Consumers have always held the 'real' power. If you don’t buy, we can’t sell. Online shopping with major retailers magnifies that power, exponentially, giving consumers access to lots of information, including bargain hunting and reviews. But are consumers reaping ‘real’ benefits from all this ‘real’ power? Two words … caveat emptor.
What I’ve done in this post is offer 5 key insights about why consumers should buy directly from manufacturers. Now this doesn’t mean that you should avoid retailers altogether. What it does mean, however, is that this post will help you to identify the risks and rewards of shopping online in age of uber-information.
“A wolf is no less a wolf because he’s dressed in sheepskin and the devil is no less the devil because he’s dressed as an angel.” - LeCrae
Insight 1: You’re Being Tracked
Major retailers are paying a third party service called The Retail Equation, to track a customer’s shopping behavior and limit items they can bring back. And, they are using this information to ban customers from making returns or exchanges. Yikes!
According to a recent article in Business Insider, “Best Buy, Home Depot, Victoria's Secret, and a host of other retailers are discreetly tracking how often shoppers return purchases, and in some cases, punishing people who are suspected of abusing their return policies.”
After returning three cell phone cases to a Best Buy store in California, Zakhar was told that Best Buy had banned him from making any returns or exchanges for a year, The Wall Street Journal reports. Other companies that have used The Retail Equation include, JCPenney, Sephora, Nike, and Bath and Body Works.
Insight 2: Unauthorized Sellers on Amazon
Product listing pages on Amazon are generally "open" to any sellers with an identical product for sale. This, combined with the popularity of certain brand’s products means that counterfeiters, large (unauthorized) liquidators as well as private individuals, can list and resell products on Amazon - whether new or used, discontinued or current - against a brand’s product pages for profit. Yikes!
Unless someone is selling a counterfeit version of a product, there is pretty much no support from Amazon in removing them from your listings—simply put, Amazon doesn’t view unauthorized sellers as violators of their policies.
This creates ‘real’ risk for consumers because it’s difficult to tell what you’re actually buying. For sellers, the situation is worse. Manufacturers have virtually no control over who is selling their products - the condition or the price - which can lead to unhappy consumers and bad reviews.
Birkenstock decided to stop selling on Amazon, citing the inability to police companies selling price-cutting counterfeits and diluting the Birkenstock brand with their inferior goods. A CNBC report said, “Birkenstock will be telling consumers to purchase only from authorized retailers, and that any products listed on Amazon can’t be trusted.” If major brands can't police their products, you can only image what small to midsize brands are up against.
We use a company named Jolity to sell Bonk Fit, our pop-up inflatable punching bag with custom slip-on skin, on Amazon. Jolity is a top rated Amazon authorized seller. At any given time, we’ve seen as many as 10 unauthorized sellers erroneously listing Eco-Bonk, our discontinued pop-up inflatable, under Bonk Fit. The products are very different, from raw materials and overall construction to manufacturer warranty. Bogus sellers buy on clearance from Bed Bath & Beyond among others and resell on Amazon. The last shipment of Eco-Bonk was delivered in 2016, which means the product has been sitting in a warehouse, boxed up, for over two years!
We’ve sent “cease and desist” letters. We’ve put distribution agreements in place with our retail partners to prevent price wars. But bogus sellers keep popping up. This creates buyer confusion, which hurts sales. A lose - lose situation.
According to Bobsled Marketing, “Protecting your brand’s integrity on Amazon can be tough work at times … you need to monitor your listings and those of your competitors on at least a weekly basis in order to get the full picture of the risks and potential rewards.” What business owner has time for this … which is why more and more consumers buying on Amazon are getting screwed.
Insight 3: Live Chat
Live chat is an online communication tool that allows consumers to chat directly with a brand’s support team on the brand's website prior to making a purchase, ensuring they receive the most knowledgeable answers to their questions.
Our live chat feature is located on the bottom right of website.
With live chat, questions are answered on the spot, which helps consumers make informed buying decisions. Best of all, the response time of live chat is so much faster than the standard communication channels, such as email, where a response can take days. Amazon does offer a Q&A forum that's open for anyone to post and answer questions. But there's no telling the accuracy of responses since anybody can participate.
"Shopping on the manufacturer’s website or brand location gives you access to people who work only with that brand and know it inside out. Shopping on a retailer’s website gives you access to people who may know very little about a whole lot. Information gleaned directly from the company site or company customer service is more likely to be accurate and complete," says Jon MacDonald of The Good.
Deals and discounts and freebies, oh my! You’ve got a great chance of getting discounted prices, free shipping, and or special gifts when you buy direct from the manufacturer. No middleman means more money for everyone. We want your business. Trust me.
We love being accessible to our customers. We are available by live chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That's how much you mean to us. We want you to be our biggest fans and devoted brand evangelists. We want you to brag about your buying experience. Positive online reviews are like gold to brands, big and small.
Bonk Fit customers are the best. Click here and scroll down to read a super-funny review ... Bride + Hulk Fist + Bonk Fit of Groom.
Insight 4: Better Selection
Brands carry every product; retailers generally do not. Retailers typically stock only a subset of the product offering - the most popular sizes, colors, and styles. For example, you may come across inflatable punching bags of animals, but you were looking for a ninja. By purchasing directly from the brand, you can shop the entire selection.
This factor is especially important for products that are unique and customizable ... like Bonk Fit.
Your chances of getting what you want are normally better when you go directly to the source. It can get very frustrating to spend time searching a retailers website for a specific product or style that isn't there. Or when you do find the product you want, it's out of stock or backordered.
Insight 5: Win-Win Situation
Direct-to-consumer sales provide a classic win-win situation. Consumers retain the most bargaining power. Brands have the most control over their sales. I love the way Jon MacDonald lays it down. "If I sell you a product made by someone else, I can always pass the buck on to the manufacturer when there’s a problem. If I sell you a product manufactured or sourced in-house, however, the buck stops here. Consumers feel more comfortable dealing directly with brands because there’s no wiggle room. Consumers have plenty of reasons to prefer purchasing direct, but brands did not – until e-commerce changed the rules of the game."
In today's digital world, consumers have access to information like never before, but with more access comes more risk. If you want it all and you want it now, then you should strive to buy direct from the manufacturer. In doing so you'll avoid being tracked by third party services. You'll avoid being sold bogus product from fraudulent sellers. You'll gain access to the most relevant information from product experts and the widest selection of products available. You'll enjoy more bargaining power. Don't forget to ask for deals and perks! Best of all, when you buy direct from brands, you are dealing with the company who actually produces the product ... where the 'buck stops'. If you want the ultimate power position, then you'll buy direct from the manufacturers and not from major retailers.
How will you buy? Please tell us your thoughts in a comment below.