Open Letter to Scientific Equipment Manufacturers

I know I have said this before, but it obviously didn't take, so I'll do it again. Allow me to explain a basic principle of economics.

You make high-quality technical instruments. I am interested in getting my hands on some high-quality technical instruments. In fact, I am sufficiently interested that I will write grants to obtain money to give you in exchange for your high-quality technical instruments. You are interested in obtaining money in exchange for your high-quality technical instruments.

However, and this is the key point, in order to obtain the money to give you in exchange for your high-quality technical instruments, I have to know how much money to give you. Which means you are going to have to tell me the price of the high-quality technical instruments, because my telepathic abilities are not sufficiently advanced to pluck that information out of the aether.

Given that you will eventually have to tell me how much money you want in exchange for your high-quality technical instruments, for the love of God, put the prices on your web page. This is not a subtle and complicated point, and yet, somehow, it has escaped you. Your prices are not state secrets. Nobody is going to declare you an enemy combatant for revealing them, especially to prospective customers.

thank you for your cooperation in this matter.


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It doesn't have to be high-quality technical instruments, either. It might as well be dinky little chip packages, or OK-quality pin adapters, or either-works-or-doesn't surface mount components.

They make you jump through hoops to "register" so that you can ask for a quote, then for weeks no one answers the quote request that you have to put through the website form, then a month later you get an e-mail saying "Um, did you, like, ask for a quote or something? Did someone help you? Can I help you?" after you've thrown away all your notes and forgotten the part numbers you'd asked for.

In conclusion, technical suppliers: Hate.

The suppliers want you to register so they can send you EMail or snail mail about things you're not interested in.

Quotes over the phone might be OK for little things, but if Chad (or someone else) needs that price to put in a purchase order, often it has to be either on paper or as an EMailed quote. Otherwise, that price can be waved away by the vendor as a rough estimate--low of course. Been there, done that.

By Pat OConnell (not verified) on 11 Oct 2006 #permalink

Dr. Orzel,

Thank you for your interest in our high-quality technical instrument. Please find attached a quote of an insanely large amount of money and an unbelievably long lead time for our high-quality technical instrument. Please note, if you order 10+ quantity of our high-quality technical instrument there is a 1% price discount. When would you be interested in placing an order for our high-quality technical instrument? We reserve the right to contact you by email and phone every other day to check on the status of your decision to purchase our high-quality technical instrument.

Thank you,

Sales Rep for High-Quality Technical Instruments

By HQTI Inc. (not verified) on 11 Oct 2006 #permalink

Often times, these tactics are used because they want to find out how much they can bleed out of you. At a huge biotech corporation that's rolling in the dough? The price is twice what we'll charge the prof at the small liberal-arts college.

Many people have expounded on why this is a crappy business strategy. Unfortunately, no one seems to be listening to them.

Having put in a little time working at a scientific supply company some years back, I think the issue here is that the price depends completely on who you are.

At the company I worked at, every major customer had a nearly-unique array of discounts on various products. Non-established customers paid the non-discounted price.

When my wife was hired at a phyics dept (she's an expermimental laser type) I was a a big physics conference (CLEO/QELS) in late May with a large trade show. She asked me to get some info/quotes. It was nigh unto impossible. Then on the second day she told me that instead of the first block of startup money being available on June30, she had to spend it by then. When you see these guys and tell them you need to buy something in the next two weeks, well they really sit up and pay attention. I was given the kings treatment, invited to all sorts of private little company parties and such! Cash in hand vs. "I'm writing a grant with a 15% chance of coming in" seems to make quite the difference!

And sometimes when I asked about technical details, the salesmen were a.....little short on details. No one ever told me "yeah, but look at that cool case for that laser" but it got close.....

Of course if you're writing a grant, the quote is good for 90 days, and you get the money almost a year later, so ya gotta factor in some inflation!

I know this is a bit unusual, but you could try the phone.

That's what I end up doing-- in fact, I generally refuse to send email or web form requests, because those just never get answered-- but it's a hassle. I type "lock-in amplifier" into Google, and 1.2 second later, I have access to the web sites of all the manufacturers I need to deal with, but then it takes half an hour to get price information by combing through the site for a phone number, then calling and negotiating the phone tree, and finally getting a sales person to read the numbe rI'm after off their internal database.

When I'm actually planning to try to weasel an academic discount or something like that, I'll happily call them, and I always call before ordering to confirm the price and availability, but when all I need is a number to put in an internal grant proposal, I don't want to have to use the phone. I'm even happy to have the non-discounted mega-lab price, because if I get a discount after the fact, that leaves me some more money to buy cables and pre-amps and that sort of thing.

But there should be a price on the damn web page.

There are many reasons why a company might not put the price on a web page. I won't describe all of them, but in your case, if a company only makes a small number of the specialty instrument that you need, they will have a harder time predicting the up-front-costs of manufacturing that instrument.

Products sold in retail stores are often made in a large quantity. The cost of making these products is more predictable.

In the case of specialty equipment items, the cost will vary much more since the manufacturer can't buy materials in bulk ahead of time. If the price that they charge, depends on the cost of the materials, and they can't know the price of the materials in advance, they won't take the risk of committing to a price by putting it on the web site.