6 top tips for launching an online business

Flooringsupplies.co.uk founder and e-commerce veteran Adrian Lee shares his e-commerce expertise

If you’re looking at getting your new online business up and running, you probably can’t wait to spend every waking hour at your computer, making your website picture-perfect – but I’d urge you to take the time to really think about what you’re offering. I launched my first website in 1997 and my first e-commerce site in 1999, an online only flooring company… I was one of the first UK traders to embrace the power of the internet so competition was slim and I was able to exploit the infancy of the e-commerce world. Today, Flooringsupplies.co.uk employs 12 full-time staff and turned over £10.5m in 2011/12. The online market has changed considerably since 1999 and competition is now abundant but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to launch a successful online business. You just have to be better, stronger, and more efficient than your contemporaries to succeed – and here’s how…

1. Come up with something new

This is the main way that you’ll beat your competitors – by seeing a gap in the market, and making it yours. We were the first company in the UK marketplace to offer customers the opportunity to buy as much underlay as they needed, rather than buy it in rolls. We were also one of the first companies to realise that the internet, and e-commerce, was going to be massive, and I knew that if we didn’t take the chance to utilise it, someone else would.

2. Continually reassess your site

If you stand still, you’re dead. Always make sure that you’re offering people something new, and that your site is a hardworking, realistic representation of what you can offer people. You should always be looking at how you can improve your content, your images, and how you can streamline the buying process. Online retail is ever-evolving, and small improvements are being made every single day to our website. However, we do make large and dramatic changes from time to time which often require significant investments. Recently, we invested in video content with a celebrity presenter to help guide customers around the site and advise on what different types of products we offer. This type of marketing has been very popular across most major markets for years, but has never been done within the flooring world before. It’s important to make sure your website has innovative features that are appropriate for your target market.

3. Ensure your delivery service is fast and reliable

The internet has changed buyer’s tolerance and speed is everything. When people buy online, whether it’s a DVD or a ton of flooring, they’ll want it delivered within the next couple of days. Taking a week to get a product to a customer isn’t good enough anymore. Speed of fulfilment is achieved with investment, training and the right marketing strategy. We are currently holding around £1.5m worth of stock across 90% of our portfolio, and we also have a large team of individuals to make sure that our promises are kept. These people are vital, as without them we couldn’t offer products with fast delivery. It all starts with my sales and accounting staff who do all the paperwork, followed by our warehousing team who make sure the right products are picked and packed on time and finally our delivery team ensure products are delivered to all ends of the UK on time. In some cases, this can be done in less than 24 hours.

4. Match your site to your stockroom

One of the biggest mistakes that businesses make is having products for sale on their website that they don’t actually have. This will result in a backlog of orders, and your customers will very quickly lose patience with you and go elsewhere. It’s better to be honest with people if you don’t currently have stock than accept a payment, and hope your next order arrives on time.

5. Don’t hide behind a screen

Just because you’re selling online doesn’t mean that you can cut back on customer service. Always make sure you have someone available to take any calls from customers, and display this number clearly on your home page. Any email that you use for customer service must be checked frequently, and always try to get back to people within 24 hours. People expect a swift response, and you may find they become disillusioned with your brand if you can’t provide this.

6. Provide value for money, without sacrificing quality

Google Shopping has ensured that your customer now has the opportunity to compare prices across a range of retailers, so always make sure that your prices are competitive. We trade in high-quality goods, which can be more expensive – but our customers know that they’re getting a great product with us. We constantly research and monitor our market, along with our competitors, to make sure we’re providing our customers with the right products at the right prices. We don’t always price-match others and it’s not always the bottom line that matters. We have to consider many of our other services as well, like free samples, free delivery, add-on sales offers and expert advice. All of these extra services are important to our customers and aren’t often mirrored by others. Anyone can sell on price, but offering the whole package and going the extra mile can also add value, and will be appreciated by your customers.  Adrian Lee, is the founder of Flooringsupplies .co.uk, the UK’s Largest Online Flooring Company.

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