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Ramping Up for the Holidays
Is your online business ready to deliver during this or the next gift-giving season?

Q: My business was hit with so many holiday orders last year that I wasn't sure if I'd be able to deliver everything on time. How do I prepare my online business for the upcoming season?

A: Fulfillment is an issue online businesses often struggle with, and the holidays definitely don't make it easier. The following excerpt from my book, The E-Commerce Book, Second Edition: Building the E-Empire with Steffano Korper, explains how e-commerce companies were successful and not so successful last year, and how you can get ready for this year's onslaught of holiday orders:

Christmas 1999 brought the fulfillment crisis into the media limelight. Customers moved online in droves, hoping to find the perfect gifts without the headache of notoriously imperfect holiday crowds at traditional shopping malls. Although the Web could offer them the boundless product options and promises of prompt shipping that shoppers expected, shoppers found that many Web businesses could not fulfill their offers and promises. Web businesses' fulfillment channels were vastly under-resourced for the spike in online holiday shopping.

E-tailers found themselves spending big bucks to save face with their customers. For instance, when a bug in the Toysrus.com distribution software caused the Web site to overestimate its ability to deliver Christmas gifts in time, the company issued $100 gift certificates to its customers who demanded to cancel their orders. Customers whose canceled orders arrived anyway were allowed to keep them free of charge. Even Web retailers like Amazon.com, which is generally respected for its top-notch customer-service, found themselves crippled. Shoppers frustrated by high-traffic-induced Web site slowdowns tried to call customer service for help and faced an average hold time of 30 minutes at the company's call center. As a result, many shoppers' faith in online shopping was eroded, and their perception of the brands with which they experience flawed transactions were permanently altered. Companies who failed during the holidays last year may not be easily forgiven this year.

Clearly, neglecting fulfillment creates disastrous results. Fulfillment, representing the end of the site transaction, is a crucial part of the customer experience. You don't want to lose customers who have come this far. Begin to establish fail-proof fulfillment channels this holiday season through the following steps:

Learn the obstacles to fulfillment today.

Know your customers' expectations.

Know your shipping options, including nationally and globally.

Tackle other fulfillment areas.

Engage new information technology that enables high-speed fulfillment.

Discover e-fulfillment solutions.

Evaluate whether supply-chain technology could benefit your enterprise.

Plan for spikes by developing capacity flexibility.

Learn More
Your Web site gets tons of orders, but how do you fill them? Read "Delivering The Goods" for information on how outsourcing makes fulfillment and distribution simpler and more efficient.


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