May 5, 2011, 10:58 AM

Fulfillment center rolls with the punches

Spikes in order volume are not a problem for

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Apparel e-retailer saw its sales unexpectedly spike 300% one day last month, which compelled the e-commerce team to call its fulfillment center vendor to see how it would manage the deluge of orders that it had to get out the door. Brett Trent, Maurices’ assistant vice president of e-commerce, says he needn’t have worried because the sales spike didn’t faze the fulfillment center at all.

“It was a non-event to them,” Trent says. “They shifted a few workers around and I didn’t see a blip in my fulfillment rate. You only get that when you are dealing with veterans.”

The multichannel retailer outsources it warehousing and fulfillment operations for the 25,000 SKUs it sells at to a Martinsville, VA, facility operated by GSI Commerce. Maurices is a division of Ascena Retail Group Inc., which also operates and and is No. 284 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

The web site is also built on GSI’s e-commerceplatform. Trent says utilizing the vendor’s platform for both the site’s underlying technology and for fulfillment makes it easy to communicateorders from the site to the fulfillment center, although he still talks directly with managers at the facility almost daily.

He says made the decision to use GSI for its fulfillment operations when it began selling online in 2009 because it was cheaper to outsource the process than to revamp or add to existing warehouse facilities that store goods sold in the retailer’s 750 bricks-and-mortar stores.

But as its online sales pick up, the e-retailer regularly assesses its options and may bring its fulfillment in-house at some point in the future, he says. Ascena’s apparel brand began selling online last year and uses a different fulfillment vendor. Trent says using more than one vendor gives Ascena a better view of fulfillment center costs and capabilities, and that information will help the retailer evaluate whether it would be more cost-effective to fulfill orders itself.

Meanwhile, Trent says he’s pleased to outsource fulfillment to GSI because of the relationships he has with the managers at the Martinsville facility. “Of all my contacts in my personal network of e-commerce people, I’m one of the happiest with my fulfillment. I tie it all back to personal connections with people there,” he says.

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