Harry PotterHarry Potter couldn’t work his magic for many children today, in spite of months of planning for one of the biggest book shopping expeditions ever. The reason is that the British weather confounded him.

Yesterday, much of Britain was given a tropical lashing unseen in decades. It took me just over five hours to complete a six mile journey, meaning I was very late to collect my son from school. But I couldn’t have got there anyway. His school was knee deep in water and the children had to be rescued by boat. Much fun for the children who are all as pleased as punch today because their pictures are all over the newspapers and my son was on the BBC national TV news bulletins….!

Meanwhile, stuck in the floods was a lorry driver who could go nowhere – yet he simply “had to”. Why? Because his lorry was full of Harry Potter books ready for delivery to stores. Many children will have been disappointed. My son was disappointed himself this morning; our planned delivery of the latest Harry Potter book didn’t happen. It was sent out on time it seems, but the postal lorries couldn’t make it through the traffic and the floods on time.

No doubt all over the southern half of Britain, there are plenty of children disappointed that Harry’s magic couldn’t overcome the weather. Mind you, if you want a copy, our local Sainsbury’s is piled high with them this morning – and not a single person appeared to be buying any…!

Amazon is reported to have taken orders for two million copies online, so it would seem that many people actually pre-ordered via the Internet. Online shopping in advance like this is clearly a convenient way of getting what you want. But when the weather intervenes, there is obvious disappointment.

For any online retailers this is clearly an issue. Distribution is the bottleneck you have to cope with. Few online retailers focus on distribution, instead concentrating on web design. But the most important aspect of an online retailer’s business is distribution. If you can’t get your products to your customers it doesn’t matter how great your web site is.

And while your distribution system may not have to cope with the massive contrasts of the British weather, you do need to ensure your distribution system can cope with most eventualities. If your online business doesn’t focus on distribution, you could lose out. Just like Harry Potter did yesterday.

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