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How to Handle Online Competition
By C.J. Mittica, Robert Carey and Daniel Walsh
Research by Larry Basinait
Nov-Dec, 2010

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Online competition is poised to be a huge challenge to selling wearables next year. Specifically, threats will come from companies that are no more than a website. And they will represent the biggest challenge to those who are merely selling a commodity.

However, smart distributors know that the way to beat online companies at the sales game is to provide the buyer the services that a website can’t. Tom Havens knows that. "If you had a top 10 list of concerns facing my company, I’m not sure the Internet would be on that list," says Havens, the president of Catalyst Marketing (asi/159067) in Seattle.

The Internet can be many things: a communications medium, a sales tool, a research library, a means for playing games – but it requires something behind it, driving its usage. It doesn’t have to be an amorphous mass or entity that can compete with you.

Those online companies certainly will try to compete with distributors. If you’re simply selling items with no added services, then things won’t be easy in the modern economy, Havens says. "If all you’re doing is selling promotional products, then you’re in for a long road," he says. Those distributors have to worry about Internet-based competition because they simply push product and don’t concentrate on being a full-service provider.

Internet-based competition will have them beat because they have much less overhead. "If all a customer wants to do is get a mouse pad with a logo on it, he can go to a thousand different places online and buy it," Havens says.

Online vendors cut out the middleman, put their catalogs of materials online and allow end-users to buy direct. The way to compete with that is to offer more than just products without guarantees or fulfilling customer service. For Promotional Considerations, that’s simply getting things right. "I heard the horror stories," says Jeff Marks, general manager of Promotional Considerations (asi/300810) in Richmond, VA. "Like, ‘I ordered 500 black shirts with a navy imprint, and you can’t see it. I have an event in five days. Can you fix it?’ And I say, sure." That’s not as easy when a client is ordering from a faceless, online catalog.

When Havens started Catalyst 11 years ago, he wanted to form what was essentially a marketing company that crosses over into promotional products. It’s a one-stop shop for all sorts of marketing needs. "Most of our customers are understaffed and overworked, and they’re stretched really thin," he says. "What we bring in is in-house design, in-house creative and strategic consulting."

Naturally, the websites of Catalyst and Promotional Considerations are far more in-depth than the shells that some companies have for websites. Promotional Considerations has a series of videos by different speakers that serves as an introduction to its website. Catalyst has a wide variety of features on its website – too many to list.

The key is to remember that the Internet is a tool – one of many available for use by businesses, but certainly one of the most important selling tools in the modern marketplace.

C.J. Mittica is editor, Robert Carey is a contributing writer and Daniel Walsh is a staff writer for Wearables. 

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