Competing with Big Online Promo Sellers


Over the past decade, shopping 100% online has become the new normal. It’s not a surprise that this has begun trickling over into the promotional products industry. Industry discussion boards are inundated with questions on how to deal with price-shopping clients who found a product they like for cheaper from some big-box online retailer. Frequently, members of these groups raise the call for someone to do something about this – after all, how are smaller, traditional distributorships supposed to compete with large companies that can store more inventory and offer lower prices?

The answer? They Don’t.

Many leading industry professionals agree: the best way to compete with these large online retailers is to not compete with them at all. Attempting to compete on price alone will lead to frustration because large online promotional products retailers and big-box stores operate on different business models, and even if you receive end-quantity pricing (EQP), they may still be able to beat that price. So, what is one to do?

Understand Your Client’s Business

Instead of positioning yourself as an “order taker”, a promo distributor who simply orders requested products for their clients, be a promotional marketing expert. To do this, you’ll need to understand your customers, who their audiences are, and what they hope to accomplish with their promotion. This alone will set you apart from the big online companies and is one of the biggest strengths of a traditional distributorship – the personal connection and ability to offer personalized service is something you just can’t typically get solely online.

Offer Marketing Expertise

The next thing you can do to stand out is to offer resources and advice that your clients can’t get online. If you’ve taken the time to really understand your client’s business, this won’t be difficult. Provide them with a marketing strategy that shows how they can incorporate promotional products into a larger, overarching plan to help them get the results they desire. Or, offer design services, tradeshow marketing tips, or special packaging options – anything that is going to give you a competitive edge, as well as save your client time and effort.

Emphasize Your Value

Being local to your clients is a huge selling point. You’re able to respond faster and can even make in-person visits to further grow the relationship with your customers. People like to do business with others that they know, and often local businesses will prefer to work with other local businesses. By building a personal connection with your clients and taking a genuine interest in their business or organization, you can become an extension of their marketing department and an indispensable part of their overall marketing plan. Lastly, due to your vast experience with the promotional products industry, you have the knowledge and familiarity to create promotional campaigns and give personalized recommendations that will enable your clients to get the results they want to achieve.

You can definitely compete with the large players and online retailers – you just need to provide a value that your clients can’t get online. Make yourself an expert on promotional marketing and use that to give your clients an experience that they can’t get from a retail chain or online discount seller. Worry less about being able to be the least expensive and focus on offering personal connections, excellent customer service, and unique, customized plans that incorporate promotional products. With these tips, you’re well on your way to no longer having to sweat the big guys.

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(Marketing Coordinator)

Caitlin is a Marketing Coordinator at SAGE. When she's not writing, she enjoys baking and spending time with her beagle puppy, Piper.

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