FULFILLMENT Last-minute gift-wrapping tips

Are you ready for the holiday order crush? Given the problems that some catalogers and Web marketers had forecasting inventory needs and fulfilling holiday orders last year, gift-wrapping strategies probably weren’t a priority. But if you offer gift-wrapping, you must be prepared for the additional time and effort the service requires.

Particularly now that many catalogers are also selling via the Web, an influx of holiday gift orders can wreak havoc on your operation if you’re not adequately staffed and properly stocked with supplies – not to mention extremely organized. And since providing gift-wrapping costs catalogers in materials, time, and manpower, any place you can cut costs or save time will boost your bottom line.

But you must remember that your customers are counting on you to make a gift special, so don’t cut corners so much that presentation – and customer satisfaction – suffers. Below, a few tips to keep in mind.

Stock up on supplies It may sound like a no-brainer, but you’ll need an ample supply of items such as wrapping paper, tape, boxes, ribbon, and gift cards. If you do run out of supplies, you may need to be creative. For instance, “you can buy decorative ribbon surprisingly cheap at any local flower wholesaler,” says Jim Zimmerman, president of Los Angeles-based Italian ceramics cataloger Cottura.

Allocate enough staff Calculate the extra time required to gift-wrap or box an order, and hire more people if you need to, says John Kendig, merchandise manager for Emeryville, CA-based wellness products cataloger SelfCare, which wraps items in a tissue-lined gift box with a card and ribbon for $4.50. For example, says Kendig, who also oversees SelfCare’s operations, “during the holiday season, we hire a night crew to gift package as well.”

Cross-train workers to wrap All of the warehouse workers should know how to wrap gift orders. For instance, the packers at upscale gifts cataloger Gump’s Direct are trained to gift-wrap orders, says director of marketing Leigh Tricamo. Gump’s Direct, a subsidiary of Hanover Brands, gift-packages about 50% of all holiday orders in a gold-and-white box with a ribbon, charging $2.50 for the service. If you’re really in a jam, you may be able to enlist the services of employees from other departments such as merchandising or rebuying.

Keep it clean It’s easy for the packing station to become a shambles when workers are furiously packaging gift orders, but a chaotic work area could cause workers to make mistakes or waste time looking for misplaced items. Also, “warehouse dust can settle into the creases of the gift-wrapped package, making it look dirty,” says Cottura’s Zimmerman, while humidity can rob some of the color from gift boxes, bags, and wrapping paper. That’s why eight years ago, Cottura set up a separate gift-wrapping room off the warehouse near the UPS shipping station.

CatMan clarification Avexxis, the publisher of the CatMan catalog management software, contacted Catalog Age regarding several factual errors made by a manager at stuffed bears marketer Vermont Teddy Bear (VTB), in his September 2000 review of CatMan. Below is a review of Avexxis’s software by Vermont Teddy Bear’s IT director, Bonnie West:

The software application that VTB currently uses was installed in 1995, prior to the development of CatMan, and has been highly customized. Although it shares many of the same roots, it is not a true representation of the CatMan product. During VTB’s Valentine’s Day peak holiday in 2000, we had almost 450 end users entering sales orders, printing pick tickets, handling customer service, managing inventory, and reporting. VTB is in the process of a phased upgrade from our custom application to the current CatMan software.

The implementation cost (software, $197,000; hardware, $250,000) included the application source code, license to the development toolset, 300-user license to database, 300-user license for terminal emulation software on client workstation, three months of customization programming, and fully redundant hardware systems.

Strengths: Flexibility to make coding modifications as business rules change is inherent in product; sales order-entry process, once learned, is an efficient process; application software/platform has allowed VTB to handle large fluctuations in sales-order volume; VTB is able to capture precise information regarding the profitability of our advertising venues; upsell and cross-sell features; maintenance to files – product, sales code, order type – is easily accomplished by application end user; data dictionary changes – adding synonyms for data fields, changing screen layouts, modifying field lengths – are easily accomplished by IT staff; reports are easily constructed by IT staff selecting any variables, including totals, either summary or detail, etc., and are able to be exported to MS-Excel; end users may execute any existing report as long as they have the proper menu access; programming allows for automatic import of sales orders into CatMan from VTB Website; universe database does not require a DBA on staff at VTB.

Weaknesses: Avexxis must do modifications to program code due to lack of VTB programming resources as well as to ensure the integrity of the product; the function keys that determine navigation on the screen are not intuitive, and this is an issue when VTB needs to train temporary staff for peak holidays.

Overall system ranking (on a scale of 1-10): 8

It may be too late to make changes for this year, but you should nonetheless evaluate your gift-wrapping charges. You may find that you’re charging too much for gift-wrapping (about $4 is the unofficial industry average), thus discouraging customers from placing gift orders with you. Or you may not be charging enough, thereby losing money on the service. For example, Medfield, MA-based gifts cataloger Potpourri Collection this year raised its gift-wrapping prices from $3.50 to $4.50 just to break even, says president Jack Rosenfeld, “because it was costing us more in labor and raw materials.”

On the other hand, Cottura does not charge extra for gift wrapping, which includes a gift box or bag with ribbon and a gift card. Zimmerman views gift-wrapping as a value-added service to the cataloger’s upscale merchandise selection that includes items costing up to $2,400. “If you’re going to spend, say, $500 with us, gift-wrapping a package is the least we could do,” he says.

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