Multimillion dollar advertising campaigns and attractive front-end Web site designs have captured the attention of consumers across the country.
But what matters are the not-so-glamorous back-end details, such as IT integration, customer-focused site design, accessible customer support, convenient returns policies and accurate order fulfillment.
There is nothing easy about e-commerce; it's a complex business model.
E-tailers face four main obstacles: customer dissatisfaction resulting from unsatisfactory customer response services, incorrect or late order fulfillment, difficult-to-navigate Web sites, and inconvenient (or nonexistent) returns policies.
Toysrus.com received substantial negative publicity and consumer criticism due to customer service nightmares – and that e-tailer was certainly not alone.
A letter to online customers from Toysrus.comís CEO pointed to inadequate
e-fulfillment planning as the cause of the company's e-holidays woes, noting that the company's infrastructure — from customer service to fulfillment — had not been able to handle the avalanche of customer sales it received.
However, many other Web sites have stumbled as customers clicked order buttons that didn't work, e-mailed product queries that did not get returned, searched in vain for product returns policies and dealt with customer service personnel who were of no service at all.
Strategic Planning Rewarded
That's the bad news for e-tailers: many customers flocked to the Web, only to be frustrated and dissatisfied with what they found.
The good news is that, despite the customer service nightmares that plagued the e-commerce headlines of 1999, millions of additional e-shoppers visited the Web and found true satisfaction — saving time, money, aggravation and headache by checking off their Christmas lists in the comfort of their own homes.
Many e-tailers found that it was their investment in backend e-fulfillment strategies that demonstrated return on investment this year. In many cases, the dividing line between success and failure hinged on customer service and experience online.
Message from the Ghost of E-Holidays Future
E-tailers that didn't experience similar online success should be pleased to note that it's not too late. But in the online world, where brands are built, and can be destroyed in Internet years instead of calendar years, it's vital that e-tailers act immediately to improve their back-end
E-tailers should learn from the lessons taught by e-Holidays 1999. They should invest in the creation of seamless, end-to-end e-fulfillment solutions that ensure Web site navigability, IT integration, first-rate and convenient customer service support, effective returns policies and on-time order delivery.
As e-tailers continue to face myriad options for e-fulfillment, many of the nation's leading and most successful e-tailers are turning to e-fulfillment partners to handle these all-important concerns.
The best e-fulfillment partners will offer e-tailers innumerable benefits. They will link their success to their clients' success by making their clients' e-fulfillment needs the first and only priority.
Also, they will focus solely on e-commerce, specifically on the back-end issues of IT integration, order fulfillment, comprehensive customer response and e-tail distribution. This specialized model will enable both clicks-and-mortar and pure play e-tailers to focus on the core competencies they know best.
These e-fulfillment partners also provide e-tailers with strategic e-fulfillment counsel, helping clients to build brands online, and offer a flexible and scalable infrastructure ñ one that can easily ramp up to meet the peaks and valleys of online shopping ñ one that will ensure that customer service inadequacies don't create online branding nightmares for their clients.
Finally, the best e-fulfillment providers will offer a true “Internet company” culture ñ one that is fast, responsive, knowledgeable and ready for the explosive growth of e-commerce.
E-tailers that heed the lessons learned from the Ghost of E-Holidays Past — and that take the initiative to implement seamless, end-to-end e-fulfillment strategies — will reap the rewards of loyal, satisfied, repeat customers and strong, enviable online brands.