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If you are a small business planning a web site with an online shop that will require goods to be delivered, then you will be concerned about fulfillment. In many cases this worry will be unneccessary. Much of the concern about "fulfillment" come from large scale dotcom start ups that make lots of noise, but dont have a shed full of products. For them the whole idea of physical labour and real customers, may be unfamiliar territory. Hence all the hand wringing about fulfillment problems.

For the average small business, there should be no fear about this - you treat the customers like your livelihood depends on it, and if there is a surge in orders, you just work longer hours. Nothing new there then.

Some points worth considering:

1) if you really don't have a fulfillment capability, then probably you are best to approach a local shop or small business that does, and offer to feed your web operation into their physical one.

2) the parcels services offer services that can equip your business with some of the same competitive advantage as the bigger companies: including online tracing for parcels, feeds from your shop system to print off despatch notes, timed pick ups and deliveries, returns management. Check out UPS, Securicor and Parcelforce.

3) a big issue with UK home delivery is the receiving of goods if the person is at work. You can now join a scheme operated by Royal Mail , which allows customers to nominate their local post office as a delivery point.

4) for those who have not operated mail order before, be aware that (a) customer returns of 20% are not uncommon, and (b) you have obligations imposed on you by the Consumer Protection legislation - which is similar throughout Europe.

5) VAT is chargeable on goods shipped within or into the European Union, based on where the goods or services are physically delivered, tax is not determined by the address of the invoicee. If your trade within Europe is small, then VAT is chargeable at your local rates. Above a certain threshold - you have to charge different rates for different countries. Check with your VAT office for further details.

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