fbpx

Dollar Sign Dilemmas

Retailers grapple with displaying hot tub prices on their websites

With the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread shutdowns and the dramatic increase in online shopping, more and more spa retailers are opting to display hot tub pricing on their websites.

Historically, it was uncommon for spa retailers to share their prices online, as many manufacturers did not allow it. Retailers have also preferred not to encourage the kind of easy price comparisons the internet has made possible, persuading customers to interact with sales staff for an education on the entire spa package. Some retailers didn’t even display prices in their stores, requiring customers to work with salespeople to obtain that information.

Litehouse Pools & Spas, with 15 stores around Cleveland has recently reversed course and now publishes its pricing online.

“Most consumers will research hot tubs online before they begin to shop,” says regional sales manager Al Eckert of the company’s decision to alter its policy. “Search engines have conditioned consumers to search common items by price and availability first, so offering this information can increase the probability of a consumer visiting our website.”

At the onset of COVID, customers began inquiring with Litehouse about how to purchase a hot tub from the safety of their home, Eckert says, and it was easy to add pricing info to its website, which was already set up on the back end for online shopping. Eckert says displaying prices online now generates qualified leads.

“When a customer inquires about a particular hot tub, we know they are already comfortable with the price,” he explains, “so our first follow-up contact can focus on the customer’s needs and to schedule a store visit.”

Eckert says Litehouse only sells hot tubs online within the company’s service area, sending each lead to its nearest retail location so the customer can be encouraged to make an in-store purchase.

“It is important for customers to see the hot tub they wish to purchase,” he says. “It also allows us to educate them on delivery and setup, water care and maintenance.” 

For most of its more than 30 years in business, The Spa and Sauna Co., with three locations near in Reno, Nevada, and two near San Jose, California, did not display prices on its website mainly because its vendors did not allow it. Owner Scott Clark says that while some vendors have reversed that policy, most still prohibit showing prices online, and those that allow it require a minimum advertised price.

The Spa and Sauna Co. uses a gated option to show pricing to customers, requiring them to click on an ‘unlock pricing’ call-to-action button, Clark explains. This directs them to a form where they submit contact information. The user is sent an email with pricing for the model they are interested in and the sales team receives the customer’s contact information in order to follow-up.

In Clark’s opinion, sharing pricing online provides transparency to the company’s potential customers — but he admits there are fallbacks. “The disadvantage of sharing prices is that our sales team is not allowed to build value and justify the ‘why’ of our pricing,” he says. “The lack of online pricing curbs the number of searches for websites without transparent pricing. At the same time, I am mindful of the substantial regional differences in retail pricing strategies, and overhead costs that make true online pricing difficult to manage for both manufacturers and retailers.”

In Clark’s opinion, sharing pricing online provides transparency to the company’s potential customers — but he admits there are fallbacks. “The disadvantage of sharing prices is that our sales team is not allowed to build value and justify the ‘why’ of our pricing,” he says. “The lack of online pricing curbs the number of searches for websites without transparent pricing. At the same time, I am mindful of the substantial regional differences in retail pricing strategies, and overhead costs that make true online pricing difficult to manage for both manufacturers and retailers.”

- Sponsor -

Even with the recent surge in online shopping, some spa retailers have still resisted adding prices to their websites. Jennifer Gannon, owner of BonaVista LeisureScapes in Toronto, a Hydropool dealer, has been asked not to share pricing online. The policy is being discussed, however, with possible changes taking place this year.

“If [sharing prices online] becomes the industry standard, we are prepared to adapt,” Gannon says. “Our prices are competitive, and we pride ourselves in adding value with our customer-centric approach. We hope our Google reviews will help us win the ‘search game’ and boost our visibility when people are shopping based on price only.”

Cole Taylor, owner of Southern Leisure Spas in the Dallas area, is also keeping prices off the company website, in part due to problems with supply chain and monthly — sometimes weekly — fluctuations in costs such as freight.

Not all of Southern Leisure’s suppliers allow it to show pricing, but when they do, pricing must be MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price). This “seems to scare some people off,” Taylor says. “The MSRP prices for the major manufacturers are so much higher than the value brands offered by typical online retailers like Home Depot and Costco, that it can sometimes discourage consumers from really exploring the premium brands and visiting the showroom.”

He says that before COVID, Southern Leisure came close to sharing MSRP pricing on its website to prequalify buyers, at least as far as its vendors would allow. There are advantages to pre-qualifying customers, he adds, and it also saves them the time of coming to a showroom for something beyond their budget.

But Taylor says he didn’t feel comfortable taking that step and decided on a different approach. In 2018, the Southern Leisure website was revamped to show hot tubs grouped by price range. While customers could not access individual spa prices, models were grouped in four price ranges: $4,000 to $7,000 at the low end, and $12,000 and up at the high end. The experiment was successful enough that by the end of 2019, he was seriously considering showing as many prices online as he was allowed.

But once COVID hit, “everything kind of froze for a brief period, and then it went crazy,” he says. “We haven’t had time to consider a major adjustment to our website because it’s been all hands on deck since about April 2020.”

Taylor says that when supply-chain problems settle, he will revisit sharing his prices online, but he’s not in a hurry to do so.

“Right now, with demand outpacing supply, I don’t think any dealers are worried about creating any more demand or finding any more buyers,” Taylor says. “It’s just about keeping up with current demand.” 

Until a few years ago, Brian Wasik, owner of Spas of Montana, didn’t even display prices on the showroom floor, let alone on the website. Once he did, however, it led to success. Wasik added pricing on his website just before the pandemic hit, and was astonished to find that his stores have since generated a close rate of 70% and higher from website leads.  

“Now I’m a firm believer in showing prices,” he says. “I’ve gained a lot of trust in the marketplace from the consumer.” 

While leads may be generated online at Spas of Montana, the final sale is still completed in the store. Wasik says the customer must completely understands aspects such as delivery and setup, which he says are more effectively addressed in person or on the phone. While noting that some direct-shipping companies do an adequate job without in-person interaction, he prefers to establish a long-term relationship with the customer and now fully advocates price transparency. “Retailers should get on board with showing prices online and be upfront with the consumer,” Wasik says. “They want to know. They’re going to find out your prices anyway — you’re going to tell it to them anyway. If your competitors find out your prices, too, big deal. Why not keep the customer on your side for as long as possible and give them all the information?