• Apology note

    17 April, 2015 Company Marketing

    This week we made the decision to end our partnership with Stencil (a third party social media agency who Appliances Online has used since 2013) after we discovered that they had been using content on Appliances Online’s Facebook page and not crediting the original source nor asking for permission.

    We were of the belief that this content was being created originally or purchased from 3rd party websites and image libraries such as this post which uses a stock image from shutterstock: http://www.shutterstock.com/s/hot-cross-bun/search.html

    As a blogger myself (albeit in a very small league of my own) I respect the importance of original content and myself and Appliances Online are truly sorry that some bloggers have had their content inappropriately used on our page.

    I want to also mention that we fully respect the importance of original content. We employ our own full time Australian based copywriter team, content creation team, photography team and videography team in house who all do an amazing job creating original content for our blog, website and many of the other posts for our social media channels.

    Whilst we weren’t aware that this was taking place, we are taking full responsibility for the lazy actions made by the agency we employed. We are in no way trying to pass the buck and are in the process of reaching out to the bloggers involved so that we can work with them to try and make this situation better.

    We would like to rectify this and are open to suggestions by those affected as to how we may be able to do this. I am personally involved and working with my team to work with these bloggers to resolve the situation. Some we have spoken to already, others we have reached out to and some we are trying to get contact details for.

    Hopefully this post will assist us in making contact with those impacted. My email is john@winning.com.au for anyone who would like to get in touch with me or pass my details onto anyone who has been affected. I will also be happy to provide my personal mobile number on request to those involved.

     

  • Flip the debate to realise opportunity

    27 August, 2012 Company Marketing Online Retail

    I’m bored of the sensational debate created by many traditional retailers and journalists where online is pitted against bricks and mortar retail. Hyperboles including ‘cannibalise’ ‘death’ and ‘extinct’ are bandied about to describe the impact online has had on many physical stores, in an effort to create an environment where the two can’t coexist symbiotically.

    This article recently published in Connected highlights this limited view of the issue. Unfortunately the journalist did not contact us directly about the article, but if they had we would have given the facts. At seven years-old Appliances Online is one of Australia’s oldest online appliance retailers. We are a pureplay online retailer with a national distribution network and a strong emphasis on customer service. Having served more than 200,000 customers I would argue against the claim we are ‘unbranded’. Our connection to bricks and mortar retailer Winning Appliances, which has eight bricks and mortar stores in NSW and QLD is also not a secret, yet the brands cater for very different types of consumers – those who like the efficiency of shopping online for products usually required to be delivered the next day, and the other customer type who likes to visit a store and talk to a knowledgable sales person. I am CEO of both companies, and 432 employees work across the Winning Group. Big Brown Box, which is also indicated in the article, was originally launched by Thorn Group and the digital assets were purchased by Winning Online Group (the parent company of Appliances Online) in 2011. We kept the brand as Big Brown Box as it was already a recognised market entity and is differentiated from Appliances Online and Winning Appliances as it only sells AV products.

    There are certain instances where the argument posed in the Connected article (“Are bricks and mortar retailers cannibilising traditional retailing by setting up unbranded online shops?”) is correct – particularly where online retailers adopt such an aggressive pricing strategy they cannot survive for the long-term. However it is also true that some traditional retailers have established online retail outlets that devalue the online space by providing a below-par experience to consumers. This exact example is not isolated to online, there have been many bricks and mortar retailers that have opened shops with the exact same strategy and failed to survive also. So to claim that this is an online strategy issue is just incorrect; it is just a poor business strategy that lacks creativity (I am referring to failed businesses that focus on nothing but price in general and am not isolating any business in particular).

    Yet there is a larger issue at stake. These limited arguments obscure the fact there is large opportunity for traditional retailers to embrace online, with or without an online store, as opposed to hiding in the dark and hoping online retail is a trend that will soon pass.

    I  dislike that retailers who have opened online storefronts are marginalised, as though we were all supposed to be united in ignoring the online marketplace altogether, leaving it open for newcomers. When, in fact, existing offline retailers, with experience and access, are best placed to create online stores.

    Online retail, and other advances in technology including smart phones and social media, have provided consumers with a voice. Customer reviews and opinions on products provides a plethora of information for the consumer to help make the best decision for them, quickly.

