July 26 2006 11:07 AM

Like all good start-up stories, the founder of Pets.com is said to have �stumbled� onto success. Greg McLenore sold his interest in Toys.com and launched Pets.com in November 1998, on a shoestring budget. The savvy online pet product retailer headquartered in San Francisco gives mail carriers� four-legged fans one more reason to welcome their arrivals.
Within six months of launching, Pets.com was delivered into the capable hands of a venture capitalist group. Today, less than two years later, the world�s most formidable online retailer, Amazon.com, backs it. And virtually anyone who owns a TV has seen the company�s glib commercials featuring a pesky sock puppet, spokes-dog who begs pet owners to stay home and do their shopping online. The commercials were part of last season�s Super Bowl dot-com blitz.
A customer-driven dot-com
But there�s more to Pets.com�s rapid growth than advertising savvy and zillions of pet products. Business-to-consumer e-tailing is a dog-eat-dog world. And according to CEO Julie Wainwright, �We are running hard and fast to make Pets.com the best possible customer experience, from product selection to customer service.� With the recent addition of a new 300,000-square-foot distribution center, the selection will be vast indeed � up to 40,000 product offerings. Other customer perks include a flat $4.95 shipping fee regardless of weight and product delivery that�s usually within 72 hours of order placement.
The alpha dog
Pets.com claims to be the leading online pet product supplier. However, while the e-commerce potential is mind-boggling � the US market for pet products is an estimated $23 billion annually � fulfilling that potential depends on fulfilling customer orders. Swift, efficient order fulfillment and delivery is do-or-die for any �brick and click,� making Pets.com�s shipping function the linchpin for continued success. Responsibility for that function rests squarely on the shoulders of Lloyd Wallsten, director of Logistics for Pets.com.
When the business took off and orders started to stream in, Wallsten turned to TranScape, a Pitney Bowes Company, for a shipping solution that would automate shipping and fulfillment functions.
Ramping up
�Outbound shipping volume went from 100 to 8,000 packages a day in just seven months,� says Wallsten. What the e-tailer needed was a scalable TMS solution that could easily accommodate continued rapid growth � one that would integrate seamlessly with its existing Web-based business infrastructure.
�We turned to TranScape because it offered a scalable system with flexible and precise processes,� says Wallsten. Pets.com chose TranScape�s Ascent Integrated Shipment Management software solution for U.S. Postal Service shipments as well as for heavyweight shipping needs.
Advanced transportation management solutions
TranScape specializes in the development and marketing of advanced transportation management software and services. TranScape offers a complete family of outbound and inbound software products to support and manage shipping and mailing operations. Software systems are designed to be affordable and to integrate seamlessly with customers� existing business systems, from order processing, purchasing and warehouse to accounts payable.
Wallsten depends on reliable carriers, such as the U.S. Postal Service, and TranScape�s Ascent software for swift and reliable delivery of its lightweight parcels, of which there is abundance. Most of the parcels are shipped to residential addresses and weigh less than 15 pounds. Ascent has served Pets.com well, meeting all U.S. Postal Service compliance requirements as well as providing confirmation of U.S. Postal Service deliveries.
The software transfers tracking numbers to Pets.com�s Web site, generates e-mail ASNs to customers and creates monthly billing/shipping rate reports with customer demographics, weight classifications and more. Ascent even provides Pets.com with automatic U.S. Postal Service compliance upgrades, assuring consistently accurate and updated shipping procedures.
Ascent is a Windows-based multi-carrier logistics system designed to meet the needs of medium- to high-volume shippers. It has helped Pets.com maintain low inventories, meet customer demand for fast delivery and manage detailed shipment information. The result: more operating dollars available for infrastructure development, marketing and the myriad requirements of a growing company.
Integrated systems are key to speed
Pets.com also uses TranScape�s In-Motion Module to extend the power of Ascent by integrating it with advanced data collection devices and automated material handling technologies. This fully integrated, world-class order fulfillment system allows Pets.com to ship more orders in less time, while still reducing labor costs and eliminating virtually all sources of error. �We�re operating at twice the speed of most brick and mortar businesses,� comments Wallsten.
The two systems work well together. Ascent and In-Motion allow Pets.com to create a complete transportation database and generate detailed, customized shipping reports for more informed decision-making and analysis.
For Pets.com, the distribution link is as critical to company success as its shipping strategy. Streamlined distribution is the reason Pets.com merchandisers buy direct from manufacturers, bypassing distributors. The result is a broad selection of items and greater control over the costs and delivery. Add to that a new distribution center, reliable low-cost carriers and an efficient and integrated shipping system, and Pets.com can consistently provide its customers with excellent service � from the time of order placement until packages arrive at their doorsteps.
Customized and integratable software solutions will always be critical success factors. However, in the online marketplace, the importance of good partnerships is just as vital. Wallsten gives high marks to TranScape�s partnership approach and ability to customize solutions. �TranScape has been very responsive to our needs,� notes Wallsten. Shipping-savvy businesses like Pets.com will continue to value partners who can provide integrated solutions linked to host, SCM and ERP applications.
Now, if they could just find a way to divert yipping, nipping Fido and Fi Fi when delivering their pet goodies, U.S. Postal Service mail carriers would really have something to write home about.
Bruce Beatty is director of Strategic Marketing for TranScape. For more information, please visit www.transcape.com.