Risk of Purchasing Scale Equipment Online

purchasing scale equipment online
By Keith Loria

In today’s fast-paced world, more people and companies are inclined to just hop on their computer or mobile phone, click on a button and order something—even if it’s a complicated item like a scale. The problem is, while scale equipment is readily available online, it’s not something buyers should jump into lightly without doing their due diligence.

Sure, customers can now see the products online, walk through the sales and installation videos, view tech support and see a dealer’s reputation through product quality feedback from other users or even manufacturer/supplier location via Google Earth through the web, but not everyone does that.

Steve Mizerak owns the Scale Warehouse and More, one of the largest varieties of scales and material handling equipment available online. Over the last 14 years, he’s earned a reputation as a scale guru, and has gone from selling scales on eBay to Amazon—becoming a trusted source. His site lists everything from floor scales, to bench scales, to crane scales, to counting scales and indicators.

Although he does all he can to help his customers, he does note that there are numerous challenges to selling online—both for his company and the buyer.

“The biggest is not knowing whether or not the person who is buying on the other end is really buying what they need. When you sell something online, the educational aspect gets lost,” he says. “Customers sometimes buy something just because it’s cheaper, not realizing that it might not have all the features that they need. People buy things all the time without talking to someone today, so they buy what they don’t need.”

Richard Sharpe, president of Intelligent Weighing Technology, Camarillo, Calif., imports and distributes scales through its large dealer network, yet finds that customers who purchase scales on the Internet through these dealers still call IWT with problems.

“It doesn’t matter if they don’t like the color, they think they may have bought the wrong scale, or don’t know how it operates, they call us, so we end up dealing with the end user,” he says. “The perils of buying on the Internet is that some people will do anything to make a sale and people don’t always get what’s really suitable. Or they don’t understand what they are buying.”

For example, someone buying a scale online might want the scale calibrated, but once its shipped from California to New York, that calibration is basically useless.

“When buying on the Internet, people need to be armed with the application that they truly want. Then, they need to consider the Pinto vs. Cadillac idea—both have four wheels and a steering wheel, but if you want it to last and drive 100,000 miles in it and you’ve bought the Pinto, you’ve bought the wrong car. The same holds true with a scale. There is a reason why some scales cost more money than others.”

In other words, if someone is selling a cheaper scale online, it’s a good bet the reason it’s so cheap is that it’s not very good.

“If the work you do on a scale is going to govern the process that you’re manufacturing and you make crap, it’s wasted money, then you need to consider a more expensive scale,” Sharpe said. “People have grown up with the idea that the Internet makes things cheaper, but it’s not. You get what you pay for. You might save a few dollars here or there but the advice you get from a scale dealer is like gold dust.”

Mike Boehler, owner of Eastern ConTech, a service company that specializes in the construction of permanent concrete foundations for truck scales and railroad scales, notes occasionally the company is contacted by a consumer of a truck scale, purchased online. His experience with consumers who purchase online has showed a lack of knowledge of the process and certainly a lack of contacts to perform the details.

“We will gladly work with these consumers, but our general consensus is that by the time they contact us for a foundation, they are quite uninformed as to the process that is required for a successful installation,” he says. “We may be able to construct their scale per the manufacturers specifications, however there is more to the process. After we are complete, the scale needs to be installed by qualified personnel including wiring, calibration and many times certification with the appropriate authority.”

He cites the following example: “We were contacted by several customers of ours that are distributors of a particular manufacturer to bid on a scale project. All three distributors were unsuccessful in bidding the project, as the customer purchased the truck scale on eBay at a significant discount. Because of our exposure in the industry, the consumer contacted us to build his scale foundation, however the rest of the required process was arduous due to the lack of distributors willing to work on the scale.”

The company assisted with freight from the manufacturer to the jobsite, and also acted as a liaison between the consumer and the distributor willing to do the work, detailing the work required of the distributor to complete the job.

Boon Lim, founder of LW Measurements, Rohnert Park, Calif., notes approximately 50 percent of his business is online scales, representing nearly $4 million in sales. However, the company doesn’t sell direct to end-users, it works exclusively through a small network of dedicated and highly supported dealer partnerships. The biggest problems he sees with buying online are fake NTEPs and suppliers and scale dealers not being able to support the products.

