Case Study The Reengineering of Camera World
Some c-commerce companies believe Internet shoppers are too demanding and impatient. Are shoppers’ expectations
really out of line? When they place an order with a traditional brick-and mortar mail order house for two-day delivery,
they receive the package in two days. The satisfying experience builds customer trust and loyalty in a company and
brand. One company that has integrated their fulfillment into their e-commerce business is Camera World Company.
In the 20,000-square-foot warehouse behind the front office, 15 workers scurry down long concrete aisles, clutch-
ing sales orders fresh off the network printer To the casual observer, these warehouse folk seem to have X-ray eyes.
Quickly scanning the metal racks loaded with thousands of indistinguishable-looking boxes of equipment, they have an
uncanny ability to tell a box holding a $10,000 lens from a virtually identical package bearing a $1,000 one. When they
locate the box they’re after, they place it in a plastic tub; a bar-code check at the packing station ensures that the order
is complete. There, a young man nodding to rock music on a boom box pours Styrofoam peanuts into labeled cardboard
shipping boxes and then seals the goods with a deft pull and twist of tape.
Camera World’s order-fulfillment and delivery systems have stood the company in good stead. During the
1999 holiday season, many of the company’s stalwart
300,000 customers came back and spent an average of $600
a pop. Thanks largely to the explosion of interest in digital
cameras, sales soared from $80 million in 1998 to more than $115 million in 1999.
In December 1999, the company’s Web site handled an average of 25,000 unique users each day, and Web sales
rose by 245 percent over the previous year’s figure for the month. (At the same time, mail-order business shot up 67
percent, and sales at the company’s downtown Portland, Oregon, store were up 22 percent.) Some 90 percent of Web
and mail-order shipments left the warehouse within 24 hours. Return rates for Web sales hovered around 4 per cent,
paralleling the rate of returns from the store and the mail-order business. “We maintained heavy inventories to ship on
time, and it all worked pretty well,” says Camera World’s new CEO, Terry Strom. “But one thing’s for sure:
the Internet is raising the standard of performance for any retailer.”
No kidding. The 1999 Christmas season, during which shoppers spent an estimated $6 billion online, saw many a
Web site disappointing customers. According to a November 1999 report by the New York City Internet research firm
Jupiter Communications, 46 percent of business-to-consumer Web sites took five or more days to respond to a query,
never responded, or failed to post an e-mail address on the site for customers’ inquiries.
“An awful lot of Web sites don’t realize that customer service should be a priority,” says Jupiter analyst Cormac
Foster “They focus on customer acquisition but don’t spend time on the unsexy stuff, like customer-support infra-
structure. Infrastructure doesn’t get you headlines, but if you don’t have a staff of people to take care of business
behind the firewall, you won’t get much.” Case in point: Toys “R” Us, whose online subsidiary ToysRUs.com
(announced with great fanfare in June 1998) found itself suffocating under the rush of online holiday traffic and was
unable to fulfill orders on time. The company’s back-end infrastructure was built to send truckloads of products to
hundreds of stores—not to ship single orders to millions of consumers.
Don’t call Camera World a “click-and-mortar” or an old-fashioned retailer with a Johnny-come-lately Web site.
Rather, call it a dot-corn with lots of back-end “not-coin” experience. Camera World has long known that the boring
stuff—attention to the fine details of customer service, simple and solid fulfillment processes, and trusted supplier
relationships—is what really matters. Unless a company masters those three areas well before putting up a Web site, no
amount of bells and whistles or transactional and design prowess online will make the Web component of the business
Camera World already was known for excellent customer service, but with e-commerce different goals were spelled
out. For starters, the company’s Web pages would have to be transformed from simple brochureware into a true
transaction site. Its back-end systems would have to be married to whatever happened on the Web. The company itself
would have to move into a larger, better-organized space, with a warehouse that would allow orders to be shipped
within 24 hours as opposed to the 5 days required by the mail-order business. To speed everything up, they
had to cut out obstacles. They needed to staff up, to fix the ~ bugs in the computer systems, and to upgrade the tele-
phone systems for more lines. They also started streamlining processes.
Camera World’s site, which costs
roughly $10,000 a month to
maintain, handles at least 15,000
unique visitors and 400 transactions
a day. It’s now a full-fledged
community for shutterbugs. It keeps
visitors interested with increasingly
snazzy features—3-D images of
featured products, an online auction
area, forums, online chats with celebrated photographers, a selection “wizard” that helps customers choose
the right camera by assessing their expertise and frequency of use, and so on.
Customers also can get quick answers to their e-mailed questions. Professional photographers respond to them
CASE STUDY QUESTIONS
1. Camera World reengineered itself from a brick-and-mortar shipping store to a full-fledged business-to-customer
and business-to-business Web
e-mail or phone—arid customers even receive a notice via e-mail showing them where their question is in the queue.
For those who eschew telephone handsets, an Internet-telephony feature lets customers whose computers are equipped
with a sound card and a microphone connect over the Internet to talk with the sales and support staff.
When a customer orders a camera through the Web site, the transaction is zapped from the servers to the order-
fulfillment database via a dedicated, high-speed Ti line. A software interface between the Web site and the database
reads the order and translates it into the order-entry system. Sales reps, customer-support personnel, and shippers and
other warehouse workers can review the order by tapping into Camera World’s database from PCs.
Every few hours, warehouse personnel print a batch of 50 or so orders. Rush orders are printed on red paper; white
paper signifies a standard UPS ground order. After workers locate the correct products and place thorn in a plastic tub
along with the paper orders, they cart them to the shipping station, where the bar-code checking occurs. If the bar code
doesn’t match the order, a computer screen at the station notes the mismatch. If the match is correct, the inventory
database records the product model number; when inventory reaches a low enough level, Camera World reorders. Once
the product is packaged for shipping, it’s loaded onto a waiting UPS van, which departs at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, an e-mail message is sent to the customer, noting the time the package is scheduled to ship. Using a
confirmation number supplied by the company, the customer can check the Web site to track the order. The customer
tracks the package through the UPS link that is on the Camera World Business2Business Web page.
Most of Camera World’s customers are not aware of these systems and do not really care about the specifics. They
are just extremely satisfied with the customer service and have shown their loyalty when making purchases. Camera
World realized earlier on that they had to provide the same excellent service they had provided for years with the
Sources: Fryer, Bronwyn, “When Something Clicks,” Inc. (March 15, 2000): http://wzvu’. inc.conl/nrticlt’s/dL’tails/ 0,,
ART17848,00.html accessed on 12/26/00; Rigney, Patrick, “Eliminate Fulfillment Problems,” L’-BOSjlIL’ss Ad,’i,or
(March 2000), 28—30; Holstein, William J., “Rewiring the ‘Old Economy’,” U.S. Nert’s and World Report (April ~0,
1. Cameraworld reengineered itself from brick-and-mortar shipping store to a full-fledged business-tobusiness
Website. Customers always had been Camera World’s top priority. How did the Web site change customer
2. Many retailers maintain a Web presence. Camera World decided they wanted a fully transactional Web site. What
back-end system changes were necessary? Consider changes to design, hardware, software, and so forth.
3. In the near future, a greater percentage of camera suppliers will sell their products via the Web. What are some
changes that Camera World could make to enhance their fulfillment process?
4. Visit Camera World’s Web site (zozvzv.camerazvorld. corn) and Kodak’s Web site (zvzvw.kodak.corn). Browse the
two sites and note their similarities and differences. Do the sites serve different customers? In your opinion,
which site is more customer friendly? Why?