Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
February 1, 2013

Question: We launched our online store about five months ago and orders have been coming in. The sales are up and down. It seems like we get a few orders a day for a week or so and then it slows way down. I would appreciate your feedback on how to even out the sales, but my biggest problem is order errors. We have had orders go out late or filled incorrectly, and one was even forgotten altogether! I know we have to do better and I have talked to my staff about this, but I am not sure what we are doing wrong. How hard can this be? Order comes in, inventory gathered, sale processed, box packed and shipped … what am I missing? I know we need to fix this ASAP!

Answer: Many factors can affect the irregularity of online sales, or any sales for that matter. The first that comes to mind is advertising. Were you mentioned on a blog or added to a Pinterest board? Sometimes that kind of publicity, over which you have no control, can create a spike in sales that slows down fairly quickly.

As for the problem with order fulfillment, anyone with an online e-commerce site will stress the importance of accuracy and good customer service, so it is great you are looking at correcting this issue right away. Do you have written procedures for order fulfillment? Is each step assigned to a person, either for task completion or overall responsibility? Is one person accountable or are jobs split up among your staff?

For any area of your business to be successful and seamless, everyone involved needs to know what is expected of them. It sounds like the ball gets dropped occasionally. The easiest way to rectify this is to create a flow chart that begins with the order being placed by the customer and ends with an email confirming the shipment has been sent. List all the steps from beginning to end—no task is too small to list, even if it seems obvious to you—and then gather your staff and solicit their opinions on how order fulfillment can be made more efficient and timely. Once you do that, and everyone has had input and knows their part, I bet the results will please you!

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (www.elysianfieldsonline.com), an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to kim@retailinginsight.com.