Online Retail in Detail Part 4 - Manufacturer Policy and Regulation

As the trend toward internet shopping grows and regulation could be looming, consumers are enjoying the convenience benefits while the burden on small business owners is only beginning. Learn about varying manufacturer policy and regulation.

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Over the past several years, consumers have researched their purchases online more and more. Along with the trend toward internet research before a purchase, the number of consumers who choose to ultimately buy their products online has also grown.

Outdoor power equipment parts have become a big online seller. A simple Google search for “buy lawnmower parts” draws over seven million results in less than half a second. A mix of manufacturer, dealer and aftermarket parts websites lead the results. Sites like offer replacement parts for outdoor power equipment and household items, along with DIY tutorials.

Varying manufacturer policy and regulation

What's really at issue with respect to online parts sales, at least in the minds of some dealers and manufacturers, are the territorial rights of servicing equipment dealers. A given dealer is granted a certain geographic location by a manufacturer (or distributor) in which to sell equipment and parts. The internet affords dealers the ability to vastly expand their market potential—especially when manufacturers and distributors ineffectively police online selling. And according to the dealer poll, roughly one in three dealers is selling parts outside of his designated market area.

There are several equipment manufacturers who allow their dealers to sell online as long as the dealers abide by the manufacturer’s “regulation”. Others will allow dealers to ship product outside of their territory, but not make it available online for purchase. There are also some manufacturers that don’t permit the sale of their products or parts outside of a territory under any circumstances.

Briggs & Stratton sells Snapper- and Simplicity-branded parts online directly to consumers, and encourages their dealers to do the same. For those dealers that don't already open their businesses up to those purchases, Briggs is offering them resources to learn how.

“We have great faith in our dealers’ abilities to sell our end products and our OEM parts in their local markets. Not all dealers, however, engage in online selling,” explains Troy Blewett, director of dealer channel marketing for Briggs & Stratton. “Additionally, for our dealers who are selling parts online (or who would like to start), Briggs & Stratton offers a variety of online tools they can use to increase their local search capabilities and drive more consumers to their own websites. In fact, our branded websites link directly to those of our dealers.”

Another manufacturer, Stihl, says no way. They want to make sure customers who are using their products are purchasing parts from dealers who can provide them with the right service and the right knowledge to ensure that their product experiences are positive.

“We believe it is critical to customer safety and satisfaction for (consumers) to receive the advice, information on product operation and safety, and service after the sale that can only be delivered by the knowledgeable and trained technicians at our servicing dealers,” explains Steve Meriam, Stihl's director of sales.

Stihl, like Briggs & Stratton, does see the value and opportunity of the online marketplace. Stihl offers tools and resources for dealers to connect with customers online. The Stihl Express online reservation system allows customers to research Stihl products online and reserve products with their dealers for in-store purchase.

Husqvarna offers a similar pre-order, in-store pickup option, but also permits dealers to sell certain products online under their guidelines. “We encourage dealers to sell parts and equipment online,” says Jeff Dewosky, vice president of dealer sales for Husqvarna. “We have an internet policy that guides our dealers on how and what they can sell online. Husqvarna’s internet policy lists what products are allowed to be sold outside (of a dealer's) territory.”

Click here to read Online Retail in Detail Part 5 - The Marketplace Fairness Act