June 1, 1998
The new technology of online shopping is helping practices save time and money in more ways than anyone - even dental dealers and suppliers themselves - ever anticipated.

High time to order online

Jon Eric Handelsman

The new technology of online shopping is helping practices save time and money in more ways than anyone - even dental dealers and suppliers themselves - ever anticipated.

"We were able to turn our old supply room into a new staff lounge because of online ordering," says Dr. Marc Anderson of Flushing, Mich. "By shopping on the Net, we no longer need to stock much inventory because we`re assured of getting all our supplies on time. If an item we order is out of stock, the computer tells us immediately and lists alternatives on screen so we can choose the best replacement. Our goal is to get 100 percent of the merchandise we use into our operatories, so we don`t sink money into reserves."

Increasingly, dental professionals are turning to the Internetfor timely information on products and special prices. Previously, a doctor and staff had to search through all the promotional flyers that circulate through their offices and consult with their sales representative for the best deals every month. Now, this information is centrally located and easily accessible on some dealer Web sites. What`s more, since the better Web sites are tied directly to supply companies` computers, all prices are guaranteed to be current. Offices can find out about special offers before they`re "officially advertised."

Advantages of online shopping

But of all the advantages attributable to "e-shopping," doctors and their staffs are most enthusiastic about how well it fits into their busy schedules. "We wasted too much time playing phone tag in the past," says Jerry Karpinski, a dental assistant in Dr. Laurence Miller`s office in Lavonia, Mich. "I`d call to place an order and our rep would be busy. She`d call us back and we were busy or out of the office." When online, buyers order at their convenience. All the information a smart buyer needs is on screen.

Dental professionals can order 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year over the Internet. It`s no longer necessary to rush critical purchases into the supply house before it closes for the day. "I can order anytime of the day or night and I`m not tied to any particular computer. I even purchase from my PC at home because I have my own personal Internet access," says Susan Rock, office manager of the Dental Health Group in Salem, Ohio. "It often gets too hectic to order during the work day. My time is better spent with our patients."

Overcoming technophobia

As recently as a year ago, ordering online truly may have been a frightening and frustrating experience. That is not the case today. Some online dental stores have become so fast, powerful and easy to usethat few purchasers are complaining. Finding any product has become virtually a brainless exercise.

Drilling down searches by any key word, manufacturer or product category makes it simple. Some sites have special features, such as "intelli-agent," that list all past purchases for easy reorder. New products and sale items can be grouped together on designated screens.

While consumer concerns over the transmittal of sensitive information, such as credit-card numbers, is widely publicized, this is a nonissue for most dentists who purchase supplies on account. No potentially damaging information is carried over the Internet.

Not only has e-shopping proved secure to dental professionals, it`s also proved to be exceptionally accurate. "We have virtually no mistakes with our orders now," Karpinski notes. "All the details we need to place an order correctly are on screen and printable order confirmations tell us what items are on the way." If necessary, purchasers even can track the whereabouts of packages online.

The future looks `byte`

USA Today estimates Ineternet usage is doubling every 100 days, and science- and technology-minded dentists certainly are more representative of the trend than the general population. The Internet has quickly passed through its infancy to become a primary source for the acquisition of dental sundries. Increasingly user-friendly and feature-rich online stores should hook the majority of offices into the Web within the next few years. More pictures and charts are appearing on vendor Web sites daily and multimedia enhancements, such as more sound and animation, lie just around the corner.

Some online dental stores are investigating the addition of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to their systems. This would allow customers to print buying reports by parameters they define. For example, invoices and statements would link automatically so that customers would know exactly what they are accountable for every month should questions arise at bill-paying time. Some of this information, already available online, makes it easy for practices to forecast expenditures on supplies over time.

Many dental professionals have come to see that the Internet has become so refined and accessible that they can no longer afford to ignore it. Dental dealers can help their customers to make a smooth transition as the information age continues its rapid growth.

"Our duty is not just to sell gloves and gutta percha points, but to keep our customers abreast of big changes like this that affect their business," says Tedd Handelsman, vice president of sales and marketing at Meer Dental Supply. "Initially, we may push our customers online a bit. But they will thank us afterwards. Now, we`re even designing Web sites for these same dental practices. And yet, somehow, we all feel as if we`re only on the brink of even more exciting changes to come."

How Internet shopping raises your net profits

Saves Time

No Phone Tag - All information needed to buy smart is online. There`s no need to speak with an account rep to order.

Order From Most Any Computer - Any computer with Internet access is a portal to a virtual dental store. You can even order from home.

Open 24 Hours x 7 Days a Week x 365 Days a Year - Virtual dental stores always are open. There`s no need to rush an order into a supply house before it closes.

Fast Service - The wait for critical ordering information to appear on screen is over. Powerful new technologies make sailing through virtual stores a breeze.

Simple Searching - Find the products you`re looking for in no time searching by key word, product type, manufacturer, new and sale items, code number and more.

Fewer Order Mistakes - Detailed information on screen virtually guarantees you`ll get exactly what you`re after. Print order confirmations to tell you what products are on the way.

Online Billing Status - Every invoice is accessible online, so you will know exactly what you were charged when bill-paying time comes around.

Saves Money

Free Gifts and Rebates - Many dental supply house offer free gifts or small discounts on orders to encourage online shopping.

Up-to-Date Prices - Prices online are updated daily. Find out about specials before they`re advertised.

Product Specials - All product specials can be found in one, central location on the Web. Information on new products also is easily accessible.

More Product Choices - Online databases have more product choices than catalogs, since promotional space is virtually unlimited. Shop smarter.

Quantity Price Breaks - How much you save by buying in bulk is clearly displayed online.

Reduces Handling Charges - By combining orders in an electronic shopping basket, overtime shipping and handling charges are reduced.

Just-in-Time Inventories - Sink less money into stock because online ordering assures you`ll have what you want, when you want it. Backorders are easily avoidable.

Tracking and Forecasting Expenses - Online invoices and statements let you know how much you`ve spent day by day. It`s also easier to forecast expenses over time.

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