Use Initial Order Fill Rate to Measure Your Customer Service

When you look at all of the metrics multichannel companies can use to measure customer service, Initial Order Fill Rate (IOFR), or the percentage of orders that shipped complete, is the one that we think is best. But it’s also not often used.

Many consider IOFR to be just an inventory measure. But, its usefulness goes far beyond that. Here are four fill rate metrics and their formulae that companies use:

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How to Calculate Fulfillment Cost Per Order

Fulfillment cost per order (CPO) is the sum of all the warehousing expenses involved, including:
  • receiving, putting away and storing the product.
  • fulfilling orders through picking, packing, shipping.
  • reverse logistics or returns processing from customers.

Historically, fulfillment managers only looked at the labor portion of the CPO. But, this may only be 50% of the costs. A fully loaded cost per order is a better metric and includes facilities and occupancy costs and packing material costs.

This blog shows you how to calculate the fulfillment cost per order, cost per line, and cost per box shipped.

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How to Use Benchmarking to Improve Your Company’s Performance

At the heart of process improvement is benchmarking and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Lord Kelvin, the British scientist said, “You can’t improve something you haven’t measured”.  Here are 5 things to consider in using benchmarking in your business to improve productivity, reduce cost and increase customer service.

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Does Your Order Taking, Customer Service and Fulfillment Build Customer Confidence?

As we shop this Christmas season, we have had three examples that stand out from all the rest:

  •  We had our first same day order and same day delivery from Amazon.com. It wasn’t something we requested but we pleasantly surprised to get. Amazon has two distribution centers in Richmond, VA where we live. The order was placed on a Saturday in the late morning and delivered within four hours to our home. Frankly, I know that this isn’t an economical option for most businesses (maybe including Amazon). But I’ll tell you it is a formidable marketing weapon. It was extremely fulfilling to receive the item so quickly without leaving home. 
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Will Your New Order Management System Provide the Needed Reporting?

You have just spent many months doing your due diligence to replace your aging order management order management system reportingsystem: gathering user requirements, writing an RFP, getting capable system vendors to bid on it, conducting demos and selecting the finalist. Yet there is one more activity that, if not done superbly, will shake management’s confidence that implementation of the new system will go smoothly.

Download: How to Improve Your New Systems Selection and Implementation Process

If you haven’t adequately studied and documented how management, at every level from CEO to department managers, will get the needed information they’re used to having - your credibility could be in trouble. We are talking about the necessary reporting and key performance indicators needed in order to run the business on a daily, weekly, monthly and year-end basis. Even when business analysts feel they have done an adequate job of determining user requirements, the reporting functionality frequently gets cut short. There are a variety of reasons for this:

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Calculating and Comparing Your Total Cost per Order

 We have worked with hundreds of clients over the years to help them calculate and compare their total cost per order (call center and fulfillment functions). We are offering you the opportunity to take advantage of a free offer - if you collect and report what your major costs are for order taking and fulfillment, we will compare your total cost per order against other multichannel businesses that we within our benchmarking database.  All companies will remain anonymous and blind to any others that participate. Click to download data collection spreadsheet

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Return Policies Will Affect Whether Customers Shop With You

With a recovering economy, many catalog, eCommerce and retail businesses are trying to significantly reduce returns as a supply chain strategy in order to boost profits. Some companies are putting more restrictions and conditions on returns. Frankly, I think this will cause further erosion of sales. Who wants to buy a product that can't be returned, or that carries so many conditions for return? However, others are doing what I call "save the sale", that is, work with customers to help them understand the product and how to install or use it. Consumer electronics, software and technical products are far and away the biggest problem areas that could benefit from this approach. Case in point, recently our consulting firm had lengthy, painful experiences with two of the major U.S. software companies. In dealing with one of the companies, one of our people was transfered to an India-based call center, and spent five hours on the phone while trying to install a new version of software on a laptop. If we had any choice we would have asked for our money back.

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Why Marketing, Merchandising, Inventory Management Departments Need Business Intelligence Tools

I was sitting in a client meeting for business intelligence tools (BI) and dashboard planning this past week, and the Merchandising, Marketing and Inventory Management people were squaring off over why Merchandising’s results never tie back to Marketing and Inventory Management.  Some of it was argumentative, but when you step back and look at it objectively, it shows why business intelligence tools and executive analytics have such great promise for the retail and direct industries.

At every step in the product and promotion life cycle, these three departments’ needs are different—but at the same time they all revolve around gross demand planning and results.  (By “life cycle” I’m talking about the Marketing side of planning a campaign, re-forecasting results once the initial demand is in, and then potentially re-projecting after half the campaign when the majority of sales are in.)

Merchandising’s needs are about the pre-season merchandise plan or the continual planning for the eCommerce site; the forecasting by catalog drop; and the end of the season.  What quantity of each product is needed across all promotions—print, eCommerce and store?

The thing that ties these three departments’ planning and results efforts' together is gross demand data. Marketing arrives at the catalog gross demand plan based on their circulation plans by drop, by house file, and by outside list segment.  They also must think through all the “electronic” media in which specific products are featured—website home pages, e-mail, affiliate campaigns, etc.—and give some direction to Merchandising and Inventory Management.

Ideally, Merchandising’s catalog pre-season plans are built top-down by merchandise category, and bottom-up by product.  But they should come close to tying together with Marketing’s demand plans at the demand level.

