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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!


Three Tips for Problem Solving in the Workplace

Posted on June 13, 2011 by Suzanne

I was never a fan of problem solving in school. I would always question when I was going to actually use it in real life. Well, I may not be solving math problems all day, but I do have to do a lot of problem solving in business that can be tied back to what I learned in school. So, here are the three basic steps that I walk through when a problem arises in the workplace.

Step Back and Gather All the Information 

I often find that many problems happen because the person that has the problem is overwhelmed / stressed, and unable to see the big picture. What I find helpful is to take a deep breath and start from the beginning by answering three simple questions. What am I trying to accomplish? How did it get to this point? and How can I resolve the situation and still achieve my goal? In asking these questions it helps me step back and see what I may have missed before. Gathering this information can be vital to a successful resolution to the problem.

Make the Call

What I have learned during my time at Gordian Project is that every vendor, customer or team member has a different personality. Some need to be white gloved and others just chug along without much stress. It is important for me to understand that when there is a problem, sometimes the best thing I can do is get on the phone and talk to the person directly. What I usually find out is that there is information that was not given to me in the first place, or one or both of us misunderstood the other.  The computer revolution has given us many amazing pieces of technology; however, we still do not have a device to help interpret the tone an email is sent in. Calling that person allows you to directly diffuse any tension and remind both parties that you’re only human.

Follow Up

Following up after a problem is solved is a great way to build confidence with your customer’s, vendors or team members. It lets them know that you took their issue seriously and that you are going to be available to them if another one comes up. I personally find the follow up to be one of the least used aspects of problem solving. Following up is essential to making sure all parties involved were happy with the outcome, while at the same time building up trust in the relationship between those involved. Make sure you always follow up.

Of course in problem solving every situation is different, so all problems may not fall into these tips. However, these basic steps always help me to get straight to the critical thinking and leave the stress and frustration behind, allowing me to better answer and address problems when they start.

What about you? How do you tackle problems when they arise? Any tips we left out? Make sure to leave them in the comments.

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Three Tips to Help When Feeling Overwhelmed at Work

Posted on March 4, 2011 by Suzanne

Feeling overwhelmed is inevitable in today’s workplace. With technology we not only work faster, but are constantly berated with incoming issues. It often seems like it is coming at you too fast or that you will never get your head above water. Just opening your computer in the morning to see your email inbox is sometimes enough to make you disheartened. Take heart, you are not alone; but how do we look past the avalanche of work and accomplish the tasks at hand? These are a few things I think about when I feel like I’m overwhelmed at work.

Don’t Get Stuck on the Big Picture
We all want to help with the main goals the comapny is trying to accomplish, but once you know what the general direction of the company is, use that information to help direct you to the projects that best assist the big picture. It’s easy to dwell on the big picture and forget where you are actually headed, so instead of letting that drive what you do, make that knowledge work for you in order to accomplish your smaller goals. These, in turn, will help drive the overall goals of the company.

Know When to Say “No”
In a technology driven society we all have the ability to multitask in a way our parents never dreamed of; but just because you can juggle ten flaming pins doesn’t mean you should. Know how you work and know where your max is. If you continue to take on responsibility there will inevitably come a time when all your tasks begin to hinder how well you work. In work, quality is always better than quantity, as a sustainable business grows on quality work. Say no to the projects that will push you over your limit and work hard to create the best quality work on the ones you are currently undertaking.

Stuck? Ask for Help
If you do end up with too much on your plate, don’t be afraid to ask for help or delegate a task to someone else. It’s for this reason that it is important to know who you work with and how you can help each other succeed. For me, when I am stuck on a task, I ask for help from someone who may know what I’m doing better than I do. Not only does this help get the task done faster, but I learn how to trouble shoot that problem in the future. We all love being the best at what we do, but there comes a time when a problem can be solved in 5 minutes by asking for help and that 5 minutes can save 45 minutes of frustration trying to think of what to do.

These three tips are what help me the most when I am feeling overwhelemed. How about you, how do you deal with your workload?

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B2B Technology Finding Ways to Replace Paper

Posted on October 19, 2010 by Suzanne

Technology has slowly taken over our everyday lives. Some of us still may not realize how much technology affects us until we try to live without it. This becomes painfully clear to me when I see a business request a fax or continue to send paper invoices, both allowing room for error that is not necessary. I myself have slowly come to the realization that technology rules my life. It’s sad, but I have to admit that I feel incomplete and unprepared when I leave home without my cell phone or iPod. When did this happen? Technology, like internet, cell phones, eReaders and iPods are relatively new in my life so how did it take over so quickly? It all comes down to convenience. Simple put technology makes the things we love easy. So it’s no surprise that it works so well in business.

