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A leap of faith: One man’s journey into online retail

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With exposure to a wider customer base, lower overheads, greater choice and more competitive prices, the benefits of online retailing are obvious. Online is the birth place for many emerging retailers while the bricks and mortar sector strive to ‘get with the game’. But it wasn’t always this clear. John Winning, CEO of Winning Group, tells Dynamic Business about his journey into online retail some 10 years ago with Appliances Online.

Working at his family’s bricks and mortar retail business, Winning Appliances, John foresaw a developing trend in online retail for a growing market of time poor consumers looking for more convenient ways to shop. But,  nudging ahead of the game, not everyone shared John’s vision.

John said “despite my confidence at the prospect of going online, my family and the board did not believe online retail could be successful.”

While John’s online strategy was far from the ‘no-brainer’ it would be today, he was given a chance with a conditional business loan from his father. The online business had to be profitable within 3 months. Not wanting any failure to be associated with Winning Appliances, the new and distinct venture, Appliances Online, was born.

Although initially catering to time-poor consumers looking for a replacement item in the Sydney area, Appliances Online’s customer base has since evolved to include builders, real estate property managers and renovators from across Australia.

Online retail has proven capable of delivering an improved customer experience with the right ingredients, according to John.

“Technology, logistics and service are the three key pillars underpinning Appliances Online’s ‘best of breed’ customer experience.

“We control the shopping experience at every stage of the customer journey,” said John.

There can be no compromises when it comes to the online customer experience versus the bricks and mortar experience. John asserts that ‘outside the box’ thinking is required to deliver the personalised level of service sought by consumers.

“In addition to using vast amounts of video content and 360 degree imaging to show customers the product in detail, we also send hand-written letters to our customers thanking them for choosing to shop with Appliances Online,” said John.

In addition to customer service, John points to delivery as the “silver bullet for online retail success and where Australian online retailers often drop the ball.”

Successfully rising to profitability within 3 months of launch and now boasting 10 years’ experience, John would certainly be an advocate for any retailer considering an online strategy. But there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach or right of passage to being successful online.

When asked whether an online channel is an essential strategy for any retailer into the future, John said:

“It depends on the product or service you’re trying to sell, however at the end of the day the customer will dictate which touch-points are essential.

Listen to your customers. What your customers want will determine the investment you need to make in online and will shape the features and functionality of your website.”