“There are many small suppliers/manufacturers that are not experienced in the weighing industry. They just import the scales and list them online, selling them like hardware or power tools, without understanding the weighing application and the technical aspects of the scale business (terms like accuracy, linearity, hysteresis, creep, return to zero, NTEP and etc.),” he says. “They therefore frequently sell or recommend the wrong products. Similarly, there are many new dealers that sell scales along with totally unrelated products like microwaves, socks, kites, and so on, and they compete only on price.”

Advice Matters

The new way of thinking for many is that they can simply click on a few things on their computer and get the scale they need, and don’t need to go through a reputable dealer to make it happen. That’s not the case, according to Sharpe, who estimates that 80 percent of those buying scales really need the help.

For example, Sharpe recently told a large manufacturing customer that a scale they wanted to buy wasn’t really the best one for the job they wanted, and directed them to a more appropriate model—even though it meant losing the sale. It’s advice and help like that you won’t get when buying on the Internet.

Plus a scale dealer can help calibrate it and get it ready for operation.

“The public has not gotten used to the idea that scales aren’t HP printers; they need some understanding and care,” he says. “I feel unfortunate that the industry is getting a bad name because people don’t understand that it’s not the scale that’s bad, but that they are just buying the wrong scale.”

Mizerak says that approximately 25 percent of scale buyers don’t really know what they want, and that creates problems.

“Consumers try to self-educate and thy think they know what they want, but the reality is that they don’t,” he says. “Consumers are driven by price when buying online and not looking at the differences or realizing there is a good, better and best.”

As an example, Mizerak recently had dealings with a gluten-free bakery that was having problems with their scales breaking, and once they had a conversation with him, they realized they weren’t getting what was needed for the shop.

Even though technology has improved and there are better photos and videos for buyers to look at on the Internet, most don’t take the time to do anything but look at price.

To make things easier when buying online, Boehler recommends consumers should request a list of distributors in their geographic area from the manufacturer, contact them and ask if they are willing to work on the project if the scale is purchased online and secure pricing for this service.

“The consumer should also locate a foundation contractor who has knowledge and experience with building truck scale foundations prior to purchasing his truck scale,” he says. “Many sites are inadequate or cost prohibitive for a truck scale, however the consumer has no way of knowing this without the experience or a professional site plan. Scale foundation contractors are specialized and can assist in the process of choosing a site that will provide the results that work in the consumers favor, including saving substantial site work construction costs due to improper positioning of the scale project.”

Avoid the Dangers

Shipping is an area that needs to be factored in when buying online. Boehler notes that those who buy online need to be wary of unreported freight costs.

“This seems to be a common selling tool from online sellers. Freight seems to always be deleted from the final cost so an additional cost to the consumer can add up to many thousands,” he says.

Of course, those who sell online need to be cognitive of the minimal advertised price policies set in place by the industry as well.

Another chief concern of buying a scale online is that you don’t really know who you’re buying from. And if you are a company in Florida buying from someone in California, will you be able to get support if there is a problem? Do they even know what they are selling? These are questions that need to be answered, Mizerak notes.

“The service aspect should not get lost just because you are purchasing something online,” he says. “You would think that it’s important to look at a seller’s rating and feedback, but I don’t think people really do that too much anymore. That creates problems.”

Final Thoughts

Buying a scale online can be very beneficial for the end user, if done properly. For one, they have all the information at their fingertips and if they compare the right way, and know exactly what they need, the biggest advantage is obviously that they can search for the best deal.

Lim believes what would be helpful for all online buyers is an assurance that they are buying genuine legal for trade scales, through reputable channels that can support them.

“I think NCWM, W&M, SMA, ISWM, and the Dept. of Agriculture can do a lot more to help,” he says. “For example, if a sales channel is selling non-legal for trade scale as NTEP, one of these organizations should be in a position to stop them like suspending their other NTEP or suspend the memberships. I think the weighing industry needs to self-govern and for someone to take the leadership position to work with the above.”

About the Author

Keith Loria is a seasoned writer who has written about everything from business to sports to logistics since achieving his Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Miami in 1993.

This article was published in Industrial Weigh & Measure magazine; July/August 2016; page 16. And is republished with permission from WAM Publishing Company, Inc., all rights reserved. Copyright 2016. Website: www.weighproducts.com

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