Integration remains the key

Publisher's Note

By Gerard Knapp

Integration remains the key

While they may have flashy store-fronts, it seems that the online retailers have some way to going towards making their back-end order fulfilment processes equally as smooth.

Last month, analysts such as www.consult estimated that Australians spent about $150 million in online purchases. Given that it was Christmas, it was the busiest time of year for the 'e-tailers' and they were also faced with delivering those goods on time, otherwise there would be some very dissatisfied - and embarrassed - customers if their presents didn't arrive in time for Christmas Day.

It seems the e-tailers are being a little more coy about their returns policies and success in completing those orders on time.

But in the case of your correspondent, I'm glad I took the bricks and mortar approach to secure the most important gifts. I've been a regular online shopper for over two years and in that time, I've been singularly unimpressed with the order fulfilment process. I guess most consumers don't even think about this, but for me, I believe the key to success for business-to-consumer e-commerce sites is their ability to fulfil orders in the shortest and most cost-effective manner.

In the case of my online purchase, I showed a considerable lack of faith and placed an order for two products in late November. After three weeks, I enquired via email as to the likely delivery date.

I received a very polite reply but no goods were delivered. After a few days I complained a little more loudly, if such a thing is possible on the web. Ok, I mentioned I was the publisher of a magazine. In the publicity-crazed web space, I'm afraid this does have some influence.

I received another reply which was also polite with an assurance that goods would be delivered "shortly". Finally, after four weeks they arrived. As the e-tailer is a relatively well-established player and the goods I ordered were produced in Australia, the order fulfilment process had clearly fallen over, particularly when you consider the following:

¥ the goods arrived in separate packaging - although it was one single order for two items (that means double the postage and packaging costs);

¥ the products - although still serviceable - were presented in cases that were clearly second-hand. I would have been embarrassed to offer them as gifts;

¥ the address labels on the shipping cartons were hand-written.

While the first two points could be explained as a programming glitch or warehouse stock issue, the hand-printed labels clearly showed that there was no automation of the order fulfilment process.

I have not mentioned this e-tailer's name because in a way I admire these companies and I'm willing to give them a break (and not because I own shares).

From my point of view, there is one upside to all of this, in that here at Image & Data Manager we will have a lot to write about this year when it comes to integrating the back-end, or providing "the missing link in e-commerce", to quote one of our headlines from last year.


Our first issue for 2000 also sees the promotion of features editor Paul Montgomery (aka Monty) to the position of editor. Since joining the magazine in 1998, Paul has helped expand our coverage in many key areas.

We look forward to another great year and wish you the best for 2000.

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