January 31, 2008

E-Commerce And Catalog Management Case Study: Does Operational Management Matter?

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

The purpose of this series is to view a broken e-commerce/catalog business from the viewpoint of a new CEO.

Recall that this business has largely been mediocre or unprofitable during the past five years, resulting in the overhaul of the management team.

A new CEO needs to quickly assess several factors, many of which we'll discuss in this series. An easy first step is to look at the metrics associated with operational management of the brand.

In the attached profit and loss statement, we notice that the operational management of the business hasn't been optimal.
  • Notice that merchandise fulfillment rate hit a high of 94.5%, but was only 90.9% last year.
  • Return rates were as low as 25.0%, but were 27.4% last year.
  • Gross Margin improved some (48.8%), but has been as high as 50.0% in the past.
  • Pick/Pack/Ship expense has been as low as 11.5%, finishing last year at 11.8%.
A new CEO will ask the CFO to run a version of last year's profit and loss statement with historical best operational metrics plugged into the profit and loss statement.

So take a look at the attached image. With historical bests plugged into the profit and loss statement, we turn a loss of $258,000 into a profit of $327,000.

Now obviously all of these factors are interconnected (gross margin decreases when sales decrease, due to clearance-related needs). But the exercise is important to the new CEO. In this case, the CEO realizes that if s/he can "run the operations" of this business at historical high levels, profitability significantly improves.

In reality, the CEO wants for this business to operate at a 10% EBT rate, meaning that ten percent of sales are converted to profit. The business was twelve points away from this level (-1.9% EBT). Fixing the operational management of this business makes up at least four of the twelve point shortfall.

In other words, the CEO will make operational excellence one of his/her top objectives for the upcoming year.

Your Homework Assignment: Operations play a key role in getting a brand to high levels of profitability. What is the next thing you would look at in this profit and loss statement, when diagnosing what is wrong with this business?

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