Every experienced buyer knows the importance of comparison shopping. Now consider this. What if someone else did all of the work and you still got the bargains, for free? A new slew of Web sites offer professional online procurement services to help business find the products and services it needs faster, easier, and sometimes at a reduced cost.
The sites can locate anything from computers to calculators, printers to plant stands, fax machines to snack machines, and file cabinets to first aid kits.
Procurement services automate the entire purchasing process, from collecting price quotes to approving budgets, through tracking shipments. USOPNET.com uses e-mail notifications to streamline the purchase and approval process. Mondus.com incorporates a bidding method for finding the best price from an array of vendors.
Most of the sites offer tools that enable companies to set up rules or profiles to automatically sort through the choices and find products that meet their requirements. This allows the person in charge of approving purchases to focus on more important tasks.
The sites' purchasing services are often free to the buyer because the sites are able to get their revenue from charging the sellers a fee. Works.com, however, which, sells products direct from manufacturers at a reduced cost, tags on a small $1.50 service fee to each order.
These sites can also be a big boon to small business vendors who want to sell their goods and services through them. It offers businesses a way to expand their customer base and gain an online presence at a very low cost. It's a win-win deal for buyers and sellers alike.
Mondus.com offers a sophisticated Web-based purchasing service tailored to small and medium-sized companies. Of all the sites mentioned here, mondus.com offers the widest solution of products and services including office equipment, real estate, financial and legal services, and IT services and equipment. Buyers place a Request for Proposal on the system by completing a simple form that includes product specifications, ideal delivery date, and preferred vendor location. Then mondus.com notifies the relevant vendors that then submit bids. The lowest bid is displayed to all vendors, allowing them to compete against each other. Buyers then follow the bidding process on line and make their selection.
mondus.com; 877-mondus1; www.mondus.com; free
Officesupplies.com helps businesses spend less time and money getting the supplies they need. The site features more than 18,000 products from more than 100 manufacturers. They provide free delivery and 24-hour service, as well as competitive pricing and a rewards program.
Users can quickly establish an account free of charge, which makes repeat ordering fast and efficient. Customers have access to their order history and can generate, save, and store their own shopping lists for easy purchasing. A convenient Auto-Reorder feature allows for quick ordering of frequently purchased items.
The site also offers open account billing (buying on credit) through a partnership with First USA, which provides customers with Visa Business Cards.
officesupplies.com; 800-321-0450; www.officesupplies.com; free
The works.com site also offers a wide selection of more than 20,000 products, including office, janitorial, and breakroom supplies.
Companies set up rules that define spending limits or they can create their own lists of items from which employees can choose, select and request purchases on line. The requests are automatically routed to the approver for review, and they can view all purchase requests on line.
Works.com also saves buyers money by offering wholesale-direct prices. Companies can monitor their spending through reporting tools.
Works.com; 888-WORKS-COM; www.works.com; free shipping for orders over $25; $1.50 each order
USOPNET.com features more than 25,000 office products, IT consumables, and furniture. The site provides a suite of useful tools for customizing the system and automating the entire purchase and approval process. Companies can create lists of products they frequently purchase, and individual employees can create their own lists from them. Those in charge of approving orders receive e-mail notifications for each order requiring their approval. Once approved, the user who placed the order also receives an e-mail with the order status.
All order activities are tracked on line, and the entire purchase history can be retrieved at the corporate, department, and user levels. A reporting module automatically distributes the customizable reports to designated recipients on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. The site offers free delivery with a confirmation of the delivery time.
US Office Products; 888-576-USOP; www.usopnet.com; free
HP's SanJet 5300C is a 1,200-dpi-resolution flatbed scanner with a compact desktop design. The scanner features four separate task buttons for one-step scan, copy, e-mail, and fax operation. Users simply push a button to start scanning to e-mail or the Web. HP's bundled PrecisionScan software provides automated OCR for converting hardcopy documents into editable text. Other utilities include Adobe PhotoDeluxe Business Edition image-editing software and Internet Design Shop Gold Web-site creation software. The 5300C includes both a parallel and USB interface, and is compatible with Windows 95/98, NT 4.0, and Windows 2000.
Hewlett-Packard; 800-SCANJET; www.hp.com; $299
OmniViewer, from DigiPortal Software, is a customizable Internet news and content collection program for the PC desktop. The software feeds selected Web content into ticker windows that sit on the desktop like wallpaper. Users pick specific sites or data of interest and DigiPortal feeds the matching headings across the ticker in real-time. The information is streamed onto the desktop without graphics or ads and is updated automatically. Clicking on a heading will take the user to the full Web site using OmniViewer's internal browser or an existing browser on the system.
DigiPortal Software; 914-923-8277; www.digiportal.com; $35
With the arrival of PC Postage from the U.S. Postal Service, we can now buy stamps electronically over the Internet. Dymo's LabelWriter EL60 and Turbo printers can print out the encrypted, bar-coded stamps, which are downloaded from the Internet from sites like Estamp.com and Stamps.com. The EL60 and Turbo printers can also produce labels and name-badges, and are Mac and PC compatible. The LabelWriter EL60 prints labels up to 2-1/4 inches wide. The LabelWriter Turbo prints the same size labels as the EL60, but more than twice as fast at just two seconds per label. They are compact and quiet, and come with easy to use software.
Dymo; 800-426-7827; www.dymo.com; EL60, $200; Turbo, $250
Sharps' Actius PC-A800 offers a nice mix of performance and style in a slender and light notebook. Measuring just over 1-inch thick and weighing only 4.7 pounds, it features a 13.3-inch LCD display and a swappable bay for a CD-ROM or floppy drive. The notebook also features a 366 MHz Pentium II processor, 64MB of memory, an 8.1GB hard drive, and an internal 56Kbps modem, all housed in a durable magnesium alloy case. The PC-A800's optional MiniDock port replicator ($149) makes it well suited for users that work in and out of the office.
Sharp Electronics; 800-BE-SHARP; www.sharp-usa.com; $2,999
Tales From the Encrypt
That budget you worked on all year was infected by a virus and wiped off your PC. Eeeek! If you need a way to backup important data, but still want access to the files at all times, @Backup is an online service for storing and protecting files remotely, with bank-level encryption security and reliable access over the Internet. Users can back up their data without buying additional storage devices, such as a tape or CD-R drive. It integrates with the MS Windows OS and Office applications so that selected documents created in those applications are automatically added to the system.
@Backup; 800-344-2000; www.backup.com; $99 per year for 100 MB; $50 for each additional 50MB
If digital voice communication is a part of your computing environment, you need a microphone to enhance your applications. The LVA-7280 ClearVoice Digital Microphone from Labtec is a multipurpose, headset-free computer microphone designed for speech computing. It supports all speech-enabled applications for the PC, including voice command and control, voice-over Internet communications, and PC videoconferencing. The ClearVoice Microphone has the accuracy of traditional headset microphones with the ability to detect and cancel background noise that can interfere with speech recognition.
Labtec; 360-896-2000; www.labtec.com; $130