A chat with John Winning about … winning

In the last decade Appliances Online founder John Winning has built up his company to become the largest solely online appliances store in Australia. He tells us why it’s just won the StarTrack ORIAS Online Retailer of the Year Award and offers five tips for winning the retail war.

It was humble beginnings for Appliances Online when John Winning left his role in white goods sales and marketing to set himself up with a laptop, a delivery truck and a passion for good old-fashioned customer service. It was also early days in the world of online retail.

“We were early to market which helped – we had very little competition in the early days,” agrees Winning. “However, very little competition was equally met by very few people buying online. So the challenge wasn’t dealing with competitors – it was convincing a market that had never bought large bulky items online that it was okay!”

In the decade since, Appliances Online has grown exponentially, expanding beyond metropolitan Sydney to most urban areas around Australia. “We now have free delivery to Darwin, Tasmania, Cairns and Townsville… the bigger we get the more warehouses we open in regional areas, the more trucks in regional areas and more of Australia gets our service,” says Winning.

And service they get! Winning is so clear about striving for exceptional customer service he often finds himself on the phone to a customer in the open-plan office he shares with his team rather than tucked away in the typical CEO’s corner office. “I was chatting to a customer yesterday who had a broken oven. As a consumer I want to know who I’m dealing with and that the manager’s not hiding in a back office,” says Winning.

This level of approachability comes across in the website, which includes some great character profiles of the team and has contact details everywhere; a rare element to online retail, which often leaves customers struggling to find a contact phone number. “Our phone number has a big red arrow pointing to it,” exclaims Winning. “No matter where our customers are we’re always there to answer their questions, whether it’s by livechat, email or phone – we have all these options open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

According to Winning, this is the advantage of online retail – the accessibility and speed to market. “A person can come home from work to find their fridge has died. They can jump online at 11pm and have one delivered the following morning!”

In recognition of his online retailer win, we asked Winning to give our readers his top five tips for online retailers.

1. Manpower

I recently read an article where a retailer boasted that not a single staff member manually interacted with an order. Running a lean and efficient system is a must for any online business. However, if no employee ever interacts with an order, the said retailer is clearly outsourcing its customer support; an important window of opportunity where online retailers can put a face to their brand. Underestimating the power of human interaction is a recipe for disaster. At the end of the day people buy from people; the biggest fallacy about online retail is that you don’t have to deal with your customers. Invest in your staff and create a culture that breeds exceptional customer service.

2. Make lasting impressions

First impressions last, but when it comes to the user journey the last impression trumps; it’s what your customer will remember about your business and likely share with the rest of the world. Retailers that successfully invest in the last leg of the customer journey will leave a lasting impression and reap the benefits.

3. Customer intelligence

Whilst utilising customer data is nothing new, we’re yet to see retailers successfully augment CRM, analytics and telephony data sets. Adopting a scientific approach to all data will help forge closer relationships with customers and lead to more tailored and streamlined user experiences.

4. Greater transparency

Trust is key. Retailers that are upfront and honest with customers will earn respect and repeat business. Compare the Market’s decision to disclose the fee it receives through selling health insurance is just one recent example highlighting the growing importance of transparency.

5. Instant gratification

Whether it’s communication, delivery or post-sale customer support, retailers need to scale to cater to heightened customer expectations. This won’t be an easy task, especially considering Australia is one of the most geographically difficult countries to operate in, but the speed at which orders are fulfilled will be a top consideration for consumers.

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