Buying stock, services and equipment online

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Sourcing and purchasing assets online for your business can help you to:

  • streamline the running of your business
  • save time
  • reduce business costs
  • increase stock and service choices
  • allow access to innovations or improvements.

You should stay informed about the different options and risks for buying your stock online to make the best choices for your business.

By researching online, you can source assets and materials that may be difficult to find through your existing local, interstate and overseas suppliers.

Finding suppliers online can be convenient and efficient. You can search for suppliers and review their products online at any time. There is no need to wait for their opening hours or book an appointment—this also makes it easier to work with suppliers who are not local or in the same time zone.

How to purchase your business stock online

If you are unfamiliar with buying products online, you can start by discussing your options with your current suppliers, colleagues and business and industry associations.

Each supplier will have their own process for purchasing products from them that they should guide you through.

Before you begin buying online, it's a good idea to set up your own purchase process. A simple checklist can be helpful to make sure you and your staff manage online purchases in the same way.

Online, you can:

  • search for information about products
  • find suppliers
  • research suppliers
  • view product catalogues
  • compare product specifications and prices
  • read reviews of suppliers and products from other customers
  • contact suppliers
  • place orders
  • pay for products
  • track production and delivery.

To find suppliers for your business, you can search:

  • online business directories
  • wholesale directories (e.g. Etsy Wholesale and Wholesale Central)
  • for local or Australia-based suppliers by adding your city name or country name in the search (e.g. 'fabric wholesalers Australia')
  • online marketplaces (e.g. eBay and Gumtree)
  • retail directories and websites.

Action item—Do a web search for online wholesale suppliers to find more of these types of websites.

In most cases, businesses will purchase their stock wholesale to offer competitive rates to their customers, but there are some instances where retail is a more suitable option.

Many online retail businesses may also have wholesale options.

Once you have found a supplier that could meet your needs, you should do further research about them to ensure they are suitable for your business.

Sources for buying online

You will need to decide the channel or platform you will use to purchase your stock. Options include purchasing directly from the wholesaler, through online retail marketplaces and drop shipping.

You can make direct purchases from a series of wholesalers to stock your business.

Advantages

  • Customisable products for your branding or specific requirements
  • Potential for broader product range and different brands
  • Access to niche products
  • More support is available from the supplier
  • More control over product quality
  • Negotiations for production and shipping timeframes

Risks

  • Higher startup costs as you need to buy the inventory before you sell it
  • Inventory purchased may become obsolete
  • More time to negotiate contracts and set up accounts
  • Minimum order quantities may apply, so you need to spend more upfront and have storage space available
  • Extra costs as you hold the stock (e.g. delivery and storage costs)
  • Need to be informed about, and in some cases, purchase higher volumes to effectively negotiate prices etc.

Online marketplaces allow you to purchase from many different suppliers through 1 website. There are also online marketplaces for specialist or niche industries.

Advantages

  • Low or no minimum order quantities so you can buy as little or much stock as you want
  • A fast way to source products as there is no need to negotiate individual contracts
  • Established marketplace processes makes ordering more straightforward and more efficient
  • A wider variety of products
  • More control over product quality

Risks

  • Higher prices result in lower profit margins
  • Stock availability can be limited, particularly if you need large volumes
  • Less control over production and shipping timeframes
  • Stock levels need to be monitored to ensure you have sufficient stock on hand
  • Extra costs for delivery and storing charges as you hold the stock

If you use drop shipping, your supplier fulfils the order from your customer and sends the product directly to your customer.

Advantages

  • Less initial cash is needed as you don't need to purchase inventory before making sales
  • Don't need to build up and store inventory
  • No risk of inventory becoming obsolete
  • No inventory storage costs
  • Fewer delivery costs as products will be sent directly to the customer
  • More efficient for you as the supplier packs and sends products

Risks

  • More competition as you are using the same products as other sellers
  • Unable to inspect each product before your customer receives it (quality assurance)
  • Higher prices result in a lower profit margin
  • Customer returns are more complicated
  • Possible monthly access fee
  • Cannot brand products before they reach the customer

Protection tips when purchasing your business stock online

You should know the risks that apply to purchasing your stock online so you can put steps in place for protection.

Know your supplier

Researching potential suppliers can prevent scams and loss of money or time and should be done whenever you are considering adding a new supplier as a part of your business strategy.

