Small businesses looking to save money on a variety of office equipment and supplies can now turn to the Internet for bottom-line, bargain-basement deals. Whether you're looking for computers, phone systems, copiers, payroll services, credit card processing, office furniture or just about anything else, eProcurement services can potentially save time and money.
Sites such as BuyerZone, e-z-quote net and goWholesale are the technological equivalent of match-making services they let small businesses send product descriptions and requests to vendors, wait for price quotes and then compare them to find the best deal. Even better, small business get to shop without flipping through Yellow Pages, skimming product catalogs, picking up the phone or traveling to stores. Here's a breakdown of the different services each site offers.
In the Zone
At no charge to buyers, BuyerZone brings buyers and suppliers together by selecting appropriate suppliers from a network of some 2,000 local and national companies. Manufacturers and service providers that currently sell through its system include Intuit, Toyota, Gateway, Mitsubishi, NEC, Toshiba, Konica Minolta, Pitney Bowes, Xerox and others.
Buyers create a "request for quotes" (RFQ) that describes the product they are looking for and includes purchasing specifications and buyer contact information. The buyer's RFQ becomes a supplier's lead when it arrives in the supplier's in-box, typically within hours of the submission.
BuyerZone helps buyers find what they're looking for by providing free buying guides and advice on close to 100 different products and services, including postal meters, financial, insurance and marketing services, telecom, IT, industrial equipment and more.
On the supply side, vendors can customize the program by choosing the products or services that they wish to offer and designating which geographic regions to target and the maximum number of leads which are based on category they want to receive in a month.
BuyerZone.com makes its money by charging suppliers a fee typically between $5 and $15 for every lead they receive. The company says that by spending more, suppliers obtain more opportunities on which to bid.
E-z-quote.net is a free service that lets small businesses create supplier groups and submit RFQs to multiple pre-qualified suppliers. The service notifies the pre-qualified suppliers who then sign into e-z-quote and submit their prices.
The service lets you add notes or messages to quotes in order to list unit prices, provide guarantee or warranty information, define delivery costs and more. Buyers can also choose to remain anonymous or reveal their identities, hide suppliers' quotes from other suppliers and attach word documents and images to RFQs in order to better define requirements.
Each RFQ comes with a private message board that displays messages to the buyer and all participating suppliers, although it withholds identities. The message board lets participating suppliers ask for additional information. The system is designed so users may accept quotes at any time and access and review past RFQs.
Suppliers can change quotes at any time as many times as they like prior to the expiration of the RFQ. A buyer may choose to let suppliers see each other's quotes, in which case suppliers can change quotes when they see that they've been under-bid, a process known as a reverse auction.
The service tabulates quotes so buyers can easily compare them. To accept a quote, a buyer simply clicks the appropriate "accept quote" button. The service notifies the winning supplier by e-mail and provides the buyer's contact details (if the RFQ was anonymous). Once an RFQ concludes, it's automatically stored the RFQ archive for future reference.
E-z-quote says that its service is completely free and the site does lack any apparent means to make money, with no banner or pop-up advertising. The company says that while it currently doesn't charge anything, it may be forced to do so in the future to generate revenue.
Go Wholesale, Not Retail
GoWholesale is designed to be a one-stop location that lets buyers purchase bulk wholesale, surplus and closeout merchandise. The service generates search results from multiple, targeted sources that include pay-per-click advertisers, wholesale online auctions, organic Web results and free classified advertisements.
Through its service, advertisers have access to some 220,000 qualified buyers. And because goWholesale targets its audiences, advertisers may obtain stronger competitive positioning than what they would get through major search engines. The service offers online access to account management, as well as online reporting and analysis tools to track and evaluate campaigns. There's also a keyword suggestion tool and free classified advertising.
The company recently launched a community forum that lets members share ideas. Manufacturers, wholesalers, exporters/importers, traditional or online retailers can register and chat in forums that cover topics such as general wholesale, marketing and advertising, self-promotion, Web sites and technology. Forum members can subscribe to any forum and opt to receive private messages via instant messaging services or private e-mail.
Advertisers on goWholesale bid on keywords and compete for top placement in search results. By placing a higher bid, a supplier can, in theory, gain better placement, which should translate into additional sales. The service typically charges between $.10 and $.40 per click and claims that many advertisers gain top placement by paying less than $.40 per click.
If you're still shopping for goods the old fashioned way, this may be an opportune time to test the Internet eProcurement waters with BuyerZone, e-z-quote.net or goWholesale. At worst, you may just save a few bucks.
Over the last ten years, Wayne Kawamoto has written over 800 articles, columns and reviews about computers, new technologies, the Internet and small businesses. Wayne has also published three books about upgrading PCs, building office networks and effectively using and troubleshooting notebook computers. You can contact him through his Web site at www.waynewrite.com.
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