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Update: restates earnings, cites ERP implementation

By Chris Kanaracus
October 27, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Internet retailer Inc. is restating its earnings for a five-and-a-half-year period, blaming the move mostly on problems with an Oracle ERP implementation project that dates back several years.

"Our first commandment is 'maintain a bullet-proof balance sheet,' but while the spirit is strong, the flesh made a mistake," CEO Patrick Byrne said in an Oct. 24 letter to shareholders. "The short version is: When we upgraded our system, we didn't hook up some of the accounting wiring; however, we thought we had manual fixes in place. We've since found that these manual fixes missed a few of the unhooked wires."

Overstock estimates that errors over the period in question -- 2003 through the second quarter of 2008 -- constitute a $12.9 million reduction in revenue and a $10.3 million increase to cumulative net loss.

Overstock's director of investor relations, Kevin Moon, said the company blames only itself for the problems.

Overstock had previously used a homegrown system and rushed the Oracle implementation project to get the new system live before the fourth quarter of 2005 and the busy shopping season, according to Moon.

"Honestly, it didn't have anything to do with Oracle per se, it was the implementation," he said. "We had consultants and we had help, but it was all driven by Overstock. We set the timelines."

A letter to stockholders from Overstock's senior vice president of finance, David Chidester, contains a more detailed account of what allegedly went wrong.

"As part of this accounting system upgrade, we changed from recording refunds to customers in batches to recording them transaction-by-transaction," Chidester said. "When we issue a customer refund, the refund reduces the amount of cash we receive from our credit card processors and, as a result, our financial system should reduce our accounts receivable balance. After the implementation, in the instance of some customer refunds, this reduction wasn't happening, and we didn't catch it."

Overstock uses internal "reason codes" that show why various customers get refunds, Chidester added.

"Under the new system, not all reason codes were automatically recorded; some customer refunds required manual entry in the financial system. We set up automatic and manual processes so that these would be recorded," he said. "Unfortunately, we missed some of the manual customer refunds, and as a result, we did not record all that were occurring. Over time, this error built up and, on a cumulative basis, eventually became material."

In addition, the company learned that the system failed to "reverse out" shipping revenue for canceled orders, "and these $2.95 charges also added up over time."

Meanwhile, however, Overstock had been underbilling its fulfillment partners for certain costs related to product returns over the past two years, Chidester said. "In other words, we weren't recording some customer refunds and we weren't recouping some costs from partners on some returns. The combined result was that our returns costs looked reasonable."

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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