Paperless receiving.

Receiving paperwork is necessary because it is often the first contact we have with the vendor’s shipment.  It has to be saved because purchasing and payables may need to reference the actual vendor supplied paperwork.  But we don’t have to support a manual filing system any more.

Receiving can be done on a mobile device as boxes are opened and products sorted.  As items are “checked off” the purchase order, they are directed into the restocking process.   Once the shipment is completely received, the vendor paperwork is dropped into a scanner and automatically linked to the receipt.  From this point on everyone can access the vendor paperwork without the actual documents.

Order fulfillment with inventory carousels

Safco Dental Supplies is adding another inventory carousel to their distribution center.

Safco provides dental supplies to dental practices.  They sell everything a dentist uses in daily practice.  From aprons and bibs to Zandlynx, they stock it all!  And the most active items are stocked and picked from flow racks and automated carousels.

Every 15 minutes new orders are grouped and sent to a carousel server.  Pickers take products from bins that have moved into pick position and display a pick quantity.  Picked products are put into pick bins by pick quantity.   Conveyors move pick bins from carousels to the floor for bulk item picking.  Finally, pick bins go to checkers for verification and packing.


Enhanced Search Capability: Customizable Dictionary and User Logs

We have developed a more robust and customizable search framework for Directions. The new search builds a dictionary of words used on the website – these words come from item and category titles, copy, keywords and meta data.  The dictionary for the case study contains almost 40,000 unique words.  This dictionary will continue to grow as new words are used in copy on the website.  The dictionary also contains misspelled words and will allow you to find the items or categories to be corrected.

For example:  the list should be reviewed to make sure that both the singular and the plural of nouns are in the dictionary.    They should be linked to each other, so that the singular form entered in the search will pull up items that have the plural form in the description or copy and vice versa.  In other words, “dish” and “dishes” are both in the dictionary, but if we link them as a Primary and an Alternate, then the search will yield more results.  We are working on doing this automatically using a process called stemming.  We’ll have more information on this in the next few weeks.

We can use this same linking of a Primary and an Alternative, to strengthen the search for proper names and their derivatives.  The Primary word, “Robert” should be linked to the Alternatives “Rob” and “Robb”.

Second, we added a log of searches done on the site.  When a customer searches for “rustic mugs” we return 13 items.  This search shows in the log with the results count of 13.  Of special interest are the searches that returned zero items.  These tell us what people are searching for but not finding any items to buy.   The number of zero searches will decline over time, as the search criteria is refined.

By including common mis-spellings in the dictionary, the search gets better.  By linking, “calendar” with “calender”, the customer gets back results with either spelling.   You can build these links by reviewing the log searches with zero results to see what customers are mis-spelling and then enter the misspelled word in the dictionary.   “Seive”  was also searched and found 23 item hits.  Enter it correctly, “Sieve”,  and it results in 654 hits.  That means that 23 times, someone build the mis-spelling into the Keywords for particular items.  A link in the dictionary between the correct spelling and the misspelling, will result in a much better search for the customer looking for that individual’s work, without having to set up the incorrect spelling in each item’s keyword.

The dictionary can also be used for proper name misspellings and sound alikes.  In one of the searches in the log, “Aldrich” was resulted with zero hits; it would be a sound alike for “Aldridge”, which was the correct name in the database.

Connecting words in the dictionary can also yield better search results for customers looking for seemingly simple searches that currently yield no results.  In the log, someone searched on “swan pictures” and got zero results.  We tested other options: “swan images”, “swan canvas”, and “swan print” came up with zero or few results.  Searching for “swan art” gives the most.  If we link the words “image, images, canvas, canvases, print, prints, picture, and pictures” to each other and also to “art”, we should get robust results no matter which word is used by the customer.  This will yield the relevant items whether they are looking for swans or bears or elk.

It may not seem important to correct spelling mistakes unless you see them over and over. The other side of that argument, is that it takes so little time to link the incorrect spelling to the correct spelling.   We are getting the customer what he is searching for without making him re-enter a search. That is where the benefit in doing the spelling/typo corrections and links comes.  In the log, we saw “whre” for “where”, “seaons” for “seasons”, and “refections” for “reflections”.  We added the misspellings in a couple of minutes and now those will never happen again for any customer.