Then we have Inventory Management.  It’s their job to interpret the plans and selling results and purchase product far enough in advance to be in stock when customers order.  From an inventory perspective, the Inventory Management plans aren’t going to tie back to the others’ plans exactly. Management allows Inventory Management to purchase more product than the demand plans indicate, based on vendor lead time, vendor discounts offered, etc.

Week-for-week, one of the hardest things to do is read selling trends and interpret them in a way that allows you to make the right decisions—which ultimately provide the base line projections for yet other departments, such as call center and supply chain logistics. Yet from an uninitiated perspective, it looks like a free-for-all, with many different versions of plans and results.

How can business intelligence tools, dashboard and executive analytic tools help with this critical decision-making?  The business intelligence tools can provide a consistent view of all the data, so that whether they’re analyzing demand or sales, all departments are utilizing a standardized view of the same data.  This allows each department to look at the segment of data that is meaningful to them.  Business intelligence tools allow users to take cuts of the data and compare them in multiple ways, whether it be this year to last year or actual to plan, as well as to reassemble the data and analyze it from one department to another.  Each department needs to maintain their own way of analyzing data, but also be able to bring their plans and results together in a consistent, uniform way.

The more we talked, the more the client’s managers got back inside their skins. And they realized how important having a single version of the truth, through business intelligence tools and executive analytics, would be to planning and reconciling results—day-for-day, week-to-week, and throughout the year.

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10 Tips to Manage Labor More Effectively in Your Supply Chain Logistics

Most supply chain logistics processes are largely manual in nature; only the very largest companies can justify advanced automation. When you look at the total cost of back end order fulfillment—as we did by studying our proprietary data collected during our Benchmarking ShareGroups and supply chain consulting projects—you’ll find that out of costs that include direct and indirect labor, occupancy, and shipping supplies, total labor generally makes up 60%-65%. (We have excluded shipping costs, because it distorts comparisons.)
Typically, labor rates were in the $7.00/hour range five years ago. In many direct businesses today they have reached $12.00 to $13.00, plus a 20% benefit rate added on. But overall productivity in supply chain logistics has remained flat over a 5- to 10-year period. So, after factoring in the increasing labor rates, productivity has actually declined.  Then consider employee turnover. Industry experience is that employee turnover in many supply chain logistics operations is 15%-25% or higher. Turnover costs range from $3,000 to $10,000 in people time, training, testing and the ramp-up to full production. This does not include expenses for agencies, ads, etc., which must be added on.
Given the current economic climate, most businesses are mandated to get more out of the resources they have. Here are 10 ways to improve productivity by managing your supply chain logistics' labor more effectively.

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Learning From History - Leon Gorman on L.L. Bean

Leon Gorman led L.L. Bean from $2.25 million to $1.2 billion from 1967 to 2001. In a keynote speech in Boston several years ago, he recalled the life of his grandfather, Leon Leonwood Bean, who founded the renowned outdoor gear and apparel company. Gorman believes that the company has prospered in large part because it has maintained its values, perhaps epitomized by the tenet "Treat people with respect, or they will not respect you."

Gorman has written about the company and its growth in the last half-century in L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon. This is one of the industry's great books. It painstakingly charts the changes in marketing and merchandising that achieved these dramatic results over 38 years. The book discusses the synergy and the necessary tension between marketing and merchandising. The role that supply chain strategies, including call center, plays in providing exemplary customer service. Staying true to the principles established by his grandfather L.L., sourcing the best outdoor products at the right price, how the college and preppy trends accelerated L.L. Bean's growth, trying to sell to women shoppers without getting caught up in fashion trends, providing a 100%, no-quibble guarantee (there are legendary stories about shoppers returning outdoor gear after extensive wear). It is the ultimate in customer service and kept customers coming back. Bean's huge retail presence in Freeport, ME and the slow charting of retail growth outside the region. Gorman talks about how different these channels are for them.

I met Leon Gorman in the mid-1970s. Mr. Gorman was friends with Mr. Frank O'Reilly, the then president of Brooks Brothers. In a very forward-thinking strategy, Mr. O'Reilly launched the first Brooks Brothers' catalog when BB had less than 20 stores. At that time I worked for Garfinckels, Brooks Brothers, Miller & Roads, Inc., in the corporate data center as the manager of research and development (systems and programming). Our team was invited to Freeport, ME for a week to explore all the aspects of order management software and customer service. Mr. Al Schmidt was in charge of the marketing at that time. Mr. Gorman and his team couldn't have been more gracious and thorough in educating us on the basics. Back then there were no commercially available order management systems. I vividly remember Mr. Gorman walking us through how he guided the selection of product and worked with creative to paginate the catalogs, and his concern for developing new products. We designed and programmed our 370 mainframe system by emulating L.L. Bean.

In the book, Mr. Gorman continually talks about the top guy being thoroughly involved with the merchandising of a direct company, something which is obviously very difficult to do given this rate of growth. Without continual product research and development and sourcing, retail and direct businesses are essentially out of business.

What's interesting about the way the book is written is that many people were interviewed, current and former L.L. Bean managers across the company and consultants as far back as Stanley Fenvessy. Mr. Gorman has his commentary and the other participants give their viewpoints (they are identified by name and position). This illustrates the contrasting viewpoints of various people who charted and achieved the company's long-term growth. But one thing for sure, Leon Gorman was ultimately in charge, and he held himself and the company accountable to achieving the best results for all stakeholders.

This is a great read. Get your team reading it now. Especially for young managers it's a great way to see how all the functions fit together.

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Curt Barry is president of F. Curtis Barry & Company, a national consultancy focusing on warehouse, systems, and inventory management.
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