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Time for ordering supplies online

Jan. 1, 2001
"Should I be ordering my supplies online?
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"Should I be ordering my supplies online? What are the advantages and disadvantages of ordering online? Can I save time and money ordering online? What differentiates one online ordering site from another? Which site should I use for my office? Are supply reps heading down the same path as travel agents by losing market share to the Web? What is the future of Internet supply ordering?" After authoring a dozen articles on the Internet, I am often asked these questions by other dentists. This year's Internet column will attempt to bring clarity to these and other Web-based inquiries.

The dental profession is beginning to realize that the Internet is bringing incredible efficiencies to businesses of all types, and that we can benefit as well. Progressive dentists are e-mailing colleagues and patients, joining online discussion groups, filing claims electronically, creating office Web sites, and researching products and procedures on the Net. Business-to-business sites are rapidly becoming popular in dentistry. The dental product/supply industry is a $3-4 billion market. Dental supply companies are spending millions to persuade you to buy from them ... many from their Internet sites. It's a great time to become involved in the Internet and test-drive some of the online ordering sites. I will continue to visit virtually all of them and report to you what I find. I'll be a mystery shopper of sorts and will, through this series, keep you up-to-date on all the developments and specific pros and cons of the supply ordering sites.

It's definitely not too late to take advantage of the Internet and all it has to offer! As the old Chinese proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time to plant a tree is today." Today would be a great day for you to learn (or improve) Internet skills as well as potentially saving time and money ordering some supplies online.

Imagine a dental products Web site that is incredibly easy to use and not just a place to order supplies, but a wealth of information on new products, clinical tips, and resources. Your virtual sales rep greets you when you enter the site, reminds you what you have ordered in the past, suggests what might be needed now, and tells you of any specials or new products that would fit your individual profile. These might even be messages from real people who can be called or e-mailed for questions or feedback! A review of all competitors' prices would be at easy access and you might even be encouraged to listen to a multimedia demo of a new product or procedure. Supply reps might e-mail new product information to your office with links (words that "click" the reader to another Web page) to offer more detailed information to those who are interested. You might engage in an online discussion with others who have used the new products you plan on trying. Some will enjoy the auctions in searching for that really great deal. The possibilities are virtually endless.

Our wonderful profession remains as a cottage industry where our contact to other professionals is often only at dental meetings. We receive information from our friendly supply rep about what is happening in the "outside world." The Web was designed by Tim Berners-Lee to organize data and open communication be-tween those who might not otherwise converse. The Internet is truly changing dentistry, and every other industry, by improving communication. No longer will we wonder what other companies might charge for a certain supply or piece of equipment. No longer do we need to wait to visit with a colleague at a meeting, since we can e-mail back and forth. (Many are finding e-mail more convenient than the telephone for this type of discussion.) We have an opportunity to become very informed shoppers by taking advantage of what is already available online.

Efficiency and control have been touted at the top of the list of advantages for Internet ordering. With access 24 hours a day, seven days a week, dentists and their team members need not sacrifice chair-side time with patients to take care of ordering supplies. With so much product information available online, the dentist might make smarter and faster purchasing decisions. Online supply ordering will take some time to catch on, but it is here to stay and worth your investigation. The real power of the Internet is its ability to bring buyers and sellers together in an open, unbiased (transparent) marketplace, while providing buyers with information that empowers smarter buying decisions.

How safe is ordering online when using credit cards?

A common concern of some dentists relates to security of their credit-card information on the Inter-net. The good news is that security has become very reliable, if the proper technologies are used. If banks and large corporations can conduct business on the Internet, dental-supply companies can too!

When purchasing supplies online, your personal information is, of course, transmitted over the Internet. Sophisticated encryption is used to protect sensitive online transactions and customer information. This encryption makes your transactions over the Internet even more secure than purchasing by telephone! The security standard is supported by Microsoft Internet Explorer (3.0 and higher) and Netscape Navigator (2.0 and higher), so be sure you are using a current browser. Your sensitive information travels through the Internet in encrypted format that makes data violation virtually impossible. Your data is protected all the way from your browser to the site's secured servers.

You'll be seeing these sites more and more as they jockey for position as part of this multi-billion-dollar industry. Practices are different, dentists and their teams are diverse, and I believe no one site will be able to serve them all (I also know one should never say never). The Internet truly will change the way we purchase supplies, but one thing will never change: Individualized customer service, reliable deliveries, honest product information, speed, and ease of use will all be synonymous with the best companies. The supply industry is, and will remain, a relationship industry. As I've said before ... May those who truly seek to serve the dental community be victorious.