Can online ordering save money?

March 1, 2001
For me, shopping is a job, not an adventure! I want to locate, conquer, and then go home! The same applies to shopping online. If it takes too many clicks of the mouse to find what I want, I'm less than impressed.

Bill Kimball, DDS

For me, shopping is a job, not an adventure! I want to locate, conquer, and then go home! The same applies to shopping online. If it takes too many clicks of the mouse to find what I want, I'm less than impressed. My wife has begun, with the help of my 12-year-old son, to order groceries online. She uses an Internet site that will shop at her regular grocery store, deliver the food to our home, and charge the same prices as shopping in the store! The first order does take some extra time, but subsequent orders are quick and easy, since the site remembers what you ordered in the past. Could ordering dental supplies online be as elegant and beneficial? This article explores the question I am asked so often, "Can I save time and money by ordering supplies online?"

First, let's look at where your supply budget should be for an average dental practice. The mean annual gross billings for a general dental office in the United States was $410,910 (ADA Survey of the Dental Practice 1998 - the most current ADA survey available). This average practice spends $29,175 or 7.1 percent on supplies per year. As a consultant, I like to see our offices spend 5 percent on supplies. While this does not come close to salaries (the largest percentage of overhead) or even lab expenses, it does represent a large enough percentage for us to seek improvement. By lowering supply expenses by 2 percent, you would end the year with a savings of $8,200! Every dollar saved on supplies goes straight to the practice's bottom line. Over 20 years, this represents almost $164,000 of increased profit. Now that I have your attention ...

Many dental supply Internet sites exist to help you save money on your supplies and would love to have your business. For those of you ready to do some test-driving, here is a quick sampling of sites you might enjoy visiting:, Dental,,, Edental,,, Profit,, and (just to name a few). Even if you are not ready to place an order, I would encourage you to visit some of these sites. I have some favorites that I'll share with you in the next issue. But first we need to discuss what I hope you are asking yourself right now: "Will the money I save by ordering from these sites be offset by any extra time spent, or loss of control?"

The travel industry has lost such a large portion of its business to the Internet, not because we can save money (although this is important) but because we have added flexibility in reviewing more travel options on a whim. We can look up a vacation destination online, check flights, hotels, and cars, all in the comfort of our home or office. As legitimate as the dollars saved might be, saving money is not enough to drive dentists to the online marketplace. Two other factors play a key role in deciding whether or not to order your supplies online - control and time.


Most dentists prefer to be in control of the products they order. With good reason, we like to be in control of all aspects of our practices, including patient care and practice management. By ordering supplies online (or encouraging staff to order online) we can have better access to product information 24 hours a day, as well as better access to pricing information from multiple national and regional dealers as well as direct-sell manufacturers. It's a more convenient ordering process: log on anytime - day or night, fill a shopping cart and check out immediately, or save the cart for check-out at a later time. You also can review a detailed order history or compare monthly spending patterns.

The Web provides a forum for accurate, and consistent, details about products. Research and knowledge always helps in locating the correct and best product for the situation. Colleagues and experts can offer valuable information in discussion forums, critiques, and chat areas. These activities can save dental professionals hours of trying to reinvent the wheel themselves, or attempting to build the network of resources themselves.


Some of you already are spending way too much time scouring catalogs for the best prices on cotton pellets and articulating paper! I was in a busy office that had hired a full-time person to review countless catalogs to save on supplies. I'm sure in this case the doctor was losing money because of the salary that must be added to the supply budget.

Comparison-shopping via catalogs or telephone calls can be extremely time-consuming and impractical. But by using the Internet, a practice can view pricing from multiple major national dealers as well as smaller, regional dealers across the country. At some sites like, an office can fill one shopping cart in one shopping session with products from any of more than 65 different supply sources, and get free shipping and frequent flyer miles on every purchase.

According to Astrid Van Dorst, senior analyst with the Gartner Group, a leading business research firm, 75 percent of online buyers say convenience is the main reason for shopping online. Less than half of them are motivated by getting a great price. The real power of the Internet is its ability to bring buyers and sellers together in an open, unbiased marketplace, while providing the buyers with information that empowers smarter buying decisions. uses the Web to improve communication between rep and client, rather than replace the sales rep. "Our site is not just a place to go order supplies," says David Spresser, senior vice president of SmartPractice, "but an extension of our sales reps." surveyed many dental professionals on their attitudes toward online supply ordering. Interestingly, a common theme heard from those who've never ordered supplies online is the fear that it would be too time-consuming. Conversely, those who have ordered online typically cite time savings as the major benefit. While the first online ordering experience may take a bit longer than a typical phone call (because shipping address, payment information, etc. must be entered), subsequent online orders take just a few brief minutes. At net32, the practice can order from a customized shopping list, simply checking off the supplies needed (and adjusting quantities to be delivered) for that week. Orders can be placed outside of normal business/production hours.

Last year, did extensive research with dentists, dental assistants, and hygienists, and learned that only about 25 percent of offices are connected to the Internet, although 90 percent of dentists are online at home. Only about 15 percent of those "connected" offices have ever ordered dental supplies online. Online supply ordering might take some time to catch on, but it is here to stay and worth your investigation.

Your feedback is important to us, so please send your comments, evaluations, criticisms, and testimonials to drkimball@kimballconsulting. com so we can share your experiences with our readers, as well as my "mystery shopper" experiences!