For many years, mindmachine.co.uk has been an ecommerce website selling printer spares to trade, businesses and private individuals.
We have been most successful with harder-to-source spares, as it is easier to get noticed when you have less competition (just type printer toner into a google search and see how many results you get).
Our current site is based on WordPress/WooCommerce – a popular open source ecommerce platform which utilises Apache/MySQL/PHP and can be easily extended and customised. Automated price/stock comparisons are achieved by our own in-house developed mechanisms which utilise a small cluster of computers to analyse product availability and update our site accordingly.
The product catalogue itself is a mixture of individually added items with hand crafted descriptions, and bulk-loaded items with minimal descriptions provided by distributors and manufacturers. It can often be difficult to accurately describe spare parts – manufacturers may not make compatibility information generally available, and even when they do the information is sometimes wrong (and the results of google searches can reinforce misleading information).
Stock availability and Pricing
We hold some products (mostly commonly required laser printer paper pickup rollers) at our main premises. These are usually despatched immediately to customers via Royal Mail or (for larger items) ParcelForce.
Other items are shipped direct by courier from our UK and European distributors to our customers.
Each morning, for every product on our site, we compare the price and stock levels from all our distributors. The price and availability on our website is then updated to reflect the best price we can source on that day (with a preference to in-stock items over back-ordered, so we can ship immediately where possible, even if it means sourcing from a distributor with a higher price).
Consequently the price and lead-times on our site reflect the best we can achieve. Where a product is only available for back-order, we clearly describe it as such – with a lead-time of about a week (although we cannot guarantee this – manufacturers sometimes delay or withdraw products without prior warning).
Our Current Mission
In our opinion, printers and spares no longer form the basis of a viable, sustainable sole commercial offering. Large ecommerce sites have in many cases driven retail prices of new printers down below the prices charged by European distributors to their reseller customers. Common spares have also become something of a commodity, joining the heavily competitive printer toner and ink market with tiny profit margins. Rarer spares offer better cost margins, but require too much effort to research and sell, so are also regretfully rarely profitable.
For this reason, we have more recently expanded the range of products we offer beyond printers and their spares (although it is impossible for us to maintain the same product expertise across this wider portfolio – we cannot provide any further product guidance other than the minimal information in the product descriptions on our site).
However the in-house mechanisms we have developed to process multiple distributor product data-feeds and automate the price/stock on ecommerce websites is available to other businesses wishing to take advantage of our experience, via our consultancy offerings.