    As Forbes.com contributor Adam Ozimek suggests:

    “The pre-sale services offered Amazon, in particular customer reviews, are usually of far greater use to me than a showroom when buying electronic goods. Sometimes when shopping for electronics I’ll make the purchase in the brick and mortar (so returns are easier and I can get it faster) while looking up the ratings of the product on my iPhone at Amazon.”

    Traditional retailers should take advantage of some of the downfalls of many online retailers. Many offshore sites, and cheap product deals take weeks for the product to be delivered – whereas if traditional retailers adopt better pricing models and improve customer service they would be able to compete on a much more level playing field.

    The time has come for traditional retailers to flip the experience – retailers should be differentiating themselves by creating a fantastic customer experience that won’t be able to be replicated online. If you’ve ever visited an Abercrombie & Fitch store, with its club-like shopping environment, you’ll know what type of experience I am talking about.

    Online retail is to traditional retail what the printing press was to journalism.  It represents a tremendous opportunity for traditional retailers to evolve. For too long traditional retailers have been complacent – they have been inflating prices and countering this with poor customer service, driving consumers to look for other available options. The power of online should be embraced and encouraged in-store – traditional retailers could have readily available tablets to encourage customers to read product reviews, as well as implementing experiences you can’t get online such as cooking classes, product experts who take you through each product to show you its features, and even smaller tactics such as coffee on arrival.

    There has been a seismic shift in power from the retailer to the consumer, but we must never lose sight of the fact the consumer should have always been the most important aspect of any retail decision.

     

  • 5 business facts you don’t need a university degree to understand

    1 August, 2012 Company Marketing Online Retail
    1. Failing breeds success – Many millionaires have been bankrupt – often several times – on their path to success. Nothing is better to help you appreciate success than trying new things – failing – and learning from your mistakes. I encourage all my staff to have new ideas – however radical – and if they really believe something will be a success I encourage them to give it a go. If it fails it’s a risk that will benefit our business in the long run as the employee will be smarter and wiser with their next idea.
    2. Business decisions need to be made quickly and spontaneously – you can spend hours analyzing the psychographics of decision-making yet in the fast-paced world of online retail if you spend weeks on a decision your competitors will be one step ahead of you. In the business world, decision-making often needs to be instinctual and there’s no better experience than on-the-job training to put you in a position where you have to trust your instincts and internal ethics to turnaround a decision quickly. Being mentored by others and trusting your gut goes a long way in business.
    3. Everyone has a motive – employees from different parts of the business, customers and suppliers are all driven by different agendas. As a business professional it’s up to you to assess where people are coming from, and to weigh up the different emotions around a decision, to determine the best outcome for everyone.
    4. Employees aren’t replaceable – I’ve heard many friends talk about how they feel that they are just a number at the organization they work for, speaking of managers who are on power trips, treating their staff like they are expendable. Yet we treat our staff as the foundation of our business and invest in them continually. Our recruitment strategy is focused on making sure future employees are the right cultural fit and will be with our company for a long time, rather than looking too deeply into their resume and academic history.
    5. Customers are everything – treat consumers with respect and continually assess your business through their eyes. Ask them for feedback as often as possible and implement change based on their input. This is a simple recipe for retail success based on listening and learning from the people who buy products from you.

    After school, and a brief stint working as a door-to-door salesman (that ended quickly when I was attacked by a dog!) I started working in the warehouse of my father’s appliance business. While University is fantastic for many, on-the-job training also has its merits.

    Winning Appliances truck drivers taught me about customer service and going the extra mile to give customers and experience they don’t expect. Time spent with floor managers in showrooms taught me how to provide sales information to consumers in the most helpful way, networking with online retailers overseas taught me about ecommerce, and people in management positions taught me how to negotiate in much more realistic language than I would probably have ever learnt at University. I was lucky enough to have my father as a mentor who taught me to have the upmost respect for not only your staff but for your staff’s families as their lives are equally important as well.

  • Cheap advertising

    25 July, 2012 Company Marketing Retail

    It is not always easy to differentiate yourself from others when you are selling the exact same item.

    You can differentiate yourself by being cheaper, having the closest store, the best website or showroom, and the item in stock… but on some occasions you are given a golden opportunity to show a customer a difference they didn’t expect and win them over for life.

