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Why I chose to do business online rather than in bricks and mortar

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Unlike my peers, I never dreamt of being my own boss. I stumbled into e-commerce almost by accident, originally setting up Modern Rugs as a side-line to my full time job. It was only when the business took off that I saw the potential to make it my career.

My father owned a carpet business, so his knowledge helped me select which products to stock and his contacts in the industry were very useful. However, this is where the similarity stopped; unlike his business, I planned to set up my company online. With my background in web design and online marketing, it was a much more natural choice for me. 

Low start-up costs meant that e-commerce offered much less risk than retail as, at the time, I didn’t have much financial investment. There are many low-cost “off the shelf” e-commerce packages which small businesses can tailor to their needs, which open up e-commerce to start-ups with no background in online. Although, in my experience, it’s important that you learn as much as possible as knowledge has helped to keep costs low. For example, being able to update your website via CMS rather than going to a web designer every time changes need making will reduce your outgoings.

With a well-designed website under my belt, the internet offered me the opportunity to reach a much wider customer base than a bricks and mortar store would have. Visibility on this level can be achieved through physical stores but success from this option would have relied on securing premium store locations, a luxury which, as a start-up, was not on the cards. 

That being said, setting up online doesn’t completely eliminate the need for a physical presence. All the rugs are stored in an out of town warehouse; by having the despatch warehouse outside of retail areas, costs are kept low. 

This is a benefit which allows me to offer much more competitive pricing than most physical retailers. By storing stock in the warehouse, we are also able to offer a much larger selection of designs and sizes. Selling such a large cross-section of products at low prices has maximised our revenue opportunities by allowing us to cater to the needs of a much wider audience.

However, e-commerce does come with its own challenges. Many entrepreneurs make the assumption that selling online will be easy; it is not. Creating a successful e-commerce website in such a competitive online marketplace takes a lot of hard work. Behind a good online retailer is a solid marketing strategy which must take into consideration PPC, SEO and affiliate marketing, as well social media. 

Issues specific to your business will also arise. Buying a rug can be a very tactile experience, which could put off customers purchasing online but, with a little creativity, these obstacles can be overcome. Our solution has been to accompany products with “texture videos”, which are used in the same vein as catwalk videos found next to products on online fashion retailers’ websites.

E-commerce and the technology involved are constantly evolving, so it can be a very challenging marketplace, but this is what also makes it such an exciting opportunity. For me, selling online will always win over a physical store. 

Without the low start-up costs e-commerce can offer, it is likely that Modern Rugs would not have come into fruition. A well designed e-commerce website offers everyone a platform to successfully compete within their industry. Modern Rugs are now one of UK’s largest online retailers in our field, despite only having a team of five.

Ben Dale is the founder of online carpet company Modern Rugs.

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