We have been hearing plenty of tales from suppliers ­ big and small ­ who have experienced the, ahem, thrill of pitching for business with a supermarket via an online auction. And to say we are mainly hearing tales of woe would be an understatement. The main bone of contention? Supplier suspicion at the unreal prices they see popping up on their screens during the bidding. Naturally, supermarket buyers see this as little more than yet another bout of supplier whingeing. Too many suppliers, they tell us, are sitting on cosy margins. And that's why those suppliers are the ones who wince whenever they see what their rivals are prepared to charge to win new business. Online auctions not only save money, so the argument follows, they are also quick and transparent for those involved. Fantastic. But if that were all true, why are so many manufacturers so unhappy? Their disquiet stems mainly from the fact they were under the impression this industry had ditched old-style transactional relationships where price was everything. Instead, grocery is supposed to be about forging long-term relationships that benefit retailers, suppliers and, ultimately, of course, consumers. But those who have been through the auction process have been left in no doubt that best price' is what buyers are after, at the expense of apparently unnecessary luxuries such as quality, reliability or innovation. Everyone has collected their favourite anecdotes about online auctions. One of mine concerns a supplier who bailed out a customer with a difficult product revamp, only then to lose that business on price to a rival who had no track record of making that selfsame product. Therein lies the rub. The auctions appear to be about nothing more than putting supplier margins under the hammer. But if suppliers can lose business at the click of a mouse, irrespective of existing trading relationships, where's their incentive to invest for the future so they can better serve their customers? Buyers beware: cheapest price does not always generate best value in the long term. {{OPINION }}