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How Do You Use The Internet?

June 2, 2011
Maybe it’s a generational thing; but, I agreed with Betty White when she was hosting SNL and said, “I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time.” Before you start calling me a Ludite, let me explain.

I actually like and use the Internet. I happen to believe it is a great way to share information. But, by information, I don’t mean, “I’m standing in line waiting for the movie,” or “I have 140 characters to tell you how little I’ve done today.” No - - - information is something like, “We have thirteen of that frame in stock,” or “Here’s the shipping date of that purchase order you sent us.” In other words, there are essential things I need to know to run my business and the Internet is an ideal way to get to them.

In particular, the “we have thirteen of that frame in stock” scenario is very important to me. Consider this, it is a Saturday afternoon. You are working with a customer on a big order for imported furniture that is also available through a warehouse program. The entire sale hinges on whether a sofa frame is in stock. The factory is closed on Saturdays; so, you can’t call them to get a status. Then you remember that printed inventory status they emailed to you. When you refer to it, you realize it is from the beginning of the week and no longer accurate. What do you do in a case like that?

Well, if you are dealing with an enlightened vendor, you go to their business-to-business web site, type in the stock number of the sofa and up pops your answer. That will include up-to-the-minute immediate availability and future availability. It’s the type of information that any customer service rep has at their fingertips when the offices are open. It should be available to retailers just as readily.

Using the Internet this way seems so obvious I wonder why some importers aren’t doing it. Here are some of the arguments I have heard against it:


  1. We can’t interface with our computer system via the Internet. This may well be true for some very old databases. However, most modern databases are accessed by structured query language that is HTML compatible.
  2. It is going to be expensive to make our database Web accessible. When you make this analysis be sure to consider the cost of implementing the web system against the business you are losing when a consumer orders from another manufacturer. And, that’s what they will do if we can’t tell them your inventory status.
  3. We don’t want retailers to see we only stock one or two of an item or items that are slow movers. They might think we aren’t committed to the business and we will lose credibility as a supplier. Well, I suppose if a retailer had the time and really wanted to do a complete analysis of your business that may well be true. Just remember, when we are checking inventory for a client we are single mindedly focused on the status of that one item, not a take-over of your firm.
  4. I am afraid the information might get into the hands of my competitors. Password protection might not be foolproof; but, 99.99% of the time, it works! Talk to an IT person. You would be surprised at the techniques they can use to prevent your company’s intellectual property from falling into the wrong hands.

Finally, as you are coming up with all the reasons not to provide this information, remember that Saturday I referred to earlier in the blog. In this case, when the consumer asks the sale consultant how long it will take to get their $10,000 order, the retailer pulls out their iPad, connects to your web site in front of their customer, shows them you have more than enough in your warehouse to cover their order and the sale closes. You get a big order, maybe even big enough to pay back all of the costs of putting the info on the Internet!

Yours in confused retailing, Bruce