Although KBKids.com still is grappling with its issues and refused to return phone calls, the recent partnership between ToysRUs.com and Amazon.com probably is an attempt, at least in part, to deal with the toy company's fulfillment problems, says Seema Williams, senior analyst for online retail at Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.
|"Focus your energy on making your warehouses more efficient, and devise a plan that allows warehouses to back each other up. The key is warehouses--not IT systems."|
"We know we'll increase our resources in the customer service area this holiday season as we do every season," she says. "We're going to make sure we use a combination of e-mail and phone support strategies to create a centralized atmosphere, and we plan to bring on some specialists who can work specifically on holiday order questions."Providing additional training for customer service reps--both permanent and seasonal employees--can improve the process, too. SmarterKids.com's customer service reps undergo an exhaustive training program that teaches them how to properly interact with customers. And CDNow plans to give its reps specialized training on how to handle e-mail and phone inquiries. But adding customer service representatives and training won't make much of a difference unless e-tailers have a system in place to handle customer inquiries quickly and efficiently. "Retailers need to make promises and keep them," says Steve Robins, director of products and services marketing at Servicesoft Inc., an e-tailer-focused software developer and service provider based in Natick, Mass. "To do that, they need an integrated system so every piece of the system knows what is going on everywhere else." Using these types of systems can help eliminate inaccuracies about in-stock items--a misperception that can turn to bitterness when an item is not received as promised. "Let's say a customer goes to a Web site toy store, which might have a front-end catalog showing the product is available. But the information on the Web site is only getting updated once a day. The company might not have tight integration into the back-end, and because the inventory isn't being updated in real time, they can have stock-out situations very easily. If you're missing that integration, you're going to have major challenges," Robins warns.