April 2, 2009, 12:00 AM

Marrying inventory and shipping data produces results at CenturyNovelty.com

The online retailer of party goods lets customers know how many of each item is in stock and when they would get delivery using various shipping methods. Results include fewer customer service calls and more shoppers using less expensive shipping.

 

If little Jessica’s eighth birthday party is Wednesday, Mom wants the party favors, plates and decorations to arrive no later than Tuesday. Thursday would be a disaster. Recognizing how time-sensitive its customers are, CenturyNovelty.com has tied together its shopping cart application and order management system so it can provide detailed information about when items will arrive.

On the product detail page there is a box that says “How soon can I get it?/Check product availability.” Visitors who click that box can see how many of each item is in stock and when the product would arrive by various shipping methods. If the product is out of stock, the site will display when it will be available.

The e-retailer introduced the feature in August 2008, says Ian MacDonald, vice president and general manager of CenturyNovelty.com, which is operated by Century Novelty Co. Inc. It works by tying together inventory information housed in the order management system from OrderMotion Inc. with shipping data held by the shopping cart from Beanbasket.com.

“When you check availability, Beanbasket is pinging OrderMotion to see how many is available,” MacDonald says. “Beanbasket takes from OrderMotion how many we have available or the date when we’ll get more. OrderMotion knows how many we have on hand and the outstanding orders for more.” Shoppers can check availability on the checkout page and via the shopping cart, as well as on the product detail page.

MacDonald has seen customer behavior change in a number of ways since the site added the feature. For one thing, more customers choose less-expensive shipping options because they can see that even those options will get the product there in time. “Before, people would err on the side of caution,” MacDonald says. “Now they’ll choose three-day delivery or ground over a more expensive express option.”

The other change has been fewer calls to customer service. As a result, when one of the e-retailer’s three customer service agents resigned recently MacDonald did not replace her. And that’s despite the company continuing to grow at a rate of 20-30% in recent months, MacDonald says, after increasing its revenue by more than six times from 2004 to 2008. The privately held company does not disclose its revenue.

 

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