October 31, 2005, 12:00 AM

Beating the Storm

(Page 3 of 3)

The lesson of recent disasters came in two parts, says Hackley of ShoppersChoice. For one thing, employees and managers realized how much they could accomplish by working as a team with available resources. "We operated with generators for a few weeks, and we all worked out in the warehouse packaging orders," he says. "We pulled together and winged it."

But next time, Hackley adds, he hopes to have a formalized plan for disaster recovery and business continuity, including pre-arranged outsourcing for customer service as well as fulfillment. "We could consider moving," he says, noting that more hurricanes are a given. "But if we move to California, we`ll contend with earthquakes, and Dallas has tornadoes. The best thing is to have a plan in the works for whatever disaster hits, so we have to take a long look at a continuity plan. We now realize how important it is."


Hold that shipment

In the normal course of things, responsible retailers strive to get customer orders processed and shipped as quickly as possible. But when disasters hit, it`s often better to hold back shipments instead of letting them get lost or delayed in transit to disaster-struck areas. The challenge to retailers is knowing which shipments to hold and which to send.

At Camping World Inc.`s CampingWorld.com, director of corporate data Mike Hall found his answer in a fraud-prevention system -modified to work as part of disaster management. For orders already being processed in the fulfillment center, the system can abort orders by ZIP code. "When Katrina hit New Orleans, everyone was scrambling to see how to keep shipments from going there," Hall says. "We realized it would be better to keep our products in our temperature-controlled warehouse instead of in a UPS or FedEx holding facility."

CampingWorld specializes in equipment like power generators, awnings and refrigerators for recreational vehicles, items that remained in demand in hurricane-damaged areas. Although it sent some equipment to the areas as part of organized relief efforts, it needed to find a way to prevent incoming web orders from being fulfilled for shipment to areas where carriers had suspended deliveries.

CampingWorld is using the order entry/customer service module in the CWDirect system from CommercialWare Inc. on an IBM iSeries platform on a corporate intranet. Through the CWDirect web front end, CampingWorld enters ZIP codes provided by UPS, FedEx and other carriers that indicate destinations with suspended delivery services. The CWDirect system puts orders to those ZIP codes on a "Katrina hold" to prevent them from being passed to a fulfillment center. The system is also designed to hold orders to ZIP codes with high -incidences of fraudulent orders, Hall says.

In addition to protecting inventory, the system serves to maintain customer relationships, Hall says. Because the system matches orders in real time with ZIP codes blocked for shipping, CampingWorld can immediately inform online or call center customers that their order will be on hold, and that they`ll get an e-mail notification as soon as it`s cleared for shipping. "The system`s flexibility lets us interact with the customer in the best way," Hall says.

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