Editorial: Fulfillment Gets Sexy

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Hard to believe, but the word "fulfillment" is a hot topic, thanks to the Internet. At the National Conference of Operations & Fulfillment in Orlando this week, attendance was packed because e-businesses are learning that the key to establishing customer loyalty is keeping the back-end operations running smoothly. Not that this is news to all you direct marketers, which was why many attendees from the old school groused about how the workshops were too basic.

Expect one part of the fulfillment issue -- shipping and handling costs -- to keep cropping up over the next few years as people expect more from e-tailers. As H. Robert Wientzen, president/CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, said at the conference, consumers' appetite for speedy delivery will grow and overnight delivery will become the norm.

My most recent fulfillment fiasco occurred earlier this month, when I happened upon coin collectors' night on the Home Shopping Network. I purchased several 2000 all-silver dollars as Christmas presents for my nieces and nephews. (No, I've never done any of my holiday shopping before December, but I bit when the spokesman said, "They'd make great gifts!") When ordering, though, HSN wouldn't put my 10 purchases into one package and instead charged me $5.37 shipping and handling for each one. The next day, I received a call from HSN's fraud department to make sure I really ordered this many silver dollars. I asked again if the coins could be shipped in one envelope -- and got the same "no" answer but no explanation why it couldn't be done. So 10 Priority Mail envelopes were stuffed into my mailbox, each containing only one coin. In a talk with a spokeswoman later, I was told the coins couldn't be shipped in one envelope because they were drop-shipped from the vendor. Still, a waste of my money and ample reason for many customers not to come back.

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