Shopping Goods
Online shopping doesn’t just save consumers time and money - it could make purchasing things your business requires a whole lot easier and cheaper too. However, apart from the benefits, there are also potential pitfalls. It’s worth weighing these up before you decide to use an online supplier. Having said that, if your prospective online store passes the acid test, you could be onto a good thing - it’s just a matter of looking before you leap.

1. Price Check

Online stores don’t have the overheads that brick and mortar businesses have, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re cheaper. Never just assume, last week while searching for branded umbrellas online, I was surprised to discover that many websites were selling at exuberant prices compared to local shops. So, compare prices carefully. Compare prices carefully. For example, if you are considering buying office supplies online, it’s a good idea to compare prices per item. Start with the things you use the most of - items that you only buy now and then or in purchase in small quantities are less important.

Do bear in mind that shipping could represent a saving. Many online stores offer free shipping. If you usually send someone to shop for office supplies at a regular store, you should factor in the time and cost of collecting supplies when comparing prices.

2. Check Terms and Conditions

This point is quite a biggie. It’s amazing how few people actually read conditions of sale, but it’s quite important to do so when making supplier decisions. Think about the things that could go wrong and see if you’re covered.

For example, what is the lead time from order placement to delivery? You should also check the returns policy. Under what circumstances would you be credited for returned goods and when are you liable to pay shipping on returns? Does the supplier take responsibility for defective products, and within what time frame should defects be reported? The more you’re planning to spend, the more important this gets. If you’re shopping for office equipment, for example, you need to know that you’re covered if you discover faults or or discover that you made an erroneous choice. 

3. Browse for Reviews

Many of us have begun to take reviews with a pinch of salt. Regretfully, it’s a system that’s open to abuse. All the same, it’s worth checking out. On the whole, checking negative and middle-of-the-road reviews will tell you what the average and worst case scenarios are, but read reviews critically. It’s not unheard-of for trolls to post fake negative reviews too. Genuine reviews will be written at different times (not in a short timeframe) in a mixture of different tones and styles. What do people seem to like about the supplier and its products? What don’t they like?

A few negative reviews aren’t really a deal breaker. It’s impossible for any business to satisfy all of the people all of the time, but a lot of negative reviews are a red flag. Positive reviews might say pretty much the same thing and still be genuine. Judge this by looking at the order in which information is given, what is said and how it is conveyed.

When checking reviews, go for as many possible platforms as you can and don’t forget to check social media pages. If customers feel strongly about a business, they’re almost sure to share their opinions on business Facebook pages. If the platform offers a supplier room to respond to reviews, take a look at how they handled negative ones. Stony silence isn’t a good sign.

5. Test Their Customer Service

Before committing to your first order, find out whether you can have direct contact with a real person on the customer service front. Do they respond quickly? Do they seem efficient? Do they keep track of previous contacts? If you’re looking at placing pretty big orders, this step should not be overlooked.

Supplier relationships are important, and it’s impossible to have a “relationship” with a chat bot or a series of random call center operatives. If you’re looking at small-time purchases, that may be less important. But if you’re choosing a supplier whose goods and services are needed to keep your business running, you need to know that you have personalized, efficient, and caring service at your fingertips.

6. Start Small

Shifting suppliers for essential business prerequisites and services can be risky. Whether you’re doing this online or off, it’s wisest to start small. A few test runs will indicate what you can expect from the supplier in question. If things go wrong, you still have your tried and tested suppliers and service providers to fall back on. If things go well, there’s no longer any real reason to hedge your bets, and you can start going all out. 

As a footnote, it’s always good to have a contingency plan for essentials no matter what type of business you choose as a supplier. Buying online can be as good as, and quite often better than, buying from traditional outlets but whenever we choose new suppliers, there’s some homework to be done.