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The Dark Side of Backorders & Preorders

The Dark Side of Backorders & Preorders

Backorders and preorders seem great. The rider gets dibs on an out-of-stock product, and the company gets cash to finance the inventory. Everybody wins. That’s how we saw it back when Mosko started. Back then we were taking pre-orders for our very first products and we accidentally oversold sometimes. In the process we learned about the dark side of backorders and preorders.

The first source of darkness is that managing a backlog of a few hundred (or few thousand) backorders is no easy task. There are usually multiple line items on every order, some of which can be filled and some of which can’t. Each change in the status of each item needs to be communicated, which results in a lot of back and forth and much confusion. Why did you send me a rack adaptor without panniers? I got the pants but where’s the jacket? I get that panniers are out of stock, but why didn’t you ship me the duffle? The ensuing flurry of calls and emails quickly swamps our small rider support team. It creates so many opportunities for shipping and communication errors that screw ups are inevitable.

The second source of darkness is that - while the backlog sits there waiting - we get a ton of calls and emails asking for special handling and change orders. Over the course of just a few months a surprising number of riders will change their shipping address, email, or telephone, change their order and change it back, change the recipient of the order, change the line items on the order: add things, subtract things, cancel things… and sometimes all of the above. They will call with requests like “If the product arrives between X and Y date, please don’t ship it because we will be out of town and I don’t want it sitting on the porch. If it comes in after Z date please ship it to a different address, where we’ll be for exactly 10 days, but make sure to require a signature and put ‘Room 237’ on the package.” If we decline these requests, that doesn’t go over well (jerks!). If we screw them up that doesn’t go over well either (idiots!).

The two sources of darkness above could probably be managed if it wasn’t for the third and final one, the real killer:

We don’t know when we can ship, until we’re actually ready to ship.

When we take money - no matter what caveats – we’ve made a promise to deliver. It’s a virtual handshake with virtual eye contact. We’re promising to get you that product when we said we would, and you’ve planned your trips accordingly. But here’s the catch: until the product is actually in our hands, we shouldn’t be making any promises to anyone. Some combination of procurement, manufacturing, loading, shipping, unloading, customs clearing, trucking, counting, QCing, and scanning has yet to occur. There are still a lot of upstream variables.

Anticipation builds as the delivery date gets closer. We get a ton of emails and calls from riders with trips coming up. They want to be sure the product is on schedule. We tell them what we know, which might be that everything is on track and the date is good. Right up until customs holds the shipment for three weeks (that happened). Or there’s a dock worker strike (that happened). Or we open the first box and the buckles are backwards (that happened three times). We learned early on, that if we take someone’s money we’d better be damn sure we can deliver, otherwise we risk turning friends into enemies.

Instead of taking backorders and preorders, we now use a vastly simpler system. If we’re sold out, click the ‘Notify Me’ button on the product page. There’s no obligation to follow through, but it puts you at the front of the queue for an email. If only X pieces arrive then we only email X addresses. It’s not perfect but it works. Because you haven’t paid us anything, you’re still free to buy whatever from whomever, whenever. That freedom to shop around preserves our friendship for the long term. Maybe you’ll come back, or maybe you’ll buy from a competitor and love it. Either way: we’re stoked that you’re stoked. 

See you out on the trail!

- Peter Day (Co-founder & CEO)