The log also showed a customer struggling with the search for “Rusty Refuge I”, using the roman numeral.  That points out the need to include the number ‘1’, in the keywords for the item.  Roman Numerals will need special attention when considering the search.  The customer was searching “Rusty Refuge 1” and got no hits.  There is no way to have the dictionary link “I” with “1”.  or “II” with “2”.  Keywords are the way to handle this.

Marketing Idea.  In this case study, there is a unique use of the log.  They can use the log and staff knowledge, to link artists that Wild Wings doesn’t carry,  to Wild Wings artists with similar style and/or subject matter.  In the log, you can see a customer searching for “Manfred Schatz”.  They tried different spellings and different first names—no hits.  A Google search of “Schatz artist”, brought up an artist with wolves hunting a moose (  Marketing could add his name ‘Schatz’ as an alternate in the dictionary for artists “Hultberg” and “Grende” (just examples).  Next time someone was looking for “Schatz”, instead of coming up with a no search results, we could show them something they might like.  It’s better than giving them nothing to shop for, and might invite them to keep looking.  There seem to be 4 or 5 artists searched every day that come up with zero results because Wild Wings doesn’t work with them.  The links could generate interest in Wild Wings artists.

Another example of that is the customer who made three attempts to search for “toy box”.  The company doesn’t really sell a toy box per se.  But  the person who has a beautiful home decorated with many items from the company, could use storage chests, quilt chests and cabin chests.  A quick couple of entries into the keywords for those items and now if that person came back, there would be something for them to look at after searching for “toy box”  (It will also generate a hit in a Google Search for “toy box”.)  The log can keep you on the pulse of your customers, and let you simply add and link words to lead them to the items closest to their requests.

Why work so hard on the search criteria?  It is all about getting the customer to the “shopping” part of their experience, instead of the “searching” part.  We want to limit the frustration level that they will have on our site, and lead them to the items on which they are searching-and maybe throw a little marketing in at the same time.

Insights from this last season

Reposted from MyBuys newsletter
Five Insights from Black Friday & Cyber Monday:2013’s busiest week of holiday shopping saw accelerated growth in online sales and more consumers interacting across multiple channels and devices, industry-wide. Here are the five biggest year over year trends that we observed this Black Friday and Cyber Monday:

  • More consumers purchased at higher order values in 2013 than in 2012. On average, Black Friday average order values increased by 14%, year over year. Order volume also increased around 50% over the holiday weekend vs. 2012.
  • Email played a huge role in driving conversions this Black Friday. Orders originating from emails doubled this Black Friday vs. Black Friday 2012, and accounted for more than 11% of all purchases.
  • Mobile traffic doubled. Overall mobile traffic doubled this year compared to 2012 on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  • Mobile shoppers interacted through phones and tablets evenly. Of the mobile traffic observed on Black Friday, 52% came through mobile phones and 48% through tablets. Cyber Monday mobile traffic landed a 50/50 split on the phone vs. tablet breakdown.
  • Consumer engagement is up! While unique visitors remained constant year over year, 2013 Black Friday traffic was up 35%. Likewise, unique visitors on Cyber Monday increased by four percent while overall traffic increased by 41%.

Our comments:

  • Individuals spent more time online.  Since unique visitors were the same, those people spent a lot more time online than last year.  And they purchased a lot more online than last year.
  • Your web site must support both smart phones and tablets.

We can help you do that.  Call us at 847-382-6866.

Cyber Monday 2013

Cyber Monday 2013

Cyber Monday is in the books.

comScore said Cyber Monday reached $1.735 billion in desktop online spending, up 18%. IBM said Cyber Monday the biggest online shopping day in history with a 20.6% increase in online sales.
Adobe said Cyber Monday ecommerce sales increased by 16% year-over-year to $2.29 billion. A record 18.3% of sales came from mobile devices, an increase of 80% year-over-year that no one even thought possible when Cyber Monday was born in 2005.

Black Friday Shifts to Cyber Friday

isolated woman hands holding a phone and make online shopping

Survey Analytics and Ipsos Loyalty conducted a mobile consumer shopping survey to capture customer experience in real-time on Black Friday. Turns out 62% of Black Friday shoppers they polled did their shopping online, and 33% shopped on mobile phones. The most used browsers were Mobile Safari (28%), Chrome (26%) and Firefox (17%).