In business technology makes everything streamlined and efficient. Invoicing becomes more exact. Shipping information can be communicated quickly. The possibilities are endless. That is where B2B eCommerce comes into play. B2B or Business to Business is the electronic exchange of business documents between businesses for the purpose of conducting commerce. This article from Electronic Cash News helped me understand B2B eCommerce. Most of the time, businesses using B2B technology will be using EDI (Electronic Data Interchange). This technology allows the exchange between the 2 parties to have little to no manual interaction, allowing companies to cut out the middle man, which in this case is usually paper.

When I compare companies that have an EDI with those that do not, the differences are numerous. With EDI, invoices are automatic (to an extent) and accurate, while the company without EDI may send invoices via a number of different methods such as snail mail, email, or fax. All methods that require manual interaction, which is inefficient and can lead to errors. But these efficiencies are not just in invoicing, they can also help many other aspects of the business such as order entry, shipping updates and even communicating stocking status.

With the advances in technology, especially with EDI, I find it hard to understand why more companies are not moving to more of these types of B2B interactions. I suppose these businesses are the ones that said internet retailers wouldn’t last, but according to this article from Internet Retailer “half of retail transactions will take place online or be influenced by what consumers see on the web by 2013.” So it looks like it’s time to break the news to your fax machines and your paper; the internet is here to stay and if your business wants to keep up it’s time to move on to some up to date technology.


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MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing) Misguiding's

Posted on September 7, 2010 by Jeff

In my most recent blog, Internet Retail and MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing), I concluded my post with a simple statement of experience, “If anything, the aggressiveness of MAP policies has heightened.”  I thought I might note a few of the most recently communicated MAP requirements. Not only are these mutually exclusive and/or misguided attempts to improve individual brand positioning, but more importantly they create a poor customer experience. The very thing MAP policies are traditionally communicated to improve.

  • Homepage Logo – While it makes for a positive speaking point, every brand image can’t be on the homepage. For one, a cluttered homepage is unprofessional, and in actuality the homepage has little real relevance to most customers.  The retailer’s goal is to land the inbound customer on a page much more relevant to their search.  This request generally comes from a traditional understanding of showroom brand positioning.  With limited retail shelf space there is an innate value to insuring a given brand is represented up front.  This is, of course, not the case online.  Most customers don’t enter through the “front door”, or homepage, as the entry point, search terms, refinements, and navigation are much more critical.  For examples, look to e-commerce leaders like Amazon and Zappos who do not present logos on their homepage.
  • Product List and Search Manipulation – Again, everyone can’t be on the first page of search or navigation based product results.  While merchandising is a key component of a successful retailer strategy, there is also significant importance given to the purity of search results.  For long term success it is critical that a retailer maintain focus on showing customers the most relevant results as they search and navigate, rather than artificially favoring any one brand or product.  Google has set the standard in terms of purity of search, and their organic search results cannot easily be manipulated by paying.  That concept needs to translate to search within the retailer’s property as well.
  • Customer Service Days and Hours – In the same way a manufacturer would not burden themselves with managing a showroom’s business details, it makes little sense to involve themselves in the management of the same for an internet retailer.  At the heart of the issue is customer service.  Thankfully, in the online arena, there are several 3rd party means of measurement.  Those include services like BizRate, LivePerson Rating, and the BBB.  A Quality Internet Retailer will subject themselves to these rating services.
  • Compliance With a MAPP That Is Not Effectively Policed – When a MAPP is not effectively implemented or consistently policed over time, the brand, as well as its Quality Internet Retailers, takes the hit.  For the brand, the market becomes cluttered with poor quality, fly-by-night sites and listings that degrade their reputation with the customer.  For the retailer, the inability to compete makes investing in the brand a tough proposition.  Ultimately, in this scenario, only the poor retailer benefits, and only in the short run.   Allowing the Quality Internet Retailers to compete is likely the best way to drown out the noise and bring the brand position back to the level of quality expected.



Creating the Customer Experience from Every Department of the Company

Posted on August 27, 2010 by Suzanne

Most of us think that the customer experience is the responsibility of Customer Service department, which seems natural, right? They deal with the customer, so why should a warehouse guy or a data temp care if our customers are having a good experience? This is the wrong way to look at it, as the bottom line is everything we do as an eCommerce company culminates in the customer experience. If the customer does not have a good experience on our site, chances are they will never come back, and may even tell others not to as well. For example, if the information on the site is incorrect, and the customer receives the incorrect item, their experience with the site may not be a good one. Similarly, if an item isn’t packaged properly and ends up damaged on the way to the customer, again, the situation could end in a bad customer experience.

