Improving inventory efficiency and providing a new customer experience

Improving inventory efficiency and providing a new customer experience

Handling customer orders can be time-consuming, but there is software available to save time and reduce paperwork, while ensuring customers find the product they need.

April 30, 2015

In the horticultural industry, inventory is tricky. The limited shelf-life of plants and their potential growing complications can make it difficult to keep products on track for orders and future availability. “It’s complex enough that we deal with perishable products, but we’re also having to deal with constantly changing orders because many are booked so far in advance to allow for growing times,” says Mark Morris, Director of Technology and Chief Information Officer at Ball Horticultural Company.

Software like Ball Seed’s WebTrack gives you real-time inventory to ease the ordering process. The system can be logged onto using a computer or a handheld tablet device.  It can check availability, send growers information for incoming deliveries, provide historic order information, and even send an electronic confirmation instead of the grower handling lots of paperwork.

And because orders can change often due to factors like unexpected production issues, changes in the weather or cancellations, the software is equipped to monitor and communicate shortages or substitutions. 

“If the supplier is monitoring the crop as it’s being produced and they see there is going to be a shortage, they can report that back to WebTrack so affected orders can be updated and customers notified as early as possible. Or if a customer needs to modify the order, we can take those changes and send them over to the supplier to update production and delivery plans,” Morris says.

 “Over the past eight years, Ball Seed’s WebTrack has gone through a renovation, and we recently rolled out a whole new customer experience built based input from grower. We first made a lot of improvements in the inventory and supply chain processes. Many other websites simply have pretty window dressing.  We wanted to ‘get the back room in order first,’” Morris says, which he says differentiates WebTrack from other websites and he believes is important for building real customer satisfaction.  

A major advantage of Ball Seed’s WebTrack is the people behind the website.  The Ball Seed sales force and customer service teams are available so that growers have a point of contact if they have product questions or experience an issue with the system itself or with a particular order.  Also the Ball Seed Supplier Relations team members are assigned to work closely with each supplier to ensure the best product assortment, accurate inventory and highest order fulfillment. 

Not only does WebTrack help growers when it comes to handling order changes and communicating  with customers, but it’s also user friendly and provides lots of useful information.  Growers can go to and browse through an online product catalog, which includes thousands of photos, bench cards and culture information.  You can search through more than 225,000 different products from over 200 suppliers.  And by clicking “Buy Now” from within the catalog search, the customer is sent into Ball Seed’s WebTrack where he or she can place an order for the product.  

After an order is placed, customers receive a tracking number they can use to monitor the shipment through FedEx, or receive an ETA if the product is shipped by truck.  Knowing when shipments will arrive is very important for customer’s labor planning for receiving and production.

Growers can also gain credibility through a rating system. Based on actual delivery data instead of subjective information, customers can see how each grower ranks amongst peers based on order fill statistics. If a grower isn’t able to complete a requested order, that data is input into the rating system. “Our goal is to have all suppliers who are on WebTrack ranked highly, and the Ball Seed suppliers have taken this very seriously and worked really hard to provide the most dependable order fill possible,” Morris says.

Last this year, Ball Seed will roll out WebTrack Mobile that will allow customers to do inventory lookups, review product claims and check delivery status using a simple mobile phone App.