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40% of managers who install a new in-house system will be gone within three to six months.
-by John Chilson, Circulation Solutions Magazine

Fulfillment is all about getting the customer what they ordered when they expect it. (Notice: I didn’t say “as fast as possible”) Ever since the first mail order catalogs came to be around the turn of the century the problem of fulfillment has required that companies find ways to process orders. The first fulfillment systems were file cabinets, bins, racks and an army of clerks and mailroom people who read each order as it came in, verified the payment (or created an account to be paid off later by the customer) and then mailed the product.

Subscriptions required even more paperwork, but somehow early magazines managed to get just about everything right without the aid of computers.

Modern companies with fulfillment problems were among the first small companies to purchase computers. The computer (they all though) would simplify the problem of fulfillment. In some cases this was true, but in many others, poor systems wrecked havoc with companies.

Imagine you receive 200 orders online for your candy. Your candy costs $5 a box. Your fulfillment system tells the boys down in the mailroom what to mail where. To make matters more complex you candy comes in 5 colors and 3 shapes. Due to poor software and negligent monitoring of that software you end up sending out only 100 of the orders, and 50 of them are wrong. Now you start getting calls from your angry customers. They want refunds, but you already used most of the money you made to improve your candy production line and to pay the guys down in the mailroom. You also must re-send 50 of the orders and take a loss on the candy you sent out mistakenly. This is what can happen when you depend on a black box whose workings you do not understand to sort out something as critical to business success as fulfillment.

If a fulfillment system sounds too good to be true it probably is. Trust nothing that a manufacture of fulfillment software says. Never buy anything you don’t understand. When all else fails, buy some bins and a filing cabinet.

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