  • Check that you are dealing with a legitimate business. In Australia, you can confirm the supplier's Australian Business Number (ABN) or Australian Company Number (ACN) online. If you are unsure, contact the supplier before making any purchases and ask for their ABN or ACN.
  • Research your supplier before making a purchase by:
    • reviewing their website—is it professional?
    • checking their contact details—does it have their phone number, street address and email address?
    • phoning and speaking with them directly
    • reading their online customer reviews.
  • Ask the supplier about:
    • timeframes—how long does production and delivery take?
    • branding—will you be able to customise the product for your needs?
    • support—how can you communicate with the supplier to ask any questions?
    • protections—what guarantees and protections do you offer if my stock is lost, damaged or does not meet my requirements?
    • changes—how will you be updated on variations to the product range, inventory levels and pricing?
    • organisational values—what programs is your business a part of that I can use to ensure that its practices align with my business values?
    • stock levels—what stock levels does the business maintain and how often are these replenished? Will necessary volumes of stock be ordered within the required timeframes?
  • Consider ordering product samples first to check the products meet your expectations.

Check the details

When deciding on using a supplier, it is vital to understand the terms and conditions that apply to your purchase.

  • Read the supplier's terms and conditions and check for:
    • costs
    • conditions or restrictions
    • available warranties and remedies, including repairs, replacements, refunds, returns and compensation
    • process for terminating or cancelling orders.
  • Check the supplier has an acceptable privacy policy and appropriate data protections in place.
  • Confirm the details and descriptions of all products.
  • Confirm you will be allowed to sell the product—some products cannot be re-sold.

Confirm the total price

When buying from suppliers, it's important to confirm the total price and all related costs to make informed decisions and plan your purchases effectively.

You can confirm the total price by:

  • requesting the total price in writing
  • checking the price is in Australian dollars
  • checking if there will be any other costs—for example
    • production costs
    • costs to customise products
    • costs to guarantee timeframes
    • costs for faster turnarounds
    • delivery or shipping fees
    • warranties
    • currency exchange fees
    • insurance
    • import charges
  • checking pricing applies to different volumes—for example
    • do discounts apply if you order larger quantities?
    • if you order smaller quantities, do different prices apply?
    • do minimum order quantities apply (i.e. do you need to purchase a certain amount of product)?

Understand the delivery process

When buying your stock online you need to understand the delivery process and all related details so that you know how you will be getting your items.

Take the following actions.

  • Confirm if delivery is part of the supplier's service or if you need to organise delivery.
  • If you do need to schedule delivery, check what options are available. For example:
    • can you collect at the seller's store?
    • how much notice is required to arrange delivery?
    • will you arrange someone else to collect (e.g. Australia Post or courier services)?
    • what authority do you need to give for someone else to collect for you?
  • If the supplier organises delivery:
    • confirm the total delivery price, including shipping fees, insurance, and taxes
    • check the supplier will deliver to your location.
  • Check the delivery timeframe, including time to clear customs.
  • Ask for tracking numbers so you can track the delivery online.

Payments

Consider the following information when making payments for stock ordered online.

  • Research what payment options are available.
  • Look at the web address to check that the site is secure before purchasing—secure sites start with 'https'.
  • Before making payments online, ensure your computer has the latest security and anti-virus software.
  • Never provide your bank account PIN or password.
  • Consider using a credit card allocated to just online purchases to track and prevent fraudulent purchases.
  • Assess what protections may be available to you when using credit cards or bank transfers to make payments.
  • Assess fraud and damaged goods protections offered.
  • Assess the purchase terms of the purchase platform you are using to determine the protections that may be available in the event of non-delivery, fraud, damaged or poor quality goods.

Read more about cybersecurity for your business.

Ordering from overseas suppliers

Take care when buying products from overseas. Australian trade laws cannot protect you when purchasing from overseas suppliers. You should do your research to confirm that you are dealing with a reputable business.

When buying stock from overseas suppliers, consider:

  • checking that the products meet Australian safety regulations or standards
  • checking the product specifications to ensure they are suitable for your customers (e.g. confirming that electrical appliances can use the local power supply)
  • investigating the costs of buying products from overseas suppliers such as GST and port charges
  • knowing that specifications may be different (e.g. size charts may not be the same for clothing or shoes)
  • researching when international purchases are subject to customs—you can read more about importing requirements with the Australian Border Force
  • checking that the seller has permission to sell the product in Australia and parallel imports
  • check if any import restrictions apply—for example, prohibited goods may not be permitted or require you to obtain permission first.

If you deal with large volumes of goods or multiple suppliers, you might consider investing in supply chain software to help you streamline your online purchasing.

Read more about protecting your business online.

Purchasing equipment, goods and services online

Along with purchasing stock online, you can conveniently purchase various goods and services for your business, like raw materials, office supplies or equipment.

Buying online gives you access to a broader range of products and services so you can find the best fit for your business needs. You can also save money by finding lower prices for similar products.

You can search and buy goods and services online using:

  • supplier websites or apps
  • online marketplaces (e.g. MyDeal, Catch.com.au)
  • social media (e.g. Facebook)
  • online auction sites (e.g. eBay)
  • service marketplaces (e.g. Upwork, Fiverr)
  • sharing economy websites (e.g. Uber, Airbnb)
  • digital downloads (e.g. software, images).

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