Customer Service is a big part of the customer experience simply because they deal most with the customers on a one-on-one basis. Wouldn't their job be so much easier if we all had the mindset of wanting our customers to have the best experience possible? If that mentality were part of a mantra or a company pillar and was engrained in the work ethic of new employees, wouldn’t that make the internet a better place to shop?

So, as a member of Gordian Project/Supply Chain, how can I contribute to a great customer experience? The first thing that comes to mind is better internal and external communication. I can encourage our vendors to give us the best information to put on our website, and in turn I can communicate any changes within the department that may affect customer experience to Customer Service. Which will prepare them for any questions they may receive. This is just one change I can make, but actively looking for these types of oppurtunities can greatly effect the customer experience.

For more ideas on how to encourage your team to give your customers a great experience, read this awesome article I found on There are some great tips for all departments and employees, from the top down.


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Tips When Preparing for Time Off

Posted on August 11, 2010 by Arianna

Taking time off of work requires more than just filling out a vacation request form. This is especially true when you have a team that depends on you to organize their daily tasks. When I found out I was pregnant, I thought “nine months is an eternity!” but I soon realized that time goes by faster than you think. As a result, I have spent the last three months preparing for my maternity leave. Whether you’re going on maternity leave or taking a week long vacation, it is important that you provide your office with the tools necessary to function while you’re away. Here are a few tips that that will help you make preparations, in advance, to be ready for your day of departure.

First you have to prepare instructions. Think of this step as a manual guide for your team to know what it is you do and how it is you do it. Start by creating a list of all your tasks and provide instruction on how to complete each task. Be as detailed as possible! Give a step by step process that is both thorough and easy to follow. I recommend that you take your process to a co-worker outside of your department who is not familiar with your job, and see if they could follow your processes and complete the task themselves. This way you know if you gave them enough information to complete the task. If they are not clear on how to complete the task then revise the instructions until they are. Lastly, make a folder of instructions on the company intranet for employees to refrence.

Next, make sure that you sit with each team member to discuss any outstanding or open issues that need to be completed before your departure. Often times people leave outstanding issues which can create havoc when you’re not available to discuss the issue, or to give insight on what is going on with a specific project. Remember to allow yourself time for team members to tell you what tasks they need you to complete before you leave. If at all possible, provide your team with a contact number where they can reach you, or call in from time to time to make sure that everything is running smoothly.

In the weeks prior to your departure do a “test run” to ensure that there are no outstanding questions from anyone covering your duties while you’re away. During this time, act as if you are not in the office and shadow your replacement as they complete your tasks. Any mistakes or hiccups will reveal if more detailed training is needed.

Creating a manual for your team will not only show your boss and team members that you care about the success of the company, but ultimately that you care about them. Any anxieties your boss may have prior to your departure will fade as you provide everyone with the tools necessary to function while you’re away.  If you begin preparing for your time off early these tips should be stress free and easy to accomplish.


Internet Retail and MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing)

Posted on July 15, 2010 by Jeff

It seems more and more of my day is spent responding to manufacturer “Minimum Advertised Pricing” policies. Spend any time in retail and you’ve likely had one impact your day whether you were aware of it or not. A clear definition is a bit difficult to come by but I did find buried in Wikipedia’s Suggested Retail Price article a good synopsis:

Minimum advertised price or MAP (also known as resale price maintenance, or RPM) is the practice of restricting pricing at the consumer level. Price fixing agreements are illegal in many countries when members and terms in the agreement match predefined legal criteria.

Fixed pricing established between a distributor and seller or between two or more sellers may violate antitrust laws in the United States.

In Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 127 S. Ct. 2705 (2007), the Supreme Court considered whether federal antitrust law established per se ban on minimum resale price agreements and, instead, allow resale price maintenance agreements to be judged by the rule of reason, the usual standard applied to determine if there is a violation of section 1 of the Sherman Act. In holding that vertical price restraints should be judged by the rule of reason, the Court overruled Dr. Miles Medical Co. v. John D. Park & Sons Co., 220 U.S. 373 (1911).
Because the rule of reason applies, minimum RPM agreements may still be unlawful. In fact, in Leegin, the Court identified at least two ways in which a purely vertical minimum RPM agreement might be illegal. First, “[a] dominant retailer ... might request resale price maintenance to forestall innovation in distribution that decreases costs. A manufacturer might consider it has little choice but to accommodate the retailer's demands for vertical price restraints if the manufacturer believes it needs access to the retailer's distribution network." Second, “[a] manufacturer with market power ... might use resale price maintenance to give retailers an incentive not to sell the products of smaller rivals or new entrants.”

