Outsmart the Net

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If a product costs more than $50, customers will Google it before they buy it. Other search engines serve the same purpose and provide retail shoppers with the most powerful research "funnels" ever in the history of shopping.

There are a growing number of powersports-specific Web funnels structured for shoppers, allowing them to narrow their choices and move closer to a vehicle or accessory brand and purchase. All connect customers with links to vehicle-specific chat rooms, OEM home pages, mail-order sites and consumer review sites. Google and other engines deliver it all to your customers' screens in seconds, making today's shopping easier than ever.

Search engines provide information to answer three questions:

Shopper Question 1: Why should I buy this brand over another? Most consumer magazines publish shootouts and comparisons on competing product brands. Usually, the editors receive the products for free. A big Internet search engine can connect you instantly with websites, chat rooms, blogs and comparative reports written by normal people who pay retail. Whose opinion would you trust more: Hundreds of online riders who paid retail, or one semi-pro editor who received it free from an advertiser? Your answer would depend on context, of course, but at least you have a choice.

Shopper Question 2: How little can I pay? It's natural to want to save money, and Google enables consumers to shop for the best price of a unit or accessory from the convenience of home.

Is it a product consumers need you to install, or can they do it themselves? Fewer customers have either the skill or the time to spin a wrench or wield a tire iron. You still can't send a mechanic with a full set of special tools through a DSL line. Dealers may choose to price-match and make the money back on an inflated installation fee that covers labor plus what the customer would have paid for freight anyway. It's the insult-to-injury method to teach customers a lesson without scaring them away.

Shopper Question 3: Where do I buy it? Every manufacturing website has a dealer locator. Make sure your vendors list your store. Is there a link to your site? Are you ranked on a scale of some sort? Keep them honest.

Drop-Ship Club

Commodity items are not shopped for as hard because they are commodities. Some customers buy their tires, chains and oil from you because they don't want to do the work themselves. Bolt-ons and wearables are different, and tend to be price-shopped harder and delivered to the customer's door. That makes it difficult for you, unless you match mail-order and Internet prices. (Yes, that's what I said. But it only counts if you also match mail-order/Internet conditions.)

Most big distributors and dealer-direct manufacturers have deals with mail-order and Internet dealers to drop-ship directly to their retail customers' doors for an extra $7 or $8 to handle paperwork. Why shouldn't your distributors do the same thing for their brick-and-mortar dealers? That's right: Price-match, add shipping and handling fees (and taxes if applicable), then take your customer's money for that exhaust system, helmet or chrome doodad. Tell him the product will be drop-shipped directly to his door in a few days, just as a mail-order or Internet dealer would do. You get the sale and make a profit on a product you didn't stock, and you keep your inventory on the floor for people who need it now and are willing to pay a slightly higher price for it.

So ask your distributor for more information, and consider joining the Drop-Ship Club.

Eric Anderson is the self-proclaimed "Big Stinger" of Scorpion Sports. Contact him at eric@scorpionusa.com.