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E-tail entrepreneur’s top five tips for trading online

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Mearman’s firm Dotshops turns over £3.5m a year through his portfolio of online stores. While high street retailers see their sales and profits plummet, his company has seen unparalleled growth.

Here’s how:

1.) The customer is king“Don’t be an anonymous internet company,” he says. “Your customers may be buying online, not in a store, but you still have to treat them with care.”

“Even for the most net-savvy consumers, it can still be unnerving plugging all your details into a new site,” he continues. “If you want to impress people, send them a confirmation email when they’ve placed an order. Tell them when their product’s been despatched. It’s not rocket science!”

2.) Don’t fall for the price wars“It’s easy to get swept into price-cutting when you trade online,” says Mearman. “But I’ve seen a lot of my competitors go out of business that way.” The online veteran has been in the trade for over a decade. He’s seen many cowboy operations come and go.

“Selling products barely above cost price is not good business,” he says. “I know it’s easy to get scared: with the raft of price comparison sites, everything is so visible. When someone drops their prices, everyone else’s start to tumble. Don’t follow suit. Pick a reasonable margin from the outset and stick to it.”

3.) Keep it simpleIt’s all very well to launch a website jam-packed with bells and whistles, but you could end up alienating your customers. “If a consumer starts getting confused, they switch off,” says Mearman.

“Don’t make it difficult for people to buy by overloading them with information. Focussed ranges are always more successful. Don’t be a Jack of all trades. Be a specialist.”

4.) Don’t scrimp on your site“Get a professional to design your website,” says Mearman. “Don’t let some Mickey Mouse operation mess with your brand.”

Customers are extremely sophisticated when it comes to online shopping: they can spot a shoddy site from ten clicks away.

“If you cut costs at the outset, you’ll end up spending more to fix it down the line,” he says. “People will only buy from you if you look professional.”

5.) Give your site a friendly faceMearman lambasts internet traders who fail to include a contact number for their consumers, fobbing them off instead with a blank “Email us” page.

“Let your customers know they’re dealing with people,” he says. “Give names, show photos of people that work there – give consumers the confidence to buy.”

He pushes the “human element” on all his sites, including pictures of himself and his employees on the “Contact Us” page.

It works for him: “We’re probably the most expensive online company for sinks,” he says about his biggest online shop, Sinksdirect.co.uk. “We will price match if they email us with a rival quote (John Lewis-style) but people buy from us because we are accessible and they know, if anything goes wrong, there’s a human being waiting to help them sort out the problem.”

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