Consumers are buying from Amazon and eBay, and merchants that have latched on as marketplace sellers have reaped the benefits. ChannelAdvisor clients who sell on in third-party marketplaces saw tremendous growth. Over Cyber Weekend, ChannelAdvisor’s clients saw 34.9% growth in Amazon sales, and 29.7% in eBay sales growth.

Now that Google has a full year of its revamped Google Shopping platform under its belt, the benefits are paying off. ChannelAdvisor’s clients saw a 125% sales increase on Google Shopping over the Cyber Five when compared to the same period in 2012. One major reason for the success there: does not list products in Google Shopping. ChannelAdvisor CEO Scot Wingo says that gives merchants a rare advantage over Amazon.

Please (don’t) wait, an agent will be with you…

holiday contact center rep

From Black Friday until Cyber Monday, StellaService Analysts interacted with 60 of the most popular online retailers via phone five times a day collecting metrics on speed (time to reach a live agent) and quality (issue resolution). held the title of top ranked retailer over the four day period (19 seconds), although Dillards ranked first on Black Friday (19 seconds) and Cyber Monday (11 seconds).

(Excerpted from Multi Channel Merchant.  For the complete article go to:


Customer Service

Customer service can answer any questions and resolve problems using Directions order update.  Call center people can look up a customers’ order and view status by line item.  Any problem with the order can be resolved within the original order.  Additional lines are added to the order to track returns, issue credits, receive returns, etc.

Every line added to an order will have an Action code and a Reason code for that action.

An Action code identifies what is to be done:  ship missing or replacement items, issue credits for shipping.

A Reason code identifies why the action is necessary:  call center error, warehouse error, marketing error.

Customer service transactions are all applied to the original order keeping the entire customer transaction on a single page.

Customer service order update

These are examples of Action codes:

Customer service action codes

These are the options for each Action code:

customer service action code details

These are examples of Reason codes:

Customer service reason codes

These are the options for each Reason code:

Customer service reason code details

Company profile

Background and people

Peppler & Associates, Inc. is a privately held company incorporated in 1981.  J. Patrick and Martha Peppler each own 50%.  Our business model was to develop and market software for the direct marketing industry.

At that time our clients were mail-order companies with some phone orders.  We saw that order channel evolve to phone orders with some mail orders.  Then to the current mix of web and phone orders with very little mail activity.

Our software has evolved as the industry changed.  Many of our customers now get most of their orders from their web sites.  Our web site framework and call center order entry integrated with the fulfillment database gives us a significant competitive advantage in the order management systems marketplace.

Our business is the Directions Fulfillment System.  We develop and market our own software product.  Everyone at Peppler & Associates works with the software every day, either modifying existing applications, developing new applications, or providing client service such as training or help desk support.

  • Pat Peppler, the president, is responsible for new client acquisition and getting things started.
  • Phillip Hinkley, chief techie, has overall implementation responsibility.  Phillip has been with us for over 15 years and is the chief architect for the current version of the system.
  • Sharon Dunn is responsible for daily operations monitoring and training.  Sharon has been with us for 25 years.
  • Josh Radetski specializes in web site and user interface programming.
  • Martha Peppler is responsible for marketing and initial new client contact.
  • Kris Voss manages the office and accounting.
  • We have several programmers that are responsible for client technical projects.  They have differing areas of expertise.  We want everyone to understand the basics of every client’s business but each person naturally develops a closer working relationship with clients that they work with day-to-day.

Over the next year we will hire a more marketing oriented person to take over some of Pat and Martha’s responsibilities.  Phillip will have less actual programming responsibility as we bring more programming help on board.  Phillip’s son interned with us this last summer and showed great promise as a future developer.

 External Technical outlook

Our single database that supports the entire fulfillment cycle is a competitive advantage.  But like the entire software industry, the Directions fulfillment system is specializing.  Directions still supports all the normal business functions.  But we know we cannot be the best in every area of fulfillment.  So we have partnered with other software vendors and service providers to let you use the specialists in every area.

We integrate with UPS, FedEx, and the USPS.  We integrate with major payment gateways.  We even have integration with an inventory carousel picking system.  And we see this trend accelerating.

