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The 1-800 Days Are Back

February 18, 2013

No, you didn't misread that title; it's true, the 1-800 days are back. However, I'm not talking about the old 1-800 days; the way this modern 1-800 system works is an even bigger challenge for the brick-and-mortar retailer.

Why? Because the Internet provides your customers access to information and endless options to choose from at the click of a button, at which point they pick up the phone to call this online purveyor, who will place the order and ship into your territory.

These devious businesses are no longer the few under-cutting, insidious companies that advertised slashed prices for any well-known brand they could get their hands on. Today, retailers are up against a never-ending list of eTailer websites that advertise more than just the brands they're approved to sell - they scrape content to show off the rest, for anything that will draw the customer to their claws.

This modern 1-800 scheme is harming manufacturer and retailer, alike. As I've mentioned in other posts, content is king in this online marketplace, and its value is lost when these eTailers are allowed to continue in shady practices. It's time to start cracking down (like the grassroots industry trade group, the Home Décor Industry Accord is doing) on eTailer behaviors that are unsanctioned, unethical, and most certainly damaging to our already struggling industry. I‘m not saying that all content on these eTailer sites is unsanctioned; some vendors actually support this destructive behavior because they're looking at the short term benefit of cash in their pockets right now ... I'm just saying.

So how do we fight the dragon and maintain the integrity of the institution? Admittedly, these eTailers are ahead of the majority of home décor manufacturers, who haven't moved their products to online platforms where they can be legitimately sold on the Internet. But there are steps you can take to fight back and stop the new onset of 1-800 number-lookalikes.

1. Take Stock: If you're a manufacturer, find the platforms where your products are sold online. It's as simple as typing your brand or product name into a search engine. Make a note of the websites you've sanctioned, and the ones you haven't. If you're a retailer, take initiative in this area by running these searches on the brands you stock in your store. You won't know which are sanctioned as sellers or not, but by sharing your findings with your brand partners, they can more easily stop the content-scraping sites out there. If you find that one of your manufacturers is actually sanctioning the actions of an eTailer who advertises slashed prices and is willing to ship out of their trading area, you may need to keep better company.

2. Make it Stop: This side of the equation lies heavily on the manufacturer, but retail partners can help. Take back control of your content (images, product names, descriptions, etc.) by sending a formal cease and desist letter to unsanctioned sites. What's key with this step is to follow through - you can't beat the new 1-800 scheme if you're all bark and no bite. Don't leave your retail partners hanging by ignoring their pleas when they notify you of possibly unauthorized websites.

Like I've said over and over, our industry needs to see fundamental change if we're to survive and succeed in this rapidly evolving marketplace. It's crunch time. By joining together to stop the malicious practices of the modern 1-800 reseller, manufacturers and retailers alike will see a stop to the harmful tactics these eTailers use, thus preserving their businesses and the integrity of our industry.