    Our Winning Appliances drivers delivered a fridge and an oven to a house on NSW’s South Coast and were met with a ‘square peg, round hole’ challenge when they arrived.

    Not only did the oven and fridge not fit through any doors, but there were also a narrow set of internal stairs to negotiate, a steep driveway, and a tree in the way.

    Our truck drivers are empowered to make spontaneous decisions to help the customer in any situation. Therefore, they negotiated the stairs, pulled apart the fridge to make it fit through the front door and up the narrow stairs, took off a door and cut down a few tree limbs to make sure the customer received the goods that were ordered.

    Once inside, all appliances were put back together and installed. The process took 2.5 hours for the job to be complete, but the boys were rewarded with pizza from a happy customer.

    When you say you go the extra mile for your customers, you need to live by your statements. I’m really proud to have a team that can assess each delivery and make the right decisions that put the customer experience first. Always.

    It is not always the case that you get these opportunities to go over and above for the customer, and in some cases safety or the situation just does not allow a solution right then and there, however we are yet to find a challenge we have not been able to overcome. We have done deliveries using bob cats, boats, using custom made purchase systems to lower items off balconies, pulled fences down, roofs off and frequently pull products apart and put them back together as is the case here.

    Next week we have organised a big crane, that will position a smaller crane to place a large Sub Zero fridge into a customer’s house as there was simply no other way to get this sized fridge inside. It is the fridge the customer wants and it is our job to find a way to get it in their house. Once we do I am sure we will have a customer for life and a brand advocate worth far more than any paid advertising.

    Below are some images of this week’s epic delivery.

     

  • “Sorry, that’s not my department”

    4 July, 2012 Company Marketing Online Retail

    On Saturday, while out shopping for a few supplies, two different consumer experiences were marred by the same lazy attitude and general disdain held by some staff towards their customers.

    The first happened when shopping for a new bed at a popular store… I walked into the bedding section and tried some arm-waving theatrics in an effort to chat to an employee who was surrounded by beds but was doing an Oscar-worthy impression of looking busy and simultaneously avoiding my attention. I asked said employee loudly if they could recommend any beds only to be met with the reply. “Sorry. That’s not my department” before they hurried off. Needless to say, I left, bed-less.

    Then, after stopping for a coffee break with friends at a popular café in Darlinghurst, we sat down at a table that was cohabited by dirty cups and plates. The café was busy, as you would expect from a well positioned, inner city café on the weekend, yet it still took a long time for a hipster waiter to saunter over to us and take our coffee order in a hurried and brisk fashion. A friend politely asked whether he would mind clearing our tables of plates, which was met with a look of shock, hurt and DISGUST, before replying that he was a barista, not a waiter, and consequently he did not touch plates or food. Instead, we picked up our plates and took them to the counter ourselves making sure the barista saw us…

    In a different age it may have been acceptable to waste people’s time with equal parts of arrogance and incompetence, simply because there was no other option available for consumers. Yet consumers attitudes have shifted. Time is money and people have options. If someone is taking the effort and giving up time on their weekend to walk into your store or café then you owe it to them to thank them with good customer service. Possibly even a smile. Because if you don’t the consumer will shop online or with a competitor, and will ultimately eat in the cafe next door. Employees should be willing to help out on every product on a showroom floor at least to the best of their ability, or to acknowledge the customer and then go and get help for them.

    A good experience is noticed but a bad experience is talked about, and shared, for months.

     

  • Five reasons we don’t outsource our marketing

    26 June, 2012 Marketing

    Last week, one of our search marketers received a call from an SEO company asking why we were only ranking 15th on Google for a low-volume term that actually didn’t make grammatical sense.

    The company guaranteed that Appliances Online would rank first for this keyword within weeks – though they themselves weren’t ranking for any obvious “SEO” keywords.

    You probably all get these kinds of calls.

    Of course, not all marketing companies are this unprofessional – there are plenty of fantastic agencies out there, many of which we used in the early Appliances Online years. The point of this article isn’t to offend any marketing providers, rather it is to explain why we do – and will always do – our marketing in-house and hopefully raise some interesting discussion.

    Put simply, I think marketing is just too important to outsource. Here are my top five reasons why.

    1. Time

    You still need staff to co-ordinate outsource partners. Are you saving any time?