Years ago we developed the web framework to support upsell and suggested items.  This same information was also used in the call center.  We developed basic query functions that allowed marketing to attach lists of suggested products to categories or other specific products.  The problem with this is the time required to keep the suggestions fresh.

Companies like MyBuys have developed specialized web behavior analysis engines to analyze user web activity to suggest additional items.  Other companies like SLI have developed expertise in site search.  These services require updates from the product, category, and orders database.  We have the web service framework to exchange that information.

Directions integration with outside services extends to address verification, email marketing, shipping, custom reporting, and financial applications.

Mobile applications

We have several mobile applications for the warehouse.  The standard applications are inventory movement and inquiry.  This year we are adding mobile cycle counting and mobile pick ticket status.  Cycle counting is the obvious application to go mobile but it is more complicated than we first thought.  We worked through the design functions with two current clients.  The complications become apparent when multiple users are counting the same item in multiple locations.

Mobile picking status will allow managers to see “who is doing what?” real-time.  A picker will scan a pick ticket or batch and those orders will be “checked out” to him.  When he is done picking the order(s) or batch is scanned and passed to checking, packing, or shipping.

 Mobile web

This past year saw standards emerge for mobile sites.  LL Bean, JC Penney, Macy’s and other large retailers have a familiar look and feel now.

This new design methodology is responsive design.  Web sites that are designed to be responsive use a single URL and site to serve content to mobile, tablet, and desktop users.  The browser window size determines the format of the information sent to the user.  Style sheets change how the information looks on each device.

Data cube

Our single database for fulfillment and the web is a competitive advantage.  But it cannot be all things to all people.  Power users have used Crystal reports, Sequel Reporting, or IBM Query tools.  These tools work well but sometimes transaction data needs to be summarized or pivoted.  To address this need we implemented data cubes for two clients.

A data cube is a repository of all transaction information pre-indexed and summarized for ease of reporting.  We use Microsoft SQL Server to build and hold the data cube.  This moves the power user query functions off the application transaction server onto it’s own server.  Current data cube users are using the latest version of Excel to extract data and build drill-down type reports.  We are also experimenting with SQL Reporting Services as the query build and distribution system.

SEO and Site Maps for CEO’s

On the web, every direct marketer wants to be found.  A site map makes it easier for search engines to find all the pages on your site.

Search engines use programs to look at and index all the pages on your web site.  The programs are “bots” (short for “robot program”) that usually run late in the evening when there is less web traffic.  A bot program will start at your home page and “read” and index all the content (words and images).  Then the bot will follow every link and index each of those pages.  For dynamic sites with tens of thousands of items this can take some time.

A site map is a directory of all the pages on your web site.  The major search engines look for a site map before they start indexing a web site.  A site map makes it easier for the bot to find all the pages on your web site.

Directions automatically builds a site map for all the pages on your site.

Digital Marketing Analysis

Digital marketing is overtaking traditional print marketing for many direct marketers.  We know that many of our clients would like to be out of catalog publishing and focusing exclusively on web marketing.

Digital marketing analysis tracks all types of online marketing.  This is an example of outbound email marketing analysis.

Digital marketing analysis


Mapping your data to Directions

Data mapping

Getting your data into a new system is more than half the work of implementing a new system.  We help you understand where the data goes in Directions but you need to be able to get everything out of your current system.  These are the steps to get your data into Directions:

  1. Export your data from your current system.  This includes items and item categories, vendors, and customers.  Each of these major areas has detail transactions.
  2. Upload the raw export files to your Directions server space.
  3. Review the data with a Directions expert in our office.  We take the time to learn your data and help you understand how it maps into Directions.
  4. We prepare the mapping  for your files and review it with you.
  5. You import your files into Directions.  Upload your item and category images.

Now the fun begins!  You review your business data in your Directions test system.  This is where it helps to have multiple people working with different parts of the system.  For example, let your expert in each of the following areas validate your data and work with the system:

  • Review vendors, item purchasing information, and purchase orders.
  • Review warehouse locations and inventory balances.  Do all kinds of inventory adjustments.
  • Review item marketing information, item categories, and items on the web site.
  • Review call center order entry, customer service transactions such as returns, replacements, and refunds.
  • Review warehouse fulfillment operations such as printing orders and pick/pack/ship.
  • Review accounting reporting through to the financial statements.

When all these steps have been completed, you will be ready to go live with Directions.