June 6, 2017

There are always good reasons to advertise low prices. Low prices can draw customers into your store, and promoting branded products will enhance your store’s image as a competitively priced business. The thing to keep in mind is that it’s not always about the price. If you only inventory cheap products, you’ll be missing a good segment of consumers who want superior quality and are willing to pay more for proven reliability. You’re also setting your business up for bad customer reviews if you recommend products that may not hold up to regular use.

In my opinion, it is ethically acceptable to advertise inexpensive products while suggesting higher priced alternatives once the customer is in the store, especially if you have a good reason to make those comparisons. The difference between an independent pet retailer over big box and internet sellers should be expertise. If when discussing your customer’s purchase you point out the advantages of another product with added features or proven safety ratings in such a way as to not invoke a “used car” sales persona, I believe you will find the customer will appreciate your input and may very well upgrade to a better product.

For example, say a customer walks into your store and picks up a $9.99, 100-watt aquarium heater. You naturally ask them about their setup and why they are buying a heater at this time. Nine times out of 10, if it is an established system, they’re in the process of replacing a heater that no longer works. If I had a heater that quit working, shocked me or fried the inhabitants of my aquarium, I would likely accept a pet professional’s recommendation about a heater that cost even twice as much but gave me peace of mind that I had the safest product for my system.

The same holds true for first-time aquarium buyers. They are generally not confident about what they need. If they want a boxed kit, that is one thing; but if you have a range of house kits (especially if you set up live examples) and you take the time to compare your kits to the boxed unit, you’re likely to increase the sale amount while at the same time impressing your customer.

In general, to better compete with low internet prices on branded products, retailers should do their research to find out which manufacturers support brick and mortar stores with minimum advertised pricing (MAP) programs. I’m constantly hearing about more manufacturers implementing MAP protection. For established brands, the best approach is to do a Google search and note the high and low price range. Document the pricing and contact your suppliers asking them for a price that allows you to be in the mid-range. You can also contact the manufacturer to see if they have any added value deals or customer loyalty programs that will help you compete.

Always keep in mind and never forget that, generally speaking, cheap is cheap for a reason. Take the time to be sure what you’re selling will reflect well on your business. If you sell a canister filter with a defective O-ring seal and your customer wakes in the morning with an empty 55-gallon tank, dead fish and a swamped wall to wall carpet, where was the saving? What does that do for your business? A well-priced product might simply be that a manufacturer is trying to establish its brand and is willing to operate on a lower margin for a time, but there is the real possibility that the product was constructed without features or safety enhancements so it can meet a particular price point.

Your big advantage over big box and internet sellers is your reputation for variety and product expertise. The best policy is to personally test what you sell, especially when it comes to anything electrical or a brand with which you’re not familiar.

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