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Shoulberg PUBLISHER/EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Right On…line

August 12, 2013

OK, let's do a head count first. All vendors who are not - repeat, not - selling to consumers directly, either under their own name or some third-party phony-baloney name, please take two steps into that closet over there on the left.

All the other vendors who are selling direct can report to the grand ballroom over there.

The battle for direct distribution, don't look now, is over.

Way back when in the dark ages, when the Internet first became a commercial vehicle to sell stuff - remember when everyone called it the Informational Superhighway? - there was a lot of debate and chest-beating about who would control this channel of distribution.
The candidates were this new upstart class of e-tailers - some oddly named company called Amazon but also seeming invincible operations like eToys and Pets.com - and trailing far behind, the brick-and-mortar retailers who had controlled retail sales since the days of the General Store.

Vendors? No way, Jack.

Fast forward a couple of retail lifetimes and an altered state of reality has evolved. Yes, Amazon, along with eBay, flash sites and some specialized players have endured and become real players. But it's the in-store retailers who have come to dominate the online space, much to the consternation of all of those so-called experts who predicted otherwise.

And what do you know, suppliers and vendors are right smack in the middle of this thing, too. In the home space there probably isn't a single major player - Hunter Douglas window coverings might be the best-known exception - that isn't selling direct, either under their own name or some cockamamie disguise.

Their retail customers moaned and groaned and threatened to pull their business, but the tide was too strong and the rewards too big for vendors to capitulate. If retailers really wanted to boycott direct-selling suppliers, they would have pretty empty shelves these days.

This is not some morality play, either. How many stores are trying to go direct to manufacturing sources and cut out their vendors? This is just the way business is being done today.

So any vendor that is still wrestling with their business conscience and wondering how transparent they want to be needs to come out of the supply closet and put legitimate effort into building this side of their operation. This is just the way business is being done today.
Which means going with your best products, not supplemental also-rans. It means going with your best prices and brands, not being worried about your so-called retail partners. It means getting serious about online, not doing it because ... well, you think you have to.
The battle for direct distribution is over. And the consumer has won.