Pardon my French. But I’m more than a teensy bit annoyed with catalog and online retailers lately, many of whom are playing fast and loose with the definition of a backorder. Correct me if I’m off-base, retailers, but my understanding of a backorder is that at some point not too far in the future an item which is being advertised for sale will actually become available. It’s certainly not my definition of backorder that an item will be available only after the season for which it is appropriate is long past. I don’t need a Christmas sweater in July, thank you very much indeed.
So, how do you play BBB? It goes something like this. Back in March, I ordered a lovely pair of wide-leg linen pants from j.jill. They were back ordered until April. OK, New England isn’t nearly warm enough for linen pants in March, so I was fine with a bit of a wait. Then I got a notice that they wouldn’t be available until May. And another that said that they’d be in stock in June. And then July. And then I gave up.
I also wanted a plain and simple black knit tank dress to replace one that I’d finally loved to death after years of wear. A black dress, a real wardrobe basic, right? Again, I turned to j.jill — what can I say, I like their clothes and since I’ve got their credit card I get perks. Shopping in May, everything was back-ordered until late August. I didn’t bother ordering. (MamaRubi didn’t raise no fool.)
Thinking that I might find a dress on sale now, since it’s the end of the season, I just looked again at my usual retail suspects. The dress I liked at j.jill back in May is still on their website, still at full price, backordered until December 31. Which is exactly when I don’t need a sleeveless dress. (Have I mentioned I’m in New England?) I also looked at TravelSmith (nothing plain enough), Garnet Hill (sold out in my size in black), and Norm Thompson (backordered until January 27, next year). I guess I’ll look again at the end of the year and if I can find anything, I’ll just put it away for six months. As one does.
Seriously, how hard is it to get this right? There are set lead times for manufacturing and shipping, and surely it’s not a surprise that people are going to want summer clothes in summer, and winter clothes in winter. If you’re a retailer, and you don’t want to carry a lot of inventory — a logical position to take in an uncertain economy, natch — then you’ve got a couple of options. One is to do an analysis of what items sold well last year, and make more of those. (Again, black knit tank dresses? A pretty sure bet.)
The other is to go to just-in-time manufacturing, so as demand for a certain item goes up, you can get more of that item in stock fairly quickly. Of course, the tricky part here is that you’ve got to do your manufacturing closer to home. And by making your clothes in, say, the Good Old U.S. of A., you’ll need to pay people more than you do in China, Indonesia, or Vietnam. Which means your profit margins aren’t going to be as big. Then again, if you actually sell clothes, instead of just torturing shoppers with a mirage for months on end, that can’t help but be good for the bottom line.
Can I get an “Amen,” shoppers?