Fulfillment Security Is Topps' Top Priority

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Security leads the list of fulfillment issues that NewRoads faces next month as it handles orders for a new, Internet-based sports trading card line from The Topps Co. Inc.


The 50-year-old Topps expects to launch eTopps, its first e-commerce effort, in mid-September at www.etopps.com. The firm will roll out a line of baseball, football, basketball and hockey cards available only at the site.


ETopps.com will feature a weekly series called IPO, which entails an "initial player offering" for a few pro athletes' cards. The limited-edition cards will cost $3 to $9, depending on the player's popularity. Shipping and handling fees will be added.


Though the cards' cost would not seem to warrant unusual security, the cards can escalate in trading value quickly among collectors. This means extra precautions have been needed at NewRoads' fulfillment center to guard against theft.


The threat is serious enough to keep NewRoads, which has multiple distribution centers nationwide, from divulging the location of the center it will use to fulfill eTopps orders.


"The facility is somewhere in the mid-Atlantic coastal region ... that's the only thing we can really allow to be disclosed," said Shulamit Gershenson, spokeswoman for NewRoads. "The nature of the product calls for this kind of security."


NewRoads has closed off a room in that center to handle the cards. Surveillance cameras have been installed, and only certain employees will be allowed to enter the area.


Pick-and-pack employees working the area will place stickers over a designated area on the cards before delivery to ensure validity of each card ordered.


"If the sticker isn't on the card, traders will immediately know it's not certified by Topps," said Steve Katz, co-director of the Internet group at Topps, New York. "Authenticity is crucial in building the brand."


Because mint status also is critical, the fulfillment center must maintain specific climate conditions as well. Topps has advised NewRoads to keep the space allotted for the cards at 70 degrees and 55 percent humidity. Warehouse staffers will wear gloves when handling the cards, which will be sealed individually in airtight cases for delivery.


Another new Topps e-commerce component, called the eTopps Trading Floor, involves a co-branded trading site with auction firm eBay. Registered members will be able to access a secure Web page to view their card holdings in a manner similar to online stock portfolios. Users will be able to see winning bids at eBay for cards matching ones in their portfolio, allowing members to appraise the value of their collection.


Portfolio members might never see or physically hold their cards if they use the program's option of storing them at the fulfillment center for trading at a later date. Members can order delivery of their cards at any time or let them sit for future virtual trading.


"Some of the inventory will never leave the facility," said David Himes, senior vice president of technology solutions at NewRoads, Greenwich, CT. "The owner will change but we will continue to provide the secure environment."


Katz called the addition of e-commerce a "significant" development for his company, which took $493 million in sales last year. His firm's chief competitor, Upper Deck, Carlsbad, CA, has yet to sell cards online.


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