A bit of APT advice

Customisation may not always fit the bill of e-tailing's strategic "panacea", proposes e-business analyst Paul Koffler.

Quick fulfilment of online orders, including product returns and exchanges, should be kept a higher priority for many companies, Koffler maintains, in order to retain customers and market share.

Koffler is an analyst with aptly-named Australian online research firm APT Strategies. He was speaking about a report recently released by APT, which suggested that order fulfilment in the Australian dot-com marketplace is an "afterthought driven into the forefront when crisis occurs".

The report was based on a poll of 8438 Australians who had shopped online in the past 12 months, APT said.

Koffler said it was crucial for e-tailers to locate a balance between satisfying increasing demands for customisation and insuring immediacy of stock availability.

A blanket approach of product customisation will not benefit many dot-com retailers, he said.

E-tailers, particularly those selling "low specification, low deployment or frequently used" products should focus on high inventory availability and quick, reliable fulfilment, he said.

Cost savings made by using a per-order warehouse system often do not justify the accompanying risk of delayed delivery and reduced customer retention, he said.

"There are always going to be people who want ready-made fast food as opposed to a gourmet sandwich with a bit of this and bit of that."

Koffler acknowledged that the success of e-tailers that sell high-specification products, such as Dell Computer, was a result of customisation.

However, he proposed that e-tailers of office supplies or groceries would not satisfy customer demands using a similar business model.

The APT report recommends Australian e-tailers form partnerships with service stations and convenience stores to overcome the "major e-business obstacle" of e-fulfilment.

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