July 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

Fulfillment Solutions

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As direct-to-consumer retailers focus on improved fulfillment systems, they’re also placing more emphasis on the returns process-providing a complete service to customers. But that requires even more visibility into their demand and supply chains, so that retailers can know instantly where best to send returning products-whether to stores, to warehouses that support online or store sales, into liquidation or charity, or back to vendors. One way NewRoads helps retailers make such decisions, in addition to providing online visibility into sales data and supplier records, is to e-mail digital photos of products returned to a NewRoads facility, enabling retailers to better determine a returned product’s condition and best destination.

This need for visibility-in incoming orders as well as in shipments to and returns from customers-is driving more retailers to better integrate the multiple systems that support fulfillment. “Having a warehouse management system and an order management system tightly integrated is key,” says Shelton.

The move toward online retail operations in recent years, including the use of integrated web-based applications for collecting and managing data on supply and demand, is providing retailers with the tools they need to support more effective fulfillment. “It’s all about getting data that you can do something with,” Shelton says. “But you have to know what to do with the data.”

Good fulfillment = repeat customers

In addition to using captured sales trend data to, for example, better organize warehouses so that products most in demand will ship out fastest, effectively integrated systems will also forward key sales data to others such as merchandise managers. “They need to know what’s moving and what’s not moving, so they can better understand what to buy,” Shelton says. And that, in turn, will keep fulfillment operations running more efficiently with products known to move instead of taking up space.

An efficient fulfillment operation is a sign that a retailer is doing a good job of satisfying its customers, Shelton adds. “Retailers are finding a direct link between best practices in fulfillment, customer service and returns management and that directly impacts their ability to attract repeat buyers,” he says.

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