What Holiday Crunch?
Diana Wells -- 12/20/99
Sellers and shippers say they're staffed, stocked and ready for the rush
Despite predictions that online sales will increase 200%-300% over last year, the general consensus in early December of major wholesalers, shipping companies and online booksellers was that this holiday season will be a smooth one, with few, if any, problems getting books into customers' hands.
Connie Coury, v-p of marketing for Baker & Taylor, summed up the opinions of everyone to whom PW spoke when she said, "Everything is on target for this time of year," adding that the company has doubled capacity at its distribution centers since September in preparation for the holidays.
K n Book Distribution has added roughly the same number of seasonal workers to its telemarketing and warehouse staff as last year and, according to director of marketing Jim DiMiero, is keeping up with demand while experiencing record sales.
Jim Chandler, president of Ingram Book Co., said he expected shipping and fulfillment to be no different this holiday season than previous ones, cheerfully conceding that "you can only shove so much through a funnel at once." He noted that Ingram has worked closely with key online retailers this year to track sales expectations and early trends; he estimates that the company will see a double-digit increase in sales during the season.
Both Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com seem confident that they can handle the seasonal rush without the late shipments and problematic returns procedures that plagued last year's holiday season. Kay Dangaard, director of press relations for Amazon.com, reported that the company "has gone to great lengths to ensure smooth customer service and order fulfillment" by building new distribution centers and increasing its focus on "quality control."
Carl Rosendorff, senior v-p at B&N. com, admitted that "last year was a learning experience," one that spurred the company to start planning for this year's holiday rush last winter by streamlining fulfillment and delivery systems, increasing capacity at its distribution center and stocking up on titles earlier than ever. He also noted that B&N.com is already seeing "significant increases over last holiday season, across the board."
The giant online retailers aren't the only ones who appear ready for the rush. Powells.com is so confident that it can keep up with its expected 250%-300% increase in online sales that it installed a new ordering system just one month ago, courageous timing by any standards. Among other things, it allows customers to track orders and maintain multiple addresses to facilitate gift-giving.
Kanth Gopalpur, Powell's online manager, told PW that more than 60% of holiday orders are being shipped within 24 hours, the rest taking between two and three days. He foresees no problems with either fulfillment or shipping this season, noting that Powell's had a test rush in September, when it announced a new policy of free shipping for orders over $50, which led to an immediate 50% increase in online sales over the previous month.
Even United Parcel Service seems unfazed by the heightened expectations. Steve Holmes, a public relations manager for UPS, remarked that while the company hired 90,000 extra workers for this holiday season -- about the same as last year -- it has made significant investments over the last few years in high-tech programs, such as its online tracking system, that will facilitate shipping during the rush. Holmes added, "E-commerce is permeating every package we deliver, in one way or another." The U.S. Postal Service has added 40,000 temporary holiday employees and leased more than one million square feet of additional processing space.
Volume 245 Issue 51 12/20/1999