Order Tracking: Slick and Easy

Last week we talked about how to manage incoming customer email. This week we’re going to tackle how we actually go about delivering a customer’s order. And provided you’ve bought all the software I suggested in earlier articles, all we need to buy this week is a book to help us set up our order-tracking system.

Just about every shopping cart software package out there generates an email receipt that it sends to a customer after a sale is complete. You should be able to configure the shopping cart to send you a copy of this receipt, too.

In fact, you should configure your shopping cart to email a copy of every receipt it generates to at least two separate email addresses – one for use in actually fulfilling the orders, and one for use as an audit trail of all your transactions. And preferably, these email addresses should be separate domains – for example, you@yourcompany.com and you@hotmail.com. That way, if one domain goes down for some reason, you still have a record of your orders.

See, the whole problem with e-commerce is that you never actually see the customer or witness the sale. Evidence that a sale has really occurred on your site only comes to you indirectly in the form of data. If that flow of data is ever interrupted, you’ve totally screwed your ability to consummate the transaction.

So while my recommendations may sound excessive, there is a method to my madness. I’ve been in this business long enough to realize this stuff breaks. And often you don’t realize it until you notice your flow of data has stopped.

OK, so now we have our shopping cart software spitting out two copies of everything. The next step is to set up Postcast to take that email and turn it into a record in a database.

Remember Postcast? I talked about it last week. It’s a wonderful piece of software that lets you take incoming email, strip out whatever data you want from it, put that data into a database, and then lets you do email mailings against that data. Postcast uses Microsoft Access as its database software.

In order to set up everything, you need to know a little bit about how Access works. OK, here comes this week’s purchase. A good investment is the IDG book “Microsoft Access 2000 Bible,” by Cary N. Prague and Michael R. Irwin. It will teach you what you need to know about setting up databases using Microsoft Access. In the end, you want your Access database to be able to do five things:

  1. Print out labels with you customers’ shipping address on them.

  2. Print out a single page that includes what a customer ordered and what she or he paid. (This is your packing slip.)
  3. Let you tag a record as “pending” or “shipped.”
  4. Let you enter the date on which the order was shipped.
  5. Let you enter a tracking number.

Once you got all this set up, here is the process:

Step 1: Import all the email receipts from your shopping cart into your database using Postcast.

Step 2: Call up all the records in your database that are labeled “pending.” (A record should be designated “pending” by default.)

Step 3: Print out mailing labels and packing slips for them.

Step 4: Fill all your orders, pack all the boxes, and put on the mailing labels.

Step 5: Go to the post office and ship your orders Priority Mail with the option of Delivery Confirmation – this is a wonderful service from the U.S. Postal Service that assigns your package a tracking number, which you can then enter on its web site to see where the package is. And it only costs 35 cents extra.

Step 6: Take your receipts back to the office, sit down in front of your database, and for each order you just shipped, enter the delivery confirmation tracking number, change “pending” to “shipped,” and enter the date.

Step 7: Do an email mailing to the customers whose orders you just filled. It goes something like this:

Hello <Postcast inserts customer’s first name here>,
I just wanted to let you know that your order for:
<Postcast inserts product customer ordered here>
was shipped today. It will be coming to you by Priority Mail. You can track your package’s location by going to this URL:
and entering this number:
<Postcast inserts tracking number here>
Have a wonderful day!

And viola, you now have an order tracking system that is as slick as the big guys. And all we had to spend was $40 for a book. That means we have $2,860 left in our budget ($2,900 from last week minus the $40 for our book) going into next week’s task-buying a traffic analysis tool.

See you then!

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