As owner and managing director of London-based lighting and electrical retail chain Ryness, James Shortridge spent much of last year witnessing first hand the growing demand for green technologies. As such he always suspected that an online business addressing this emerging market would prove popular, but that has not stopped him being taken aback by the success of Ecoelectricals.co.uk since it was launched by Ryness earlier this year.
"We went live in January and I've been really pleasantly surprised by the results," he says. "We're getting good numbers of orders everyday and it's all been achieved with very little marketing."
The secret to Ecoelectricals success lies in the simplicity of the idea. While other electrical retailers are increasingly offering energy efficient appliances and light bulbs alongside their traditional products Ecoelectricals stocks nothing but energy efficient bulbs and appliances that are rated in the most energy efficient A band by the Energy Savings Trust. "To paraphrase John Lewis it is a case of never knowingly selling energy inefficient products," observes Shortridge.
As a result, customers don't have to go through the hassle of checking the energy efficiency of the