DR. VL - the data integration specialist

Ecommerce Integration Three Case Studies Diagnosed by Dr. VL


For our latest blog installment in the Dr. VL analysis series, we decided to present you with three unique stories of first-hand experiences with eCommerce businesses whose customer experiences point to issues with data integration, customer experience mapping, and a reliance on manual processes.

After each story, Dr. VL will provide an analysis of what, where, and why things likely went wrong.

Have a similar story you’d like to share or have any additional comments? Post them in the comments section or share them with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinikedIn, or Google+!

Three stories from the 2013 and 2014 Holiday Season of ecommerce, brought to you by the team at VL:

Story 1: Corkcicle


Nothing cramps a party’s style like gross warm wine (source)

The Story*:

Nathan Camp’s experience was outlined in 2013, but it still resonates today. We have shortened his tale:

“I was intent on making this last holiday season a time of reflection and peace. I was not going to succumb to witty advertising campaigns inducing me to spend money on needless gifts. But then those brilliant marketers at a sky-rocketing start-up called Corkcicle overcame my ability to say no. I had bought Corkcicle’s products during the summer so I knew how well their products converted my garage-warmed bottles into delightfully consumable beverages within a few minutes. This was a vast improvement over ice-in-a-glass. I knew my friends would love these products too. So when I received the offer email on Black Friday talking about the pending Cyber Monday deal, I knew I would be ordering. Yes, I am a sucker for a deal.

Monday Morning – I received the email that the deal was on. I headed to work with the intention of placing my orders that night.

Monday Night – Corkcicle sent me the reminder email. I tried to place an order on my iPad.

During the first attempt, the order failed at the credit card authorization. I do have good credit !! I, unlike many others, tried again. This time I placed an order successfully. Although I didn’t receive an order confirmation, I decided to add a second order. Still no order confirmations came through. I thought there was something going wrong with the eCommerce site. But then again, it could be I entered another email. I decided to look the next day.

Tuesday – No order confirmation. No billing. No emails as promised. I added a calendar entry for Wednesday to check on this.

Wednesday – I got my order shipped notices. Two orders at full price. Whoa, what just happened? I knew I had to call Corkcicle and get this double order and billing issue fixed.

Thursday – I had a great call with Corkcicle’s support team and they issued a credit to my card, but my confidence in Corkcicle’s systems and processes was shaken. The experience also left me asking:

How elastic were their systems?

What were they doing to secure my data and credit card information?

What was happening with their sales channels?

Were there other people being affected by Corkcicle’s data integration issues?

So I fired off an email. Stephen Bruner, Partner at Corkcicle, responded to my email within an hour. In the midst of the holiday season, he took the time to both apologize and quell my concerns, and he shared with me the root cause of their Cyber Monday issues as, “We did have a setting that was incidentally turned off in preparation for Cyber Monday that had simply turned off confirmation emails from being sent. I can assure you that our systems are all using up to date and robust security and data transfer methodology. This was just the result of a costly human error.”

Over the holidays, I provided these Corkcicle packages with my friends, and they loved them. But this episode also reminded me of four obvious statements around successful eCommerce systems. And it’s now, in between seasons, where we can prepare and act, with enough time to make corrections and adjustments to guarantee a flawless 2014 shopping season.”

*This story originally appeared in our blog on Feb. 11, 2014. Check out the full blog post here.

What Happened?:


In my opinion, every e-retailer should fully map out the customer experience they want their customers to follow on their ecommerce site while also having appropriate plans for every circumstance – especially including a backup plan for if and when things go wrong, because they will. It sounds to me like Corkcicle’s customer experience systems need a more holistic approach!
My advice to Corkcicle would be the following:
1. Map the customer experience out, including all the data touch points. That is how will data gets moved, processed, and integrated. Then create a checklist.
2. Put yourself in your customers shoes. I am always amazed at the ecommerce companies that totally forget this. They fixate on their systems and not the customer; 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back.
3. Good customer experience costs money to setup. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish. If its free, you get what you pay for. If its limited and cheap then you are limiting your business and its ability to scale. Customizable flexibility costs money.
4. Finally, listen to people who are experts. Check out the resources page on the VL web site lots of great material for the ecommerce etailer.

