December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Fulfilling the Promise

(Page 3 of 3)

If Christmas 2000 already looks different than 1999, Christmas 2001 promises still more developments. With the online retailers’ new focus on fulfillment, the dance cards of e-fulfillment providers are filling up. The most ambitious already are looking far ahead: Increasingly, as they pick and pack for e-retailers, they’ll be picking and choosing which ones they want as partners.

“We’re trying to find brands that have a track record or that we think have the management and perspective to be a leader,” says J.T. Kreager, president of SubmitOrder.com. In April, his firm signed a long-term agreement to provide fulfillment services to Kmart Corp.’s BlueLight.com. Under the deal, BlueLight will take an undisclosed equity stake in SubmitOrder, a deal Kreager says he’d do again for the right partner.

“We’re being more selective, and capacity isn’t the issue,” adds Keystone president Richard Metzler. “A la carte solutions don’t guarantee my clients’ success. It’s easier to build a back-end than to build a brand-great brands are built over a generation. So the people that have them are the multichannel markets, the people who are just starting brand development have a much bigger hill to climb and a higher risk profile.”

The e-fulfillers

Most people have made a purchase on the Internet by now,” says Forrester’s Stacie McCullough. “It’s no longer a toy. Now they want real customer service.” Various companies providing various e-fulfillment services aim to do just that. The following is an abridged version of what’s available in a field that grows more crowded by the day.

Keystone Internet Services: Once the customer hits the “buy” button, this Keystone, Pa.-based provider of end-to-end logistics offers the physical distribution capacity and technology platform capable of handling the rest. Competitors of similar scale include Fingerhut and Submit Order.com.

Smith-Gardner: Offering Web-enabled customer relationship applications, the Delray Beach, Fla., company’s suite of e-fulfillment software links front- and back-office order management functions to provide a single view at all points along the fulfillment process.

SubmitOrder.com: A new challenger in the end-to-end fulfillment space. With both the technology infrastructure and the physical distribution centers, this Columbus, Ohio, provider, unlike competitors that grew out of catalog fulfillment, sprang from the technology side as a unit of distributor Digital Storage.

OrderTrust: This Lowell, Mass.-based provider has expanded its technology platform to support e-fulfillment order processing-something it’s been doing for direct-selling merchants since the mid-1990s.

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