Ecommerce and Entrepreneurship Blog | About | Contact | Store

Setting Up and Tracking Metrics That Matter

Posted on September 20, 2011 by Ashley

Most people would think that managing an area with such a well defined process of responisbilites, like a returns department, would have a simplistic process for managing employee productivity. Of course there is the occasional “think outside of the box” issue, but most of it is simply following a procedure to reach a specific end goal. It is valuable to us then to have a set of metrics that can visually show us if what we are doing is functioning effectively or not. A good set of metrics can help employees of any department work to achieve an overall goal. So how then do we make sure that the metrics we have in place work for the people responsible for them?

According to Dev Patnaik the founder and chief executive of Jump Associates, process metrics actually tend to be the last part of the whole solution. It doesn’t make much sense for us to measure the effectiveness of metrics if we don’t first evaluate the employee. We also need to know what kind of person we are looking for as well as if we have enough cause to actually need to measure the process. Of course when you have a cluster of customers returning items for whatever the reason, you always have cause to make sure the returns process is seen through to the end. This way the customer has a pleasant experience even in the case of them having to return something. It is incredibly important that the person handling the process then is able to effectively and promptly handle the issue and a metric system helps them to know what is expected in each case.

In order to motivate the person responsible for handling the loads of returns, they need to know what that involves and why it is important. Returns process involves inspections, updates, reviews, reorders, refunds and so much more. Thus, we need an innovative way to make sure our metrics can capture all of these steps. For us, we use the term “buckets” or simply the area of responsibility. Each bucket is allotted a specific number of issues that are allowed to stay open at the end of each day. It’s important to communicate that the metrics aren't in place to just micromanage people but to be a positive tool that has helped our department be successful and helped us to see where there really are area's that need attending to.

The area that seems most daunting, at least to me, is knowing how to deal with the metrics not being met. As it is a learning process, the key for me is to encourage the employee instead of focusing on the discouraging fact that the metric might goal has not been realized. This allows me as a Team Leader to overview the metrics and easily locate where the problem may be coming from. Now I can encourage the person on what areas can be approved and provide them with useful tools to do so.

Having a detailed set of metrics in place has helped me and my department immensely. Although it may not be for everyone, it has enabled us to be more successful. What are some metrics you could use to make your department more successful today?

Eight Tips for Completing a Successful Product Inventory Count

Posted on June 24, 2011 by Ashley

Every year our business does what would be called a “physical inventory count.” To me, just looking at those three little words seems daunting. Last year, myself and five other co-workers braved the warehouse shelves in order to update our product inventory count. As a small business, this is important for us to do in order to keep an accurate count of inventory we have. However, since it can be extremely time consuming, here are a few tips for you to consider before diving into the inventory trenches!