Some Take Aways:

There are some other general good practice guidelines that also come out of this story, and they have to do with data management on the flip side of the customer experience pathway to purchase:

1. Share your data broadly. 

You should be sharing your customer information and ordering history with your fulfillment providers, to payment gateway services, to your financial/ERP software, to your CRM systems, to your marketing automation solutions, and your supply chains. Make sure you have access to your data, and that you have a means to reformat that data for all other systems. Being dependant on simple plugins is great when you start out but they don’t allow you to scale. Middleware technologies like Liaison Delta and Liaison ECS Server are vital for this and have the functionality to allow you to scale the ecommerce business. 

2. Share your customer data securely.

Target’s data breach of up to 70 million debit and credit cards was a staggering blow to consumer confidence. Since your ecommerce operations will be exchanging valuable customer information with other systems and companies, you must have a plan in place on how to make only the necessary information available to the necessary resources. Tokenizing customer details like credit card numbers, account numbers, names, phone numbers, addresses, or other sensitive information is vital. This will allow your customer support to access customer details without the risk of compromising this data through error, negligence, or theft.

3. Share your customer data consistently.

Data cleansing is a vital and essential task. This should include address, phone, and email validation services from companies like Service Objects. Using validation services as new orders are being placed will reduce shipping packages to the wrong addresses, help you recognize fraudulent activity, and/or will de-duplicate customer contact information before it is shared across your systems. As an example, Richard Smith, Rich Smith, Dick Smith all have the same phone number of 905-814-1790, and are quite likely the same person. They should not show up three times in your CRM.

4. Build in elasticity. 

What happens if your ecommerce business exceeds sales expectations? One consequence to such success is that your IT infrastructure can crash. Virtualized machines with proper back-up, software as a service (SaaS), or completely cloud-based managed services are very viable options for you to explore and adopt.

I know that Corkcicle believes in their product and plans deeply. Their deft recovery from an important stumble was likely a lesson-learned scenario where they have gone on to better their processes.


Story 2: Jolly Jumper


Corkcicles do not generally make great baby toys, but this toddler disagrees (Original source)

The Story:

“I placed my order for a baby shower gift – Jolly Jumper and associated “annoying” singing mat of some sort – on December 04, 2014. While this was a bit late for the holiday season, but since the baby shower wasn’t until early January, I knew that even if my order was late on the projected shipping date, I would likely still be alright.

I ordered from Babies’R’Us‘ Canadian website, and was automatically sent a receipt for my purchase. I filed it away in my email, and didn’t think about it as I went about shopping for the rest of my holiday cheer.

I received no further updates on my shipment until December 13, 2014. While the rest of my holiday orders had already been placed at or around the same time as this order and most had already arrived, the email I received from Babies’R’Us (9 days after I placed my order) was to let me know my items were just being shipped. Good thing I had lots of time before I needed these items! So nine days between order placement and order shipping.

I arrived home from work to find a Purolator sticky on my door announcing an attempted delivery. After playing telephone tag with Purolator for a few days, I finally was able to pick up my package at Purolator on December 15, 2014 – but the package only contained one item and it was packed in an absurdly large box. Hum! On December 20th I received notice the second item in my order was available for pick-up, again a Purolator sticky on my door. I picked up the shipment from Purolator and the second item was again packed in an absurdly large box. In the midst of waiting for my orders, I was also checking the order status with Purolator. I noticed my last name was misspelt, and was different on each delivery – good thing that didn’t affect the delivery (and good thing the Purolator front desk attendant wasn’t a stickler for spelling)!


From Babies’R’Us: name and address all correct 


Package status #1 from Jolly Jumper: It seems they have changed my profession to Private Eye


Package status #2: What happened here? I don’t know who J THIELLE PI is, but they’re getting my Jolly Jumper

When I reached out to Jolly Jumper to ask how my name was generated incorrectly on each of the orders, they responded that it was likely Babies’R’Us’ fault, as Jolly Jumper ships only to retailers and not consumers. OK, but why two shipments? It would appear that Babies R Us filled one order from in store inventory in Kamloops BC. If you know where Kamloops is, it’s pretty clear Babies R Us doesn’t have a warehouse in the BC interior.

Dr. VL – what do you think happened with my order?”

What Happened?:


Again another classic case of not mapping out the customer experience. This may also be a case of manual integration. While you entered your information correctly at the point of sale with Babies’R’Us (Toys’R’Us), as made evident by your shipping receipt in the Toys’R’Us portal, the notifications that you were receiving about the shipping of the items were likely coming from another source. The exact source in this circumstance is difficult to pin down: it could very well be Jolly Jumper or Babies’R’Us that made the error.

This is a case of manual integration: the culprit behind your new profession of P.I. and your unwanted name change is simple – typos! 

