Business communication in retail business, Business Management

This final project is a case study worth 35% of the final grade for this course. Submission is mandatory, at the end of Module 10. Although this case has been designed to integrate all the major topics from the entire course, you will mainly be required to demonstrate what you have learned from Modules 6 through 10. You should start work on it in conjunction with Module 9 and submit it at the end of Module 10.

The case study questions provide explicit instructions on how much information to write and what to submit. Be sure to follow those instructions precisely. Your report should be written in properly organized paragraphs, in good English, and should not be just a list of points or incomplete sentences. Be sure to address each issue completely. It is a good idea, when you think you have completed the report, to go back to the case study and ensure that you have included a response to every issue or question. (This is the most common error made by students doing case studies.)

Citing your sources

When you summarize or quote information from websites, be sure to cite the URL in the proper style (as is done in the study guide). Because websites and web pages change, you should also cite the date you accessed the information (for example, "accessed June 16, 2003"). If the publication itself shows a date of publication, include this also, just as if it were a book or a journal article.

For information from newspapers or magazines, cite the source, using footnotes or endnotes. Cite the name of the author, article, name of publication, and date of publication. However, you should be able to find all the information needed for this case study online without having to source other media.

Assuming the role of the consultant

In this case study, you will act as an IT consultant to a currently successful retail business. Your main task is to provide specific recommendations for the company to effectively implement Internet applications. You will be assessed on how well you apply your learning from the entire Internet Applications course, as well as on the soundness of your research, the credibility of your recommendations and supporting points, and the quality of your presentation. A high standard of written business communication is expected.

The company

International Antiques Limited (IAL) is a privately-owned retail business that focuses on the retail sales of furniture, cultural products, and antiques from Asian sources. The president, Dean Huang, has been in the antique business for many years and personally owns all the shares of IAL. The company has four stores and a large warehouse in Richmond, near Vancouver airport. The stores are located in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. IAL imports most of its merchandise from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The majority of sales are from walk-in traffic, with some mail-order sales. Most of the walk-in sales are from tourists with some purchases from local residents. If a customer requests an antique piece or cultural product not found in any of the IAL stores, a message is faxed to the president to follow up. This part of IAL's operation is not streamlined at all, and there have been many lost opportunities due to either delayed communications or the fact that the president was unable to locate the requested item.

Total annual sales for 2007 were $12.5 million, down from $13 million two years ago. The president blames the downturn in sales on the economy, but some of the salespeople believe that the Internet, and specifically eBay, has taken a lot of the business away as some antique dealers have turned to online auctions to ply their trade. Several have cited instances where a customer would report finding a piece on eBay that could not be found in any IAL store.

IAL has a total staff of 25; the head office only has six staff members (president/owner, controller, secretary/receptionist, accounting clerk, programmer, and mail-order clerk, with the president acting as the buyer). The president makes several trips a year to Asia to make purchases. The warehouse has a manager and two warehouse staff members as well as a small repair department with one technician to look after returns, repairs, and minor related problems. IAL is a member of the local Better Business Bureau in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal.

Mail-order business

Apart from its retail business, IAL also has a mail-order catalogue and does a reasonable volume of business by mail order, serving clientele from around the world. IAL sells mail orders to parts of the United States (in particular, Washington, Oregon, and California); it also sells to countries in the European Union. However, the majority of mail-order business comes from within Canada.

Because the Canadian dollar fluctuates in relation to the major currencies (U.S. dollar, euro, Japanese yen, Korean won, and Hong Kong dollar), IAL sends out a new catalogue with updated pricing every six months. Its mailing list comprises 50,000 names, mostly in Canada, with about 10,000 in the United States and several thousands spread across European Union countries. The catalogue includes all the items sold by IAL, although not every item in the catalogue is necessarily in the inventory in the warehouse. In such cases, IAL would request direct shipment from its suppliers upon receiving the order.

To keep mailing costs down, IAL routinely removes customers from the mailing list if they have not made any purchases for more than 24 months. To supplement the mailing lists, it also buys names and addresses for prospective customers through mail-in requests that it runs in some local newspapers in the western Canadian provinces and parts of the western United States. As well, IAL occasionally places small ads in international travel, cultural, and antiques magazines. To prevent frivolous requests, it charges $5 for the mail-in request for catalogues, but rebates the entire amount at the time of the first purchase. With cost of postage, printing, and handling, the average cost per catalogue is about $5.00 within North America, but the cost rises to $7.50 for international mail. The mail-order business currently is 15% of the total sales of IAL, down from 20% two years ago. The president thinks that IAL's mail-order business has the potential for a significantly higher volume and could be much more profitable.

