing policies; and by enhancing dealers’ eBay storefronts.

The latter is already in the works for participating members of the Progressive Retailers Organization (PRO Group), which forged a partnership with eBay in January. Executive director/COO Dave Workman said eBay is an alternative to Amazon that doesn’t compete with its sellers and provides a “compelling marketplace proposition. They’re a traffic platform only and a true partner that brings visibility to products.”

Dealers can also leverage eBay’s deep pool of low-cost retail services, including web store design, payment options, inventory management and even mobile shopping apps through its PayPal, Magento, RedLaser and Milo subsidiaries and open x.commerce platform.

Other buying groups have eased dealers’ transition into cyberspace with web design and online marketing programs such as MEGA Group USA’s WebFronts Premium Plus platform, developed by Retailer Web Services (RWS), which gives members a web presence with unlimited product catalogs, advanced merchandising and pricing tools, an unlimited dual shopping cart and quoterequest system, advanced SEO techniques, automatedrebate centers and product-comparison capabilities.

More recently MEGA introduced an automatic feed program for Facebook called Social Extend, one of a number of social-networking services provided by online marketing firm NetSertive.

Meanwhile, the BrandSource buying group began addressing the burgeoning business in m-commerce with last year’s introduction of a mobile app for dealers and consumers. Recently added features include store-specific pricing, printable specs and over 4,000 additional SKUs, explained Brand- Source Mobile’s Greg White.

Forthcoming enhancements will include stock and pricing information from the group’s warehouses, and a location-based “geo-fencing notification” that sends messages to consumers who are within dealer proximity, he said.

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