Imagine walking into your local store, picking out a cart full of items, and going to the check out line just to tell the cashier what you will pay for each item. Feels like a dream, doesn’t it?
Anyone who has bought from Shoppers Rule knows that it is a reality. Through an innovative system they have in place, shoppers are allowed to pick the price they are willing to pay for a product. While not all prices can be accepted, any price that isn’t instantly accepted will receive a counter offer. Then it is up to you, the shopper, to decide whether you are willing to pay the price. The automated purchase by offer system makes them unlike any other shop that can be found on the web.
We’ve had the opportunity ask Jim Murphy, the president of Shoppers Rule Inc., a few questions about this innovative system, the quilting/sewing supplies they sell, and about his own inspirations.
Tell us a little about Shoppers Rule and your purchase by offer system.
Shoppers Rule opened in 1999 with the goal of being the place to shop for sewing, quilting and embroidery supplies. We developed a unique way to shop by allowing our customers to make offers for the products they wish to buy. When customer’s comes to our site they have usually shopped around and they already know the market value of the products they want to buy. Because of our volume we are able to get the best possible pricing from our suppliers. We also do direct sourcing and in recent years have started manufacturing our own products to meet our customer’s needs. This allows give great value to our customer. Customers are able to enter an “Offered Price” for each item they place in their basket. When they checkout, our software compares the offer on the basket of goods against the cost of the basket. If it meets our minimum, the offer is accepted and the order is completed. If the offer is too low, we let the customer know that we appreciated the offer but it is a bit low. A counter offer is calculated and the customer can either accept our offer or delete the order. It’s that simple! This system allows the customer to interact with us and gives them a measure of controlling their cost. It’s a win-win for everyone.
What inspired it?
It’s hard to believe but when we opened in 1999 the Internet was just starting to catch on and we had to find an innovative way to attract customers. We simply asked ourselves why would we want to buy on the Internet. The reasons that came to mind were, to get a better price, to find products that are not available locally, and convenience. We looked at the websites that were then online and found that most were going after the price motive and were heavily discounting. Others were modeled after brick and mortar stores without any compelling reason to buy from them and without any customer interaction.
We already had strong connections within the sewing industry so we knew we could offer a large array of sewing and crafting products and could compete with anyone on price. However, we wanted to offer more to our customers than the lowest price – we wanted to offer great values and even better service. One thought led to another and we decided that the best price shouldn’t be based on one item; we wanted to give the best value based on all the items the customer was purchasing. This led us to “You Pick The Item, Then Pick The Price”. The system offers value to the customer and they become part of the process.
We offer a wide variety of sewing, quilting and embroidery supplies. We also offer a huge selection of garments such as Tee Shirts, Sweat Shirts Golf shirts, Towels and other textile items to embroider. We are one of the largest suppliers of embroidery thread and embroidery backings in the country. We have also expanded and offer many gift and kitchenware items in our shopping mall section.
Which one seems to be the top seller among your customers?
That’s a hard question as it changes everyday. We cater to all types of sewers and each group buys different product lines. For example: Embroiderers buy embroidery thread and embroidery backings and buy all types of products to embroider and embellish. Seasonally, Tee Shirts and golf shirts are hot in the summer and Sweat Shirts sell in the colder months. We also offer the Shoppers Rule Thread Club to our embroidery customer’s. The Thread Club is very unique and very popular. Quilters buy quilting thread and templates. The Hot item for quilters is a Go-Cutter that dye-cuts pieces for quilts.
While you will accept any reasonable offer that someone might give for a product, what happens if his or her offer is below what you will accept?
We never intended that Shoppers Rule become an auction site or for that matter a barter site so we keep it simple. If the offer is too low, we inform the customer of how much we are able to save them through a counter offer. If the customer accepts the counter offer they get a great deal. If they don’t accept the counter offer, the order is cancelled from our system and is never seen again.
Be honest, does anyone ever go through and offer just $1 for something so they can see how low you will go?
Absolutely! Everyone’s definition as to what is reasonable is different so offers are all over the board. We expect that and don’t mind one bit. We feel that if a customer is a serious buyer our world-class service and value will win the day.
How has Shoppers Rule changed/grown since it first launched?
Oh — we have changed — oh my yes! Our “Make an Offer System has been refined throughout the years to make it easier for the customer to use and understand. When we first started, most of our systems were manual and labor intensive so they could not keep up with our volume. We automated the system and have refined the software to make it work seamlessly with our inventory, order entry, and shipping systems. Our Club Special Rewards program was introduced five years ago and membership in this program has grown every month since. Club Member’s are able to purchase selected items at prices far below our normally accepted price. Club Special Member’s also receive reward points for each purchase made and these reward points are redeemable for discounts on future purchases. We just recently shipped our five millionth product. We continue to expand our services as we launched our Shoppers Rule Blog just over a year ago. It now contains volumes of valuable information for our customers and it is our goal to make it the place to go for answers to all your sewing questions.
Do you have any goals that you hope to accomplish over the next year? What are your long-term goals?
We are continuously looking to make the buying experience more enjoyable for our customers. We are constantly on the lookout for new and innovative products and are currently in development of several products that fill needs in the marketplace. We have taken a steady-as-you-go approach to growth so that we can maintain our service level as that is truly the key to our success. Having said that, we do have some very aggressive plans for the future that should result in substantial growth.
Will you ever expand on your offer to buy system and start online shops that cater to needs outside of craft supplies?
Yes! In fact we have already done so. We opened up Shopperstools.com 18 months ago. Shoppers Tools offers an extensive line of shop and mechanic tools to the automotive trade. This site also uses the “You Pick The Item, Then Pick The Price!” system. We are also developing a new site, OurOneLove.com “ A Wedding Store”. Our One Love will offer all types of wedding supplies. This is a great area for us as we are able to use many of our current suppliers for much of the merchandise. We have also been in discussion about licensing the system to other merchants. We are studying the idea and have yet to make a final decision.
What are some of the lessons you have learned from your business?
We have learned that no matter how much you know there is always more to learn. You can never assume that all your customer’s needs are met and that you must always be changing or you will not succeed. We have had to reinvent ourselves ten times in ten years. With the “You Pick the Item, Then Pick The Price!” system you learn to expect that a few customers will be unreasonable. You also learn that in the end, most customers are fair-minded!