    You can’t outsource everything and be entirely hands-off. You just won’t see results; or perhaps you will, but the strategy and execution might not be in line with your other channels.

    To get the most out of an outsource partner you need to be working closely with them, and have them working with your other partners.

    You end up spending your company’s time and your retainer time making sure every stakeholder and provider is across the strategy, and that everyone is on target. Are you really saving yourself time in the end? It’s likely you’ll end up hiring staff just to manage your partners anyway.

    2. Staff

    Do agencies ever really know your business? Find the best and keep them.

    Company ethics and culture count for a lot – but any company is only as good as their staff.

    If you’re working with an agency, chances are there are only a few key staff working on your account, and most of the retainer’s probably spent on reporting, meetings and communication. Why pay a premium to get a little bit of hands-on time with the experts?

    Find the leaders in each space and get them onboard. Make your business and workplace attractive and they might even come on their own.

    When you bring staff in-house, you also increase their accountability and passion for your business. They have a much greater knowledge of your entire business – not just their channel or division, and are likely to make much more informed decisions because of it.

    Our marketing staff regularly exceed expectations: they’re constantly looking for new ideas and tactics to try and love when our business succeeds. I can’t imagine many agencies would offer the same level of attention, knowledge and passion.

    3. Transparency

    Are you confident in the results?

    I’ve had great experiences outsourcing marketing in the past, as I said in the introduction. I have, however, heard of marketing companies who aren’t entirely transparent. Search marketing or media buying companies, for example, who inflate their cost price on top of the retainer.

    Mostly, that isn’t going to be the case with a reputable marketing partner.

    All the same, you’re guaranteed to have full coverage on data, costs and processes with an in-house team – which isn’t just positive for transparency’s sake: it also allows you to continually refine and change your tactics because you have full control and access.

    4. Response

    An in-house team is more flexible and reactive.

    We’re in a highly competitive industry, there are new players popping up all the time, and we’re reliant on channels that are constantly changing.

    I need to be confident that my team are flexible and reactive to any change in the market and can dedicate as much time as necessary. Our business can’t be bound by retainers or the capacity of an external company.

    Having our marketing team in-house also allows the channel experts (SEO, PPC, social, email, PR, etc) to work with each other, ensuring synergies in our strategy. It’d be difficult to find one marketing partner who could effectively execute a strategy across each channel without outsourcing themselves, and it would be inconvenient to hire a separate agency for each.

    5. Cost

    When you have responsive staff that take ownership, love your business and you can see transparent results – it will be cheaper.

    Of course, this last point is very dependent on your business and at what level it’s operating. When we first started out over seven years ago, there was no way we could bring our marketing in-house – it just wouldn’t have been profitable. We made sure we chose partners that we were confident in and could work very closely with, and brought sections of the division in-house as soon as we had the resources to do so.

    Now that we’re larger and continuing to grow, however, we can’t afford not to have our own marketing division.

    This post was originally published as a guest post on Smart Company.

  • The great pricing debate

    2 May, 2012 Company Marketing Online Retail

    I was warned against purchasing BigBrownBox.com.au from Thorn Group, with my peers telling me that the world of televisions, home entertainment systems and sound equipment was the place of a great pricing war, where once sound marketing strategies were being held hostage to diminished margins and loss-leading products. I was told the AV market was home to a war with no winner in sight, a land where many businesses died well before their time.

    Yet I purchased the digital assets because I believe there is a place in the market for a business willing to service consumers’ needs – where a service (over the cheapest price) model would come up trumps.

    It has been widely reported that electronics retailer JB Hi-Fi has slumped to a three-year low, after the chain cut its full-year profit outlook because rampant discounting has damaged margins.

    Are you honestly shocked?

    When your tag line is “Always Cheapest Prices” it should be no surprise they would continue to discount against other retailers to the point of not being profitable. Price has become the only trick left as many businesses swap knowledgable sales personnel for a cheapest price guarantee.

    JB Hi Fi is not the only store with this cheap pricing mentality - other reputable brands stand by similar slogans and fellow online retailers even use words such as ‘cheap’, ‘discount’, ‘cash’, ‘negotiate’ and ‘price’ in their taglines.

    I find these kinds of promises troubling – particularly those that incentivise negotiating or paying cash. They suggest a consumer will pay too much if they don’t negotiate – and many shoppers would rather not.