In both of these examples, an economically powerful firm uses minimum the RPM agreement to exclude or raise entry barriers for its competition.

In addition, federal law is not the only source of antitrust claims as almost all of the states have their own antitrust laws. Leegin dealt only with a claim arising under Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

You might be saying to yourself, good synopsis? Trust me that’s exactly the same thing I’ve been saying to myself and no matter how much I read, I’ve gained little clarity. In short what I’ve got from “vertical price restraints should be judged by the rule of reason” is that every one of these policies mailed to me unexpectedly, from manufacturers I may or may not have any direct relationship with, must be deciphered and navigated uniquely. Some kind of string like this generally follows in exasperation. The very little guys the manufacturers are “intending” to protect from the big box by creating a level playing field are suffering under the weight.

At first glance I’d hoped I’d found an advocate in Monica Steinisch’s article, Savvy Shoppers Know “Minimum Advertised Price” Isn’t Always the Bottom Line. The key to my frustration can be found in her second opening paragraph, “A manufacturer-imposed policy called "minimum advertised pricing" (MAP) can tie retailers' hands when it comes to promoting lower prices on some products.” However, Steinisch goes on to champion the benefits of MAP for the manufacturers and retailers, “By imposing a minimum advertised price, manufacturers help the little guys compete.” Her primary example is that of the local shop’s ability to make the margin necessary to provide that one-on-one customer experience while maintaining their ability to cover the higher overhead of a store front. Wait, the little guys buy with higher multipliers than the big box and both have the overhead of a store front, so how did the little guy come out ahead? The comparison I believe she was attempting to make is that of the little guy (Brick-and-Mortar) vs. internet sellers (No Brick-and-Mortar) which she moves on to talk about (an incredible oversimplification of internet sellers).  I wonder if she’s ever paid a Google AdWords campaign.

I find the experience to be more that MAP enforces the status quo.  The manufacturer lazily retains an inflated price (more traditionally managed by manufacturer production levels), the big box continues to be the big box (following MAP if the manufacturer successfully implements the policy, not if they don’t). What manufacturer isn’t going to feed the big box? And the little guy continues to work on smaller margins, all at the customer’s expense.

Steinisch does go on to provide some excellent consumer recommendations for finding that bargain despite MAP. So why am I commenting on an article published in 2005, because nothing has changed! If anything the aggressiveness of MAP policies has heightened.



How to Decipher Your UPS Bill

Posted on May 11, 2010 by Jeff

It doesn’t matter what phone you’re carrying, smart or not, at the end of the month we all endure the madness of deciphering a three to ten page cell phone bill (+/-). I mean really what is a Federal Excise Tax? CNET and others have actually gone so far as to write guides, “How to read your cell phone bill”.

Take that same madness and multiply it by 400 to 500 pages and you have an average Gordian Project weekly UPS bill. That’s right, multiply that for a month and we’re comparing a couple thousand pages to our three to ten page cell phone bill example.  UPS provides the following sample invoice. The “summary of charges” is simply defined as being broken out by billing option, adjustments, and other charges. It’s those adjustments and “other” charges you want to look out for. In fairness a glossary of detailed terms is also provided. However, sifting through all those pages to identify the charges, calculating the individual dollars associated to them, and then watching for trends week to week is all but a full time job.

UPS Sample Invoice

If you’re experiencing similar frustration or just interested in better understanding what you’re cutting a check for I would recommend enrolling in UPS Billing Data. Along with your physical or PDF invoice, UPS provides the raw data in CSV, XML, or EDI format.  That raw data (CSV only) can then be used in conjunction with the UPS Billing Analysis Tool to, “create customized reports, organize your billing data from multiple accounts into a single data file, and integrate the information into your company's business systems.” The tool is helpful but limited.

To simplify the review of data I built an excel file to calculate the dollars, quantity, and average weight of each of the 97 billing options, adjustments, and other charges. Now, by simply dropping the weekly UPS Billing Data (CSV only) into the “Data” worksheet and selecting the weeks to be compared in the “Summary” worksheet the file sifts through all those thousands of pages of billing data, identifies the charges, calculates the dollars associated to them, and provides a high level view of the weekly trends. Long story short you know what you’re writing a check for.