The scenario likely went as follows: 

You placed your order with Babies’R’Us, and Jolly Jumper received the order details. Perhaps each of your orders came to Jolly Jumper separately, explaining why your shipments didn’t come as one package (but we can’t really be sure of this and I suspect it was more of inventory availability issue), and its probably unlikely given the EDI systems in use.

Either Jolly Jumper or the Babies’R’Us shipping warehouse (whomever was the party to ship your packages to you) likely does not have their order processing technologies integrated. Thus your orders were manually integrated – i.e., someone had to literally re-type out your order (name including) at some point to process it. Assuming that the holiday season was busy for both Jolly Jumper and Babies’R’Us (as it was for a lot of ecommerce retailers during the holiday season), whomever was inputting your information might have been in a rush and thus the typos went unnoticed.

Just be thankful that only your name was misspelt and your shipment arrived to you unimpeded: our blog post about the Aran Sweater Market didn’t go quite as smoothly!”

Story 3: Coleman


A bright red Coleman lunchbox will be all the rage on runways this fall (source)

The Story:

“My father-in-law desperately wanted a Coleman lunchbox for (his seasonal) work. Yes, for Christmas, in the middle of winter. Who was I to not oblige, what with the magic of the internet at my fingertips?

I placed my order on Walmart.ca on December 8th, and I was in luck – it was on sale! (Because who buys a cooler in the middle of winter?)

I received my auto-generated confirmation email immediately, and Walmart promised me a 3-7 day shipping window. My previous experiences with buying from Walmart online had seen my items delivered in a matter of days, so I was at ease that my gift would be at my doorstep in time to wrap it and place it comfortably under the tree.

No further word on my order until December 15th when I received a follow-up email from Walmart: my order had be canceled! To my dismay, ever-reliable Walmart had let me down, and without any explanation. I tried to both call and email Walmart’s customer care department without luck. Visiting the Walmart.ca page for the cooler had provided me with some insight – the item was now out of stock, and perhaps was when I initially ordered it. The slowness of updating inventory created a less then satisfactory experience. So less than 10 days before Christmas I was back on the prowl for a lunchbox cooler!

Thankfully Amazon.ca came to my rescue. I placed my order on December 16th, received confirmation of shipping on December 17th, and came home on December 18th to my little red cooler waiting on my doorstep.

Dr. VL – what happened? Walmart is usually very reliable, what went wrong in this case?”

What Happened?:


This is an unusual story for Walmart’s ecommerce – they’re usually very accurate and reliable! But in light of your Coleman story, my best assessment of what happened is as follows:

Walmart, like many large retailers with ecommerce platforms, does not actually warehouse most (if any) of it’s online stock. Instead, it is the inidividual manfuacturer’s responsability to receive, pack, and ship each order Walmart.ca receives directly to the consumer from their own warehouses. This is what we referred to as ‘vendor drop-shipping’:

Vendor Drop shipping is a supply chain management technique in which the retailer does not keep goods in stock, but instead transfers customer orders and shipment details to either the manufacturer or a wholesaler, who then ships the goods directly to the customer.” (Wikipedia.org)

What likely occurred between Walmart.ca and Coleman was that Coleman was not (or could not, for whatever reason) update Walmart quickly enough on the status of their stock. Likely the item you ordered was already out of stock at Coleman’s warehouses when you ordered it from Walmart.ca, just as you assumed. 

The time delay in you being notified of this discrepancy could be a result of a number of factors: the busy holiday season rush on coolers, lack of technology, lack of properly integrated technology, or even misplaced or miscounted stock (with or without the aid of technology).

But the wonderful thing about ecommerce shopping (as a consumer, that is) is exactly how your story ended: provided you are willing to pay the price, there is always another etailer that is happy to take your business!

In Conclusion…

There are a lot of common threads between these three “Ask Abby”- style stories Dr. VL reviewed. The most glaring commonality seems to be an inconsistent yet varying lack of integration between the e-retailers’ various platforms and technologies in use through out the supply chain. This is compounded by a lack of mapping out the customer experience. The two colliding create a less than stellar customer service experience.

While manual integration can work during slow times, it is busy times like the holiday season where the cracks in this strategy really shows. At all times of the year, integration can save an ecommerce business time, money, and headaches, freeing you and your employees to be smart-busy with your time.

The ultimate moral of all three stories are… integrate your supply chain applications and map the customer experience!

Need help integrating? Want to be smart-busy? VL can help!

Interested in a more in-depth case study? Check out our blog post “Why Integration Matters and Matters A Lot: The Aran Sweater Tale”.