Any small and mid-sized business can be challenged with online commerce, especially when a product goes viral in popularity among social media circles.  When the online commerce system encounters snafus, the results can be potentially disastrous.

Supply Chain Matters read an article hosted on Yahoo regarding this summer’s wildly popular swimsuit that actually sold-out before the official start of the summer swimsuit season. This swimsuit, a galaxy print bikini was termed the “fatkini” by various media sources and was designed in a joint collaboration between popular plus-sized blogger Gabi Gregg and retailer Swimsuits for All.  The online campaign was a rousing success until unanticipated demand exhausted all available inventory.  Unfortunately, due to a described “computer glitch”, the underlying online fulfillment system did not react in-time to the zero inventory condition and continued to book customer orders.

Gregg was forced to communicate to her blog followers the occurrence of this glitch along with the actual status of orders, noting that one style had sold-out while another was still in stock.  She also had to communicate the disappointing news that backlog orders could not be fulfilled this summer season because of the lead time and production practices of producers who tend to only produce swimsuits in seasonal cycles of capacity. As noted in the article, consumers would have nothing of the explanation and voiced their disappointments in further online circles. Online provider Swimsuits for All was also dragged into the fray having to issue statements apologizing for the fulfillment glitch. The article further intimates that Gregg does not have immediate plans to design more bathing suits with the online provider.

Once again, the takeaway for teams supporting online commerce is the critical importance of integrating real-time information flows among the online and back-end supply chain inventory and procurement systems.  Teams representing online marketing and back-end fulfillment need to closely collaborate and test for system stress points. This is always important but doubly so when dealing with seasonal products that can only be offered in specific time periods. Customers expect timely status of their orders, particularly when inventory has been exhausted.

A sell-out of any product is evidence of customer delight, but that perception can turn rather quickly when the online system has a very public glitch.