Amazon.com would never have made it if it worked this way: There’s no price attached to the book you want, but you put it in your cart anyway. Then, when you get to the checkout page, a message says you’ll be notified in 30 to 120 minutes if the book is in stock and how much it will cost.
Problem? Yes. But it was also the online shopping experience PartsSource’s customers had before CEO Ray Dalton
decided to update the Aurora company’s way of doing business on the Web.
“Our problem at PartsSource was we’d compared ourselves to people we were better than, but we hadn’t compared ourselves to people who we wanted to be like,” he says.
Dalton, whose company sources more than 600,000 replacement parts for hospitals and other health care facilities, is an online shopper. In addition to Amazon, he regularly visits eBay, Autozone and Orbitz — not just to browse, but also to learn. PartsSource’s site, ePartsFinder, launched in 2006, but for a long time it offered an online shopping experience that was far from optimal.
“Our company tagline is: ‘The answer is yes,’ ” Dalton says. “Honestly, for years, the answer was ‘maybe,’ because maybe we had it, maybe we didn’t, and maybe we can ship it to you. … We built the company to over $100 million by saying, ‘maybe.’ ”
The engineers and health care facility managers who purchased parts online were consumers at heart, and Dalton knew they had expectations.
“We have to get the consumer, the technician, to feel kind of euphoric, a little excited about using the site,” Dalton says.
Dalton’s big obstacle was fluctuating prices, because the company sources parts from more than 6,400 suppliers. To provide instant prices to its customers, PartsSource had to find a way to predict how much a part would cost and then boost the price enough to turn a profit but not turn off the buyer.
The company hired a statistician to analyze more than 1 million previous orders and design algorithms to find a consistent price prediction for each part. That price is locked in for the customer, regardless of what the vendor ends up charging.
Some parts lack an ample order history, so only about 40 percent of the company’s inventory is available for an instant quote, Dalton says. The database, however, is growing.
PartsSource went live with SmartPrice on Oct. 1, with a small launch of seven customers. The next week, the company opened the application to 823 hospitals and 7,000 users
In two weeks, parts ordered using SmartPrice quotes accounted for 18 percent of PartsSource’s sales. Dalton expects SmartPrice orders to top 50 percent of sales by June and 60 percent by the year’s end.
Before there was SmartPrice, PartsSource would convert only 60 percent of its online price requests to purchase orders. The other 40 percent of customers would either find their parts elsewhere while they waited for a quote or just forget about their request. Now, with SmartPrice, the company closes nearly 90 percent of its transactions.
“It is working like a rock star,” Dalton says. The application has more than 250,000 parts with photos and prices in the system. “It has been a dramatic improvement in our ability to say yes.”
Jeff Cline, a biomedical equipment technician for Synernet Clinical Engineering in Portland, Maine, maintains equipment at two facilities for Mercy Hospital in Portland.
Cline says the SmartPrice database has most of the parts he needs. He accesses the site five to 10 times a week. Occasionally he can’t find an instant price, but the email follow-up is usually quick, he says.
“Overall, SmartPrice has been a time-saver in our industry, due to the demands of getting parts quickly to avoid downtime on medical equipment and keeping the customer happy,” Cline says.
“Sometimes we do not have the time to pick up the phone to get a quote,” he adds. “It is easier to jump on a computer, place the order and move on to the