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Joe Murray, co-founder of Worldstores.com

1. What is the greatest opportunity for your business?

Our intention is to become the definitive online destination for furniture and homewares – our mission is to sell “everything for the home”. Currently we are very strong in some categories such as beds and outdoor living, but we have a huge opportunity in many other areas – especially in some of the domestic furniture, homewares and home improvement categories. Historically we’ve benchmarked ourselves against the competition that is bidding in paid search for the main terms in each of our product categories: where we cannot bid in the higher positions in these areas, we have the largest opportunities. The second greatest opportunity for us is to introduce our customers to the other 79 categories in which we currently operate that they didn’t buy from; until recently we’ve very much focused on killer customer acquisition, but now we’re beginning to see some fantastic results on retention through the use of tabs that drive customers to either other niche stores, or to our umbrella site www.worldstores.co.uk.
Co-founders: Joe Murray (right) and Richard Tucker 

2. What is the biggest challenge to your business?

When you’re growing at the rate we are, an awful lot seems like a challenge. While acquiring more customers at a reasonable cost has never been a problem, offering consistent and excellent customer service can be tough when every year at least 50% of our suppliers and products are new to us. We’re investing heavily in IT systems and supplier relationship management to bolster this area of our business, and are seeing marked improvements in net promoter scores, reduced returns and cancellations.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far?

A couple of years ago we began the implementation of new Accounting and ERP system. When you’re running 80 niche stores, 70% of the stock is held at partner locations dispatched directly using our bespoke carrier-collect model, and 80% of orders are available for next day delivery you need a very robust ERP system. Our bespoke internal order and supplier management tools are incredible, giving very accurate visibility of all stages of the process right from customer checkout to carrier label print and scanned POD, but integrating this with a third party accounting system has been a challenge and if we’re honest it could have been planned a lot better. Thankfully the pain is over, but it caused quite a bit of distraction and frustration in the last 2 years.

4. What is the future of the physical store?

In our market, furniture and homewares, you often don’t want to or cannot carry the goods home with you. It’s hard to fit a wardrobe in the back of the car! So the physical store becomes in effect a showcase for an online offering, with a small product selection on display combined with self-serve terminals where customers can browse and order from a colossal online catalogue. With the advent of the Internet shoppers are no longer satisfied with the limited range of products that can be displayed in a limited retail space, even Ikea only has a very limited selection of beds compared to us (they had 22 double beds at last count vs our nearly 800), and as this desire for product choice translates to more traditional shopping habits it’s inevitable that physical retailers will need to offer much more. This year, after a number of approaches from both large retailers and high street independents, we’re considering offering physical retailers the solution of all or part of our product range using in-store terminals.

5. What will the high street look like in a decade?

I have no idea, I don’t go there that often.

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

In our categories, where the goods we’re selling are often pretty large, you’ll normally want to see them on a bigger screen than just a mobile, such as a laptop or Tablet. So for the foreseeable future I see mobile as a forming part of the sales funnel, but not the primary channel. Having said that we want to develop an web app that uses your mobile phone camera to scan competitor product such as a bed in the high street and offers our alternative products (which will almost always be available to the customer faster, cheaper and in many more colours or design options).

7. What other retail business do you admire?

It’s not quite retail, but I love Shutl. Their technology connects individuals who can offer delivery services (taxi firms, individuals with a scooter etc) to physical retailers, allowing the retailer to offer sub-1hr delivery times from its website.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer what would you have liked to do?

A farmer.

9. What marks out of 10 do you give yourself so far for achievement?

3/10. So much to do, this is just the beginning for us.

10. Who would you place in the Top 30 Multi-channel/e-commerce Movers & Shakers?

Argh, we (Richard, co-founder and co-CEO and me) aren’t the best networkers in the world.