Shoplet gives buyers alternative source for office products
By Maria Varmazis | Purchasing.com
As the pool of major brick-and-mortar office suppliers keeps shrinking due to consolidation, there's a growing cadre of web-based office products suppliers that aim to give buyers more product options and leverage with their office spend.
These online suppliers aren't playing by the same rules as their competitors, either; they're employing unusual methods to entice buyers—like bundling a free e-procurement system into online office supply purchasing. Unorthodox? Perhaps—but it's a strategy that's been working well for Shoplet, the fourth-ranked online office products supplier.
"We understood that e-procurement was the way to go," says Shoplet CEO Tony Ellison. With businesses making up 85% of its customer base, Ellison says Shoplet differentiates itself from its larger competitors because it has B2B purchasers specifically in mind, as opposed to retail sales. So rolling out a free e-procurement system for buying office supplies made sense because it was a tool that so many of its customers could and would use.
In 1998, Shoplet set about to develop its proprietary e-procurement program. It then created umbrella categories like spend management, in which office buyers can access reporting tools that let them manage their office spend budge, set user and company spend levels, monitor purchasing on- and off-contract, as well as set purchasing rules like shipping methods. And because Shoplet is a web-based model, its e-procurement system is fully accessible online as soon as a customer logs in to their website.
Ellison says customers can quickly reap the benefits from Shoplet's e-procurement system simply because it is easier to funnel spend within contract terms and keep a closer eye on where that spend is going, even if the customer doesn't have an e-procurement tool they use on their own. "The soft cost savings are in real-time reporting, which can be tracked by location and cost center," he says.
While retailers target larger customers, Ellison notes that the core of Shoplet's customers are midmarket firms with between 100 and 2,500 employees. Shoplet originally started not in office supplies, but in IT supplies, which is why the company still has a large subsection of networking and hardware in its online catalog. Unlike many of its larger competitors, Shoplet does not carry its own private label of products, which the company says "limits customer choice" by narrowing down overall product lines. The company says it has the largest product line in the industry with more than 400,000 products.
Like most office suppliers, Shoplet also has a dedicated Green office products section, with descriptions noting the percent of recycled content in those products. Whether or not the Green office product hype is a fad or not is up for debate, nonetheless Ellison says the company is responding to high customer demand, as over a 12-year period it has had to increase its selection of Green office products many times over.