    We love dialogue with our customers, but we’d much prefer to be educating them about a product and having them assured that we’ve set a competitive price to begin with. There’s something quite aggressive about ‘haggling’, and it’s not likely to result in a great experience between retailer and customer. We’re more aligned with the “Everyday low prices” angle in this regard, to borrow another retail catchphrase.

    Many businesses have put everything into having the cheapest price instead of innovating and building up their retail options and investing in customer service.

    In contrast, while our prices are competitive, a cheap price proposition is not our core business driver. Customer service is what sets us apart and helps us stay profitable. We have invested in expert AV sales staff, warehouses, trucks and drivers, and have $2 Million of Big Brown Box products in stock around Australia to provide next day delivery to most metropolitan areas.

    I’m well aware of the conundrum: cheapest pricing devalues a customer service proposition, yet consumers deserve the best price available. Therefore we have a best value guarantee in place for people who ask for it but it is not overt, and it is not our core business driver. Our best price guarantee also includes the fact our delivery is free, and before price-matching we ensure we are comparing apples with apples. Consumers also deserve to have their products delivered on time, with an Australian warranty and after sales service – which is what  our business offers.

    We absolutely refuse to use loss-leader tactics to attract people to our site. Retailers who do this also use price to upsell customers to higher price products with greater perceived value. Customers are pushed to sale in haste, without having done the right research and end up going home with the wrong product. We know this because these customers come to Big Brown Box, Appliances Online and Winning Appliances for their next purchases looking for genuine customer service and advice on buying the right product.

    The success of Appliances Online has led me to believe the recipe for retailing success is simple: If you put your customer into every business decision and think about how this will affect them, your retail outlet will have something its competitors don’t offer. What the AV world is lacking is customer service and expertise. When buying a TV I want to be able to ask someone about the latest technology and have them design a package that suits my needs – including a TV that is the correct size for the room it will be in, how the light of the room will affect visibility and how to get the best sound depending on where I live and the surrounding noise.

    Yet many larger retailers have failed to recognise this, putting financial statements ahead of providing a wonderful retailing experience. They look at staff costs and make a move to cut staff numbers instead of investing in staff and their customer experience and cutting costs in other areas of the business. They also place the cheapest price as the key driver for business which means that over time margins have decreased so much they make serious profit downgrades.

    In the words of  Seth Godin:

    It might be that low prices are the final refuge of the marketer who has run out of ideas and is left with nothing but a commodity.

    Or it might be that organizing your business around lowering prices through efficiency, mass scale and smart choices is a powerful way to grow.

    My guess is that both are true, but you better be really sure about which one you’re choosing. Hint: doing the second one successfully is really quite difficult, so if all you’re doing is writing a lower number on the pricetags, you’re probably playing the first game.

    As with all my blogs, I am sure that many people will not agree with my views yet this blog is how I view the retail space. Feel free to comment and add your thoughts to the debate if you wish.

  • Testing the murky water of traditional marketing

    8 December, 2011 Marketing

    Appliances Online recently sashayed into more traditional marketing methods by conducting a simple two-month branding campaign on Sydney radio station 2GB.

    We were involved in a series of 30 second spots over a two-month period – leading up to, and for the duration of, our sixth birthday sale. One of the value ads the radio station put forward which was to create a 90-second advertorial during the station’s Home Improvement show which airs every Sunday morning. We put forward one of our longest-serving salespeople, Colin Jones, who has more than two decades experience working in the appliance industry (for both Winning Appliances and Appliances Online). Each Sunday morning, in between answering calls at our Edgecliff call centre, Colin talked about products like induction cooktops or BBQs.

    The 2GB team was great to work with and the campaign was shown to be successful through anecdotal feedback; quite a few people called up and were surprised to be actually speaking with Colin from 2GB’s ‘Talking Appliances’ segment. However, Appliances Online uncovered the troubling vagueness of many traditional marketing methods, which simply cannot be measured  as accurately as their online counterparts. Apart from providing a dedicated phone number and asking people where they heard about us, it is difficult to measure precisely who heard about us, and from which media format outside online channels. Radio advertising relies on anecdotal evidence rather than facts, and I think this can easily enter murky waters.

