A Fulfilling Holiday
The guarantee was to take, fulfill and ship all orders the same day for delivery the following day, right up until 3 p.m. EST on Christmas Eve. The offer was 25 roses if customers didn’t receive their orders the following day.
Ashford.com, a luxury gift e-tailer, sent just 400 bouquets. Considering the volume of orders and the fact that Ashford delivered on its promise regardless of why the late delivery occurred, the number is remarkable.
Ashford.com offers a wide variety of high-end products: diamonds, more than 20,000 styles of new and vintage watches, jewelry, fragrances, leather accessories, ties, scarves, sunglasses, writing instruments, home and lifestyle products, and corporate gifts. Orders usually average several thousand dollars. On a typical day, Ashford.com provides complimentary overnight shipping and gift packaging, a 60-day money-back guarantee on all new watches and a 30-day money-back guarantee on all other merchandise.
Few companies can afford to approach customer service the way Ashford does every day, let alone touch its holiday promise. Even fewer companies have a fulfillment and inventory system on par with Ashford’s. Its 19.1-percent profit margin allowed it to provide an unusually extravagant apology for late deliveries during the 2000 holiday season: The bouquets came from Martha Stewart and cost more than $100 a pop. But more importantly, it didn’t rely on the apology. It relied on a proprietary inventory and fulfillment system to achieve a 99.9 percent on-time delivery rate during the holidays.
The fully automated database reorders when volumes are low, removes out-of-stock products from the Web site’s offerings based on rules, changes ship times to reflect inventory levels and predicts inventory needs.
Ashford set out to provide its customers with a truly luxurious holiday experience. The idea was to convince its existing customers that it was an on-time, reliable e-tailer even in peak season and to convert first-time buyers into loyal customers. It didn’t want to just promise same-day shipping, but guarantee it. The company offers free next-day shipping through FedEx everyday because it completes its image as a luxury retailer to the customer. It sent roses to any customer who received a wrong order, late order or who was just dissatisfied. The caveat to the company’s plan was that it had to fulfill its guarantee regardless of the reason for late arrival, such as slow shipping from either FedEx or the USPS, which provided Sunday delivery, even on Christmas Eve.