Behind the Eight Ball —delivering an OEM experience with aftermarket ink products
Do you know the term “starting behind the eight ball?” It refers to a position in the game of pool (or billiards) where you are being in an unfavourable or uncomfortable position.
That’s exactly where all aftermarket products are positioned — no matter the quality, brand, or historic reputation.
End-users often claim OEM cartridges never have any issues. Yet no brand or product has a zero failure rate. Even a Rolls Royce car can break down. But customers’ perceptions create their own realities and those are the standards we as the aftermarket resellers are judged by.
Operating under these conditions will always leave the aftermarket “starting behind the eight ball” before a third-party cartridge is even installed.
A customer’s perception of their printing experience and reality about cartridge performance are two different things. With an OEM “print experience,” the customer does not even think about the cartridge. They click the print button and seconds later they have a perfect image in their hands. Their OEM “cartridge perception” is the cartridge will install easily, be instantly recognised by the printer, show full ink levels, prints first time, every time without a blemish, does not fade or smudge and gives them full page yield.
The only time they think about the cartridge is when the printer indicates its needs a new one and the autopilot switches on to purchase another replacement.
The tough ask for every aftermarket reseller is to disrupt that autopilot habit and get their end-user customers to try their brand cartridges instead.
Because end-users believe the OEM is the best quality, you are left with price as the leading disrupter and availability as a secondary opportunity.
Once the disruption has occurred, that first aftermarket cartridge experience is the most crucial and comes under the most scrutiny. This is where most repeat business is won or lost and there are steps you can take to increase the odds in your favour. I’ll come back to those later.
To keep customers coming back for more aftermarket cartridges—but more importantly, keep them coming to you and not another aftermarket brand—you need to control your customers’ mindset like the OEMs try to do. When many OEM customers are approached with a cheaper option, they don’t consider it because they think the potential risk of poor quality, wasted time, warranty issues or printer damage is greater than the reward of saving a few dollars. So, they pay more and stick with the safe option they know.
A cartridge is judged on its current performance each and every time. If there is any print issue at all, many customers will apportion blame to the aftermarket cartridge being the cause, regardless of whether it is the real issue or not.
Guilty until proven innocent. There’s that eight ball again.
However, if the exact same issue occurs with an OEM cartridge the customer’s mindset is totally different.
They consider other possibilities. Maybe the head needs cleaning. Or the drum needs changing if it’s a toner. Maybe the file or printer cable has a problem. Is the paper damp? They give the cartridge a few taps and try reinstalling it again.
The OEM cartridge is innocent until proven guilty. Aftermarket cartridges are not afforded that luxury. We operate under a cloud of suspicion and doubt. Human nature operates under the premise, “pay less = not as good.”
Repeat customers who have happily used your aftermarket cartridges many times before may give you a slight leeway if they have an issue. But just as many will drop your brand in favour of trying another or going back to the OEM the first time they experience a problem.
On top of the standard print quality comparisons of colour, sharpness, durability and to a lesser extent page yields, the OEMs have added firmware updates to the mix. If the printer won’t accept the aftermarket cartridge and print, then the game is over for most. Making sure you have the latest chips installed is critical.
Disrupting and winning the business is only the first battle. Retaining that business is the greatest challenge. As aftermarket resellers, we have far more threats to our businesses than the OEMs must deal with. We primarily win the business from the OEMs because of price and that opens the door for your customers to consider other aftermarket brands at even cheaper prices. Your business becomes directly exposed to people with the cheapest offers. New or late entrants only have the price as a way to break into the market. Many don’t hang around for long, but they do cause short term damage and inevitably are replaced by yet another “bottom feeder,” or scavenger, trying to carve out some market share.
The OEMs have a love-hate relationship with such people. OEMs love the “bottom feeders” that give the aftermarket a bad name and push end-users back to them seeking better quality. However, they hate the cheap prices.
Most consumers still see only two options, OEM, or non-OEM. A wide section of the market is still not mature to the point of understanding there are different levels of aftermarket cartridges. Our job is to educate the market about the good alternatives to OEM.
The aftermarket’s biggest enemy is not the OEM. It is these “bottom feeders” that sell inferior and/or infringing products but claim to sell high quality. They are the ones driving customers back to the OEM and damaging sales for the rest of us. They are the ones drawing added attention from the OEMs on patent infringement and gives the OEMs an opportunity to talk down aftermarket quality.
In 2016 I heard the well-known industry leader, Steve Weedon, talk at a conference where he referred to the importance of giving customers a “trouble-free print experience.” That statement encapsulated several key points I had been aiming at for years but had not yet been able to articulate into a statement.
Providing a trouble-free printing experience moves the aftermarket price debate from the lowest price to a competitive price. A trouble-free print experience is what consumers want and is one in the same as an OEM experience.
A stable sales platform stands on four legs. Remove one of the legs and your business becomes vulnerable and ready to be pushed over.
- Price competitive, NOT cheapest price. This is a balance of Price vs Quality;
- In stock now, easy for end-users to access quickly or speed of delivery;
- Trouble-Free Printing Experience. Sell the best available products that offer reliability, durability, up-to-date firmware chips, full page yield. Short cuts lead to long term customer loss;
- Knowledge: spotting customer threats, fixing issues fast, stating facts, displaying confidence.
Put the odds in your favour for repeat business. Identify threats and address them before they potentially cost you margin or lost customers.
Consider these following scenarios: The customer:
- buys a full set of cartridges or a value pack;
- brings an empty cartridge into the store to make sure they buy the right one;
- says they have just been given a printer;
- says they’ve been on holiday for 3 months.
These all seem like good things, BUT each is also a potential threat to future sales. Each of these scenarios could potentially lead to a bad experience of either, cartridge rejection, scratchy prints, bad colour, lines on the page, no image at all, and lots of head cleans.
If you identify and address the potential threats to a good printing experience with the customer upfront, then you are not only heading off an issue but you are also seen as giving great service. Consumers will recognise you as an expert. They won’t get that service and knowledge from an online store or another retail competitor. You are minimising any chance of that end-user from being stolen away on price by the “bottom feeders.” These consumers will gain confidence and start to trust your recommendations on products. When there is a genuine product issue, they will trust you to fix it and not just run back to the OEMs.
We are always going to be starting from behind the eight-ball but we can employ clever tactics along with selling the best quality aftermarket product that the industry can manufacture to change or improve the outcome and gain long term success.
James Douglas is an award-winning entrepreneur based in Sydney and has become a trusted supplier of imaging components and products and advisor for retailers businesses across Australia. He is a recipient of the Excellent Service Award for his tireless efforts in personally driving to visit, train and mentor each and every one of his customers, providing them with dedicated support to remanufacture and sell high quality, non-infringing aftermarket supplies to their customers.
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