Technology environment

IAL has not been especially innovative with its own technology. The programmer looks after a small LAN in the head office and all the point-of-sale (POS) and inventory systems in the stores. The accounting system is based on Microsoft Great Plains Dynamics, running on the LAN with access provided to the president, the controller, and the accounting clerks.

Until recently, most of IAL's communications with the outside world were by fax and telephone, and all bills and invoices were paper-based. A year ago, the new programmer introduced e-mail, but only the store managers and the president have e-mail addresses. The company has no website. The degree of Internet access varies from store to store, and depends on how Internet-savvy the staff members are at a particular store. There are no guidelines on how Internet or e-mail should be used.


The president has recently engaged your services as an Internet consultant. During the initial meeting with him, you were provided with the following information:

1.    The president is considering replacing the catalogue with a website. He thinks he can save a lot of money and increase sales.

2.    The president has been told by a friend that the easiest way to get into online sales on the Internet is to provide product information and specifications on the website, but have customers print out and fill in an order form and fax in the order. This, he was told, would solve all problems of security. On the other hand, the programmer told the president that the website should have full e-commerce capabilities, including online credit card verification, and that SSL or SET should be implemented.

3.    The president also heard quite a bit about security problems with Internet applications. In particular, he was told that hackers could easily break into the company's website and steal all the credit card information.

4.    An accountant offered to put a WebTrust seal on the company's website after it is built, for a fee. According to the accountant, a WebTrust seal is absolutely essential for the site to succeed. To maintain the WebTrust seal, a review is required every three months. In a recent brochure, the Better Business Bureau offered the BBB Web seal at a significantly lower cost. A friend advised the president that the TRUSTe seal is all he needs, and that it is not expensive to get. The programmer feels that web seals are outdated because of a new type of privacy policy system, Platform for Privacy (P3P). He states that all company needs to do is use P3P to gain the trust of the consumer.

5.    The controller has said that a marketing strategy is required to promote the website. According to her, merely building the website does not result in traffic to the site. In addition, she is concerned about the cost of developing and maintaining the website. A lawyer friend advised the president to proceed with caution because of the many legal and jurisdictional issues that websites currently face, particularly because the website will be available globally and could involve sales in all foreign jurisdictions, not just the United States and the European Union.

6.    The programmer has suggested that all staff be put on e-mail service, including the entire head office, the warehouse, and the entire sales force. He thinks e-mail would improve internal communications and cites many instances of missed or delayed communications, leading to loss of sales. However, the president is concerned about staff sending and reading personal e-mail during working hours. He has also heard quite a few horror stories about the fact that e-mail is used by hackers to spread viruses.

7.    After one of the office staff members was caught visiting an online pornographic website in the office, the president is thinking of disallowing access to certain websites, or shutting down Internet access altogether. On the other hand, several of the sales staff suggested that if they had access to the Internet, they could better serve special requests from customers. The president is getting conflicting opinions on this issue.

8.    The controller thinks that a properly built website is perfect for one-to-one marketing, and she pointed out the success story of as an example. She suggested that the website should collect as much information about each customer as possible to facilitate this form of marketing. However, the corporate lawyer is advising caution and has said something about needing to worry about Bill C-6 in Canada as well as the need for awareness of privacy policies in the foreign countries IAL serves. He also advises that the website should include the company's privacy policy.

9.    The controller needs some guidance on how to go about developing Internet applications. She needs to know what web programming languages IAL should use. In addition, she is concerned about CSR and wants to make sure that the website contains basic features that show IAL is a good corporate citizen. She is mainly concerned with making the website accessible to people with disabilities, and to those who speak foreign languages (the languages of the EU in particular). The programmer suggests that the website should be designed with cell phone users in mind since Internet access via cell phones is on the rise in North America and abroad.

10. The president recently went to a Microsoft seminar on Microsoft Dynamics GP and he is all excited about the product. He is particularly sold on the Business Portal. He feels that it will increase the productivity of his staff and allow him to access critical information online while he is on the road. Currently he does not own a mobile device other than a cell phone, and he is considering getting a laptop so he can access the website while on the road. Someone told him he can access the website with his existing cell phone using WAP. He doesn't know what WAP is. A close friend told him that a cell phone would not be a good choice for him since he might need to download data and use Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Posted Date: 2/23/2013 5:35:20 AM | Location : United States

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