  1. Set a Date - As some of you may have found out the hard way, taking inventory is not something you want to do randomly one day when you may have nothing else to do. Since taking inventory takes a lot of time, it is important to set a date in the coming days or months that can give you time to make a plan.
  2. All Hands on Deck - Setting a date and planning ahead is important, but if you don’t check to make sure your fellow department co-workers are at work that day…good luck doing it on your own! Check the company calendar and make sure you set the physical inventory count on a day that all members can be there!
  3. Be One with Your Warehouse - Now that you have a date set on a day that people will actually be at work to help you, it is important to know your way around in your warehouse. Just because you have a group of co-workers ready to dive in, if you have no plan of action, the only physical thing happening will be chaos. Go through each isle and figure out how you want to sort or section out the different parts of inventory before you start the process. For us, we have found that having the product sorted by manufacturer makes it easy to find what you need. Using labels as a visual marker can also be a huge help as well.
  4. Assign, Assign, Assign! - Now that you have set a date, have co-workers to help, and labeling in the warehouse, assign each person or persons to a row or isle that they can be in charge of. When you are dealing with thousands of products, organizing and assigning a section to each group of people will help the counting go quickly. If you release your team to the warehouse without an action plan, chaos is inevitable.
  5. Technology - Now that all the working pieces are in place, you need a way to capture the information! For most, it’s all going to be inputted into a computer. As silly as it may sound, it can be easy to miss the importance of how you will be capturing the data. It would also be best to leave a column for notes, in case you run into “problem” products, like those without defined brand names or model #s.
  6. Pro-nun-ci-ate - I can not tell you how many times this last year we all spent yelling back and forth at each other because the person taking down the numbers could not understand the person reading off of the labels. Add in a few passing trains and deliveries from FedEx and UPS and you have a mass reverberating chaos of sound. Make sure if you are the person the information is coming from, to pronunciation each word and letter very clearly so that the receiver isn’t asking you to repeat yourself a hundred times.
  7. Team Huddle - Now that you are ready and have communicated all the necessary information about to your team, take a moment to encourage them! Let them know to be quick but efficient. Most importantly though, let them know that if they find a product out of place or with an incorrect label to get it down on the computer, move it to the correct section.
  8. Sound the Alarm - Make sure you let the rest of your office and your customers know that you are doing a physical inventory count! For most of us this will take up an entire morning if not longer. By letting the rest of your co-workers and customers know, it will cut down on questions regarding inventory quantity. Also, your fellow co-workers won’t have to wonder where everyone is when they see an entire department gone from their desks and no where to be found!

What about you? Do you have any tips that weren't listed here, that help when doing an inventory? Make sure to leave them in the comments!


Understanding the Many Angles of Business Communication

Posted on March 31, 2011 by Ashley

We live in a world full of distractions. With Twitter, Facebook and YouTube at our fingertips, it can be hard to stay focused in the work place. It becomes exceedingly hard since we communicate with co-workers in so many forms: Email, Instant Message and face-to-face.  How then, do we keep effective communication flowing? Here are a few tips.


When communicating through email make sure to be concise and to the point, always remembering what you want to accomplish. This is especially important if you are relaying information that may be a more involved issue. If you get distracted or stray from what your main goal is, your email will only confuse the person it is going to. The key here is to keep your email to as few sentences in length as possible. As the saying goes, “less is more.” Writing five paragraphs is not an email, it’s an essay. Let’s face it, the majority of us only skim emails so make it count.  Keep in mind, if you feel the issue at hand requires more than a few sentences in length then you need to communicate face-to-face. This way, nothing you need to convey will lost in translation.

Instant Messaging:

This type of communication can be great if you need a quick response, or when you need someone to take a look at a link to see what you are referring to. This type of business conversation is highly effective in business because it uses the least amount of time and can get you back to what your working on fast. Word to the wise though, know your audience. Since no one person has an identical personality, some may interpret what you say over IM in a way you may not have meant it. Try to stay away from correcting or disciplining someone over IM. Those are situations that should be left for face-to-face communication. Also, just as with email communication, it is important to keep what you are communicating short, sweet and to the point. No one wants to have to sift through lines and lines over an IM.  The longer the IM gets, the more likely you are to distract the person away from what you’re trying to accomplish.


Saving the best for last, nothing seems to beat face-to-face communication (other than the fact that you might have to get out of your cubical to do it!). Communicating amongst each other in person can alleviate any misunderstandings that could happen over an IM or email and allows for the most information-rich medium. Another great tool face-to-face communication gives us is growing and maturing social relationships with co-workers.  Growing bonds between each other by face-to-face interaction can prove to be very valuable by pulling everyone together to problem solve and think more critically about certain issues. There can be a down side to face-to-face communication, if all your employees are just standing around each others desks “chit chatting it up” then no work is getting done. It is important to make sure that conversations are kept work related when on the clock. This is also extremely important to remember so you can prevent disruptions among other co-workers who may be taking sales calls.

As you can see, brevity seems to be the reoccurring theme in effectively communicating with co-workers. The more clear and concise you are the more efficient you will become, and the more work you can accomplish.

What about you, do you have any other tips on how to communicate more effectively? Leave them in the comments.