    Until the 2GB example, we have always favoured using an array of online marketing techniques to attract customers (although we do place paramount importance on impressing every customer to help spread happy word of mouth messages and to generate repeat business). These techniques allow us to pinpoint exactly what is drawing people to our sites and what isn’t. Online marketing holds our marketing team accountable. It makes sense, and we can quickly change tack in channels that aren’t working. And most importantly it works – Appliances Online has increased in both profit and revenue by 100% each year since inauguration, we deliver nationally and just celebrated our biggest month on record.

    I believe that offline marketing channels such as radio and print advertising need to work harder to educate clients, particularly online retailers, how we can accurately measure effectiveness. Being 27 my approach to marketing is probably back to front to more mature marketing minds – I’m used to ecommerce web tactics but am newer to offline forms of marketing. I’m used to making data led decisions, accurately measuring results and analysing precise information, rather than hearsay.

    Therefore it makes me nervous to spend millions on traditional marketing techniques when we can’t pinpoint what’s working and what’s not, and change tactics in an instant. I know there is a place for traditional marketing and it’s useful for an offline business such as Winning Appliances which drives offline traffic into bricks and mortar stores. I like experimenting and therefore I’m likely to continue testing the water; but I’m not entirely sold.

     

  • Nissan comp backfires

    25 November, 2011 Marketing

    Nissan is in hot water after the ‘BFF’ (Best Friend Forever, they tell me) of a staffer managing its Facebook competiton won a $20,000 car, while a $1,250 voucher went to another personal friend. From the SMH:

    On Monday Nissan announced that the winner of the free car was Zac Martin, a digital strategist with George Patterson Y&R.

    Nissan’s customer experience channel co-ordinator, Simon Oboler, who runs Nissan’s Facebook and other social media pages, is described by Martin as his “BFF” [best friend forever] on his blog.

    Additionally, one of the $1,250 voucher winners is Nina Igel, who is Facebook friends with Oboler.

    Nissan Comp

    Nissan claimed the selection of the winners was ‘above board’. When they announced the winner on Facebook they added: ‘with all honesty and the best of intentions, we wish you hadn’t won.’

    While Nissan’s explanation of how this problem came about sounds like an honest mistake, it’s not good enough to simply have a ‘reasonable’ explanation of why things occured, you need to go above and beyond to ensure even the perception of improprietry is avoided – social media is an untamed beast that will turn on you if you give it even half a chance, as you can see above and as Coles Online and Qantas both recently found out.

    At Appliances Online, to avoid the perception of impropriety, we make any competition we run based entirely on random chance, rather than a ‘judges opinion’, which involves applying for and obtaining state lotteries permits wherever applicable.

    In addition, if Nissan had just included a clause in their terms and conditions that prevented family and friends from entering the competition, the winner’s entry could have been ruled invalid, keeping the competition, and the perception of Nissan entirely above board with their fans.

    Compared to Qantas and Coles Online, Nissan got off lightly this time – there’s no doubt they’ll be refining their competition terms for next time…

  • Appliances Online on Google+

    14 November, 2011 Marketing

    Google+ launched pages for businesses last week and Appliances Online were quick to get on board with our own page.

    Social media is hugely important to our business in allowing us to communicate individually and collectively with our customers, so we’re always interested in new channels. Currently we have over 180,000 Facebook fans, nearly 20,000 Twitter followers and we’re quickly growing our Youtube channel.

    A handful of customers have already found us on Google+, but it’s pretty quiet compared to the other social media networks for now.

    Google+ is being rolled out in the typical Google fashion of get it out there, fix it later – and it’s certainly received a lot of criticism because of it. It’s important to keep in mind though that it is still very much in ‘beta’ and is not a finished product yet. For example, there’s little integration with other products (Youtube or Blogger, for example), no vanity URLs and the function of the +1 button, for brands as well as users, is quite vague and not as complete an experience as it needs to be to dethrone Facebook, yet.

    If Google had launched with a more-developed product, including access for Google Apps users, brand pages and full integration with Youtube channels the lukewarm initial reception could have been much different, but the platform still shows much promise.

    From our point of view, we’d love to see it become another legitimate communication channel – particularly as it’ll allow us to connect with customers who prefer not to use Facebook. If you want to connect with Appliances Online on Google+ you can +1 the page or add us to a circle and learn with us as we see what Google does with the platform in the future.

    Appliances Online