What is the most important component to ensure a successful foray into e-commerce? Is it a thorough understanding of e-commerce software capabilities? An onsite Internet Guru? How about a snappy dot-com name? It’s none of these really.
In looking at the existing “success stories” in the e-commerce arena, what they all seem to have in common is an understanding that it is customer service that counts. Not some non-specific, intangible brand of customer service, but the hard fact of getting the customer what he wants, and fast. In short, the virtual world of e-commerce relies not on leading edge Internet technology per se, but on leading edge warehousing and shipping technology–what has come to be known as logistics.
That should come as no surprise. Looking back a hundred years or so, logistics were what made that late Canadian institution Eaton’s so great. The Eaton’s Catalog sold everything. From a farm in Saskatchewan, you could order the finest factory-made home dcor items, shoes for the kids, and a plow for the fields. All from a store at the corner of Yonge and Queen in downtown Toronto.
The catalog even provided a heady dose of scantily clad women for the young farm boys who could steal away to check out the ladies’ underwear offerings–sort of the Internet porn of its day.
The point was, however, that you got virtually anything sent to your door simply by sending in the order. Sure they made mistakes–one leading to another Canadian institution, Roch Carrier’s “The Hockey Sweater,” the tale of a Montreal boy who is sent a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey sweater instead of that of his beloved Montreal Canadiens, and is promptly sent to the penalty box when he tries to play with it on. For the most part, however, Eaton’s was known at least as much for its catalog business as it was for its stores. Decades of time changed all that, but it does not change the point, or the facts.
Amazon.com continues to come under fire on Wall Street for the fact that investors are nervous it is getting into the “bricks and mortar” business, even if they are content to look the other way for the time being. Amazon.com may be raking in millions on the stock exchange, but they’re spending millions building warehouses. Giggle as you will about how that book seller cum everything seller is yet to make a dime, its management obviously understands that if you want to sell things on the Net, you need to make sure that the products can get out the door and in the hands of a customer in an efficient, predictable manner.
The customer doesn’t care about logistics, or how low-turning items need to be ordered from a supplier, or how they’ve ordered a part that you don’t stock anymore; they want their stuff. Does that sound familiar?
It should, because the automotive aftermarket’s survival has been predicated on its ability to fill those needs for decades. Yes, automation of the warehouse is the key to efficiency. Yes, there are new tools, and new demands. And yes, there are many, many dollars to be spent on e-commerce for business-to-business and business-to-consumer opportunities.
Step one is, however, not about the technologies and systems of the virtual world, it’s about the real world, the one you visit every time you take an order, your inventory. The reality is that the virtual world depends on the real world to get products to the consumer, not the other way around.
So, if you’re assessing your capabilities for e-commerce, don’t forget to check out your warehouse; it’ll tell you just about everything you need to know.
In April’s issue of Jobber News, we’ll look at Steering, Chassis and Driveline parts, considering both sales and technical issues in this all important aftermarket segment. In addition, we’ll deliver innovative ways to maximize your May Car Care Month activities. As usual, we’ll also bring a solid assortment of news and business features designed to keep you informed.