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17 September 2010

Don't discount it

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Tim Foley reboots the debate on online discounters by suggesting that you can join them and beat them with expertise rather than low prices...


I've been following the discounts debate with interest and once again, it seems, the finger is pointing at internet retailers.There's nothing more frustrating than learning that all your hard work in compiling a quote, perhaps providing a plan or design, ultimately proves futile after they take a copy of it to a serial discounter.  


Does this only occur on the internet? Not at all, it happens on high streets and retail parks all over the country. In fact, I would say that internet sellers learnt the art of serial discounting from the high street.  A recent Which? report said that some furniture retailers lead the way.  


Internet retailers, however, are becoming a soft target for those who seem to assume selling kitchen components is their sole right because they trade from bricks-and-mortar showrooms. There is a school of thought that this ability of the internet retailer to undercut prices allows them to meet their e-customers' requirements while leaving those customers who like to browse, touch, talk and visualise, to the high-street retailer. 


For this second group, all the internet discounts in the world will not shift them from their preferred buying habits.There are good and bad internet retailers just as there are in bricks and mortar. To accuse the internet of killing the price of goods and to assume internet retailers offer poorer service than "streetailers" is a ridiculous slight. 


Markets evolve and, if it was just about price, Marks & Spencer would be empty and Woolworths would still exist. 


I would ask this question of those who blame internet sellers for their loss of business and all that is bad in the world: Given that you believe you trade more honourably than your poor cousins in cyberspace, if a client turned up at your showroom waving a price from another showroom not too far away, would you discount it further to win the order or would you turn the opportunity down? 


All businesses surely have to adapt to customer habits. Seventeen years ago, a customer travelled to a showroom, looked at a kitchen, relied solely on the information given to them by the sales assistant and - other than travelling to yet another showroom to compare prices and services - went ahead with the sale. 


Other than turn back the clock, no one can tell the customer that going online to source the best product and price has now got to stop.


All sellers, internet or "internot", must adopt new methods in accordance with buying habits of the consumer.  We have to survive by assuring our customers of our longevity, stability and expertise and promise to try to get them the best price. You have to trust the customer to define what is good value.  


A letter in last month's issue stated: "We can't join them, but we can beat them." Well I suggest you can join them and do what Sam Cartwright of Design Matters (Letters, August) is planning to do: "Position yourself as an expert resource instead of a peddler." Beating prices alone is peddling. Beating prices and offering specialist opinion - now that's a resource.


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