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Shipping Expertise Helps Replacements, Ltd. Keep Customers Happy

Replacements, Ltd. is a Greensboro N.C.–based company that connects buyers to the world’s largest selection of old and new dinnerware. The company’s inventory of approximately 13 million pieces comes in more than 360,000 patterns. Because merchandise is so fragile, owner Bob Page knew he needed packaging that would protect it. Page and his employees turned to FedEx to help them update shipping systems and test packaging to ensure their precious items made it to customers safely.

Out of the Attic

Most people store memories in their attic. In 1981, Bob Page started a business in his. He loved shopping for antiques and unique items at yard sales and flea markets and hunting down pieces for friends.

His business quickly grew — by 1984, sales approached $4 million. When the internet took off, Page knew it represented a major opportunity to showcase their vast inventory to customers around the globe. Replacements.com was developed by a team of employees led by Page. When the site launched in June 1998,
it had 1,991 visits in its first month. In 2011, it had 38.8 million visitors. Direct and indirect sales from Replacements.com have grown to account for more than 85 percent of annual revenue — which on average exceeds $80 million a year.

Through the explosive growth of their website, Replacements has remained committed to its core mission — helping customers find tableware to replace broken or lost items they have strong emotional ties to. The company regularly receives thank-you letters. One husband said his wife was stunned when she opened her Christmas present to find replacement plates for those she'd lost in Hurricane Katrina. Another customer wrote to say "Replacements brought joy and memories back
to our family."

Safe and Sound

With so much emotion involved in their purchases, it's critical to customers that packages arrive safely. Replacements ships an average of 40,000 packages a month of largely breakable items. In the peak holiday season, that number exceeds 100,000 packages a month. To ensure smooth delivery, shipping functionality was built directly into their software by Agile Network, a third-party provider of FedEx® e-commerce solutions. Customers receive emails with tracking information the day their items leave the warehouse.

Replacements ships the majority of its packages via FedEx SmartPost®, a service that's perfect for low- weight, residential deliveries when customers don't need their items right away. Another large percentage is sent via FedEx Home Delivery® services for cost- effective, day-definite shipping for heavier packages.

When customers need items fast, Replacements uses FedEx Express® delivery services, including FedEx Express Saver® for delivery in three days, FedEx 2Day® for delivery in two days, and FedEx Standard Overnight® and FedEx Priority Overnight® when shipments are needed the next day. Time- sensitive returns are handled by the FedEx Ground® Call Tag package return service that makes returns easy on customers. And they're currently exploring FedEx international shipping to Canada, England and Australia.

Jack Whitley, senior vice president of e-commerce, and Kelly Smith, chief financial officer at Replacements, both view their relationship with FedEx as a collaborative one that helps them achieve their company's goals and keep customers happy.

"FedEx has a big part in the work we do," says Whitley. "It's really important to get a piece to a customer without breaking it because we might not find another one." Replacements has invested lots of time and money in their packaging. They consulted with FedEx for innovative and extra-safe packing methods, which contributed to Replacements' shipping error rate of less than one-tenth percent. FedEx engineers even took packages to their labs and tested them to make sure they stood up to any kind of treatment.

"A couple of Christmases ago, a gentleman thought the package sitting on his porch was a backpack he ordered so he kicked the box all the way into his house. When he realized it was from Replacements, he was horrified, but nothing was broken," says Whitley.

A Strategic Collaboration

A team of executives from each department at Replacements sits down every quarter with their FedEx account managers, Jennifer Anderson and Catherine Walsh, to review goals and plan for the future.

For instance, when the company added an extra 200,000 square feet to its existing warehouse space in 2011, Anderson and Walsh helped the management team consult with FedEx engineers for the most optimal pick-and-pack arrangement for the new space.

"FedEx is not just a truck at the door," says Smith. "They provide us with more solutions than just shipping. We take advantage of the deep and broad experience FedEx brings to the table."

And customers value the merchandise Replacements brings to their tables — often with tears of joy. Said one customer, "Replacements' packing is the best I have ever seen. It reflects the fact that dishes are not only fragile but precious."