Trying Harder

Better, but not great – that’s Andersen Consulting’s verdict on holiday 2000 e-fulfillment compared to the previous year’s performance. Merchants’ huge leaps forward in some areas were offset by slippage in others, as well as some hilarious mistakes.

In the week after Thanksgiving, Andersen Consulting placed 563 orders at 97 U.S. retailers, e-merchants, and catalog companies marketing such products as toys, gifts, apparel, music, movies, and books. Units per order averaged 1.8, with an order value of $43.92. The goal was to test fulfillment yardsticks such as ease of ordering online, product availability, order and shipment confirmation, delivery date information, and returns handling.

Final results were not available at press time, but preliminary findings show that 92% of the orders – up from 74% in 1999 – were processed successfully. Online technical failures dropped from about 26% to 8%, and customers’ time spent ordering fell from 12 minutes to nine. Eighty-two percent of merchants supplied order confirmations, compared to 67% in 1999, and shipment confirmations, although still uncommon, rose to 26% in 2000 from 20% the year before.

On the downside, only 35% of companies offered information about in-stock status, whereas 45% did so in 1999. The number of companies that gave customers expected delivery dates rose 17%, but merchants also played it safe by giving themselves a whopping 60% more time to go from order receipt to shopper’s doorstep. Retailers more than doubled their lead times (order date to expected delivery date) from four days to nine.

That didn’t keep companies from blundering. In a section called “Can you believe they did this?!” the Andersen team lists the top five gaffes it came across. Our favorite? An e-mail that said, “This e-mail confirms that we did get your order, even if you don’t get this e-mail confirmation.”

For more information, contact Andersen Consulting (renamed Accenture as of Jan. 1) at 1345 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10105; phone: (917) 452-4947; Web site:

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