FRUSTRATION levels are high in the reseller community over the poor and varying quality of distributor-delivered product information.
“We’re in the computer industry for God’s sake; you’d think we would be able to get it right. The amount of time I have to spend fixing pricing lists or writing a different spreadsheet for each wholesaler is ridiculous — I’d actually rather be out there selling the product,” says Aaron Singline, director of Arrow Computers.
Singline says converting the huge variety of CSV (comma-separated value file format) takes up a huge part of his time especially as most distributors categorise their products in different ways.
He says he speaks on behalf of numerous other resellers and firmly believes an industry-standard CSV would overcome the problem.
“At the moment resellers are missing out. I know of some guys who don’t even bother with a website now because it’s too complicated. There has to be a better flow of information and more support for us.”
Singline says he has been asking some distributors to put out a CSV for over two years but with no luck.
“These are companies with fantastic-looking websites but they won’t even give me a picture to use on my own. I’ve been in the industry for a long time and remember the days when we used to do the prices manually and it seems we haven’t come much further.”
Annal Chandra, PC Tronics sales manager, says of the distributors he deals with, 24 update via CSV and 16 via manual updates.
“CSVs save us so much time — about 88% of our website is updated automatically by CSV but the rest has to be done manually. We hassle the distributors who don’t supply CSV to try and get them to convert,” he says.
“With such a massive part of our site being updated by CSV it gives us more time to spend on selling. It also allows us to think big and have tonnes more items on our site with no need to invest insane man-hours trying to keep it up to date.”
Meanwhile Simon Scott, director of online reseller Acquire.co.nz, argues that if all price lists were the same his company would lose its competitive advantage.
“It seems like sour grapes from a little guy who isn’t prepared to invest in the infrastructure. Acquire is a small guy too but we’ve managed. As for a standardised format — why should distributors work together when they’re out to kill each other?”
Scott says managing an e-commerce infrastructure costs a phenomenal amount of money and points out his company takes price lists from over 100 suppliers.
“Acquire only has six staff and of that two work full-time on managing price lists. It’s about prioritising what’s important to the business; we don’t have a shop, office, company cars or sales reps,” he says.
On the other hand, many local distributors believe they are doing all they can to help resellers with marketing material and CSVs.
Paul Dixon, Westan director, says he is unaware of any complaints with regards to price lists or lack of information.
“We supply either a CSV file or PDF price list which is kept up to date and as accurate as possible in all aspects. We also have a great library of PDFs on product specs and pictures,” he says.
Dixon says most dealers prefer to use the eight-column CSV file — including item code, description, category, brand, quantity and three columns of pricing — to upload to their web system.
Rhys Warren, Vantex general manager, says his company has had to take steps to simplify things for resellers.
“I believe we have this well covered. Because our market is reasonably niche we’ve had to take this approach and by doing so have in fact been able to grow that niche into the fringes of mainstream IT distribution,” he says.
Dave Rosenberg, Datastor sales manager, says his company provides information in whatever format resellers want, though he does admit CSV isn’t as easy as people make out.
“At the end of the day you always have to work on keeping it compatible. But if a company hasn’t invested in that it can’t expected to deal with resellers,” he says.
Renaissance Brands was one of the first distributors to invest heavily in its website and provide access to resellers.
General manager Mark Dascent says resellers can access the site any time of the day and get anything they like as a CSV file.
“Some time ago Renaissance recognised this was the way of the future and now some of the other distributors have caught up. Even now I recognise the challenges resellers face and we are always trying to think of better ways to help them,” he says.
He adds that e-commerce company and Renaissance subsidiary Conduit would be more than happy to talk with resellers and other distributors.