June 9, 2010, 5:22 PM

The many flavors of order management

New technology should fit the specific needs of e-retailers, expert says at IRCE.

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When e-retailer CenturyNovelty.com went shopping for an online order management system, it learned the hard way that it pays to require a vendor to show how its system would handle particular tasks crucial to CenturyNovelty's operation—such as entering newly sourced products into the system's database, Ian MacDonald, vice president and general manager for the party supplies retailer, said at the Internet Retailer Conference.

CenturyNovelty's growth relies on its ability to regularly introduce new products, including party supplies and costumes based on seasonal themes, so it needs an order management system designed to quickly add new items that customers can order, MacDonald said during a Tuesday session entitled "An orderly approach to order management." When it tested a new order management system, however, the retailer learned that its merchandise managers found it too difficult and time-consuming to insert new product information, he added.

In that case, the retailer violated a basic rule of choosing a new technology system—getting a vendor to show how its system handles a particular task, rather than just asking if the system can handle it, MacDonald said.

CenturyNovelty selected a different order management system, Beantree Inc.'s Beanbasket.com. Although the Beanbasket order management system also had to work through some issues in loading new product information, the matter was quickly addressed in the vendor's software-as-a-service, or SaaS, platform, MacDonald said.

MacDonald also gave several reasons why he realized CenturyNovelty.com needed to upgrade to a new order management system, including:

· Lack of real-time inventory information on web site.

· Too many manual processes like downloading orders from the web site to the order management system.

· Manually charging each credit card before it shipped.

· Manually typing shipping addresses into UPS WorldShip.

· Being unable to answer a customer question if that customer called within an hour or two of placing the order.

· Having to enter product/inventory information in the inventory management system, the CRM system and the web site.

· Couldn't easily train new employees.

· Frequent web site downtime.

MacDonald said that, after reviewing deployment options, CenturyNovelty decided to go with Beanbasket because it met the retailer's needs for order management functionality, and, as an SaaS application, offered low start-up and maintenance costs along with technology upgrades offered at no additional costs. He added that the Beanbasket application is scalable to support the retailer's expected growth.

McDonald cautioned, however, that online retailers shouldn't expect any order management system to address 100% of their needs. "Aim for about 80% of getting what you need out of the box, with another 10% through custom development," he said. For the remaining 10%, learn to live without it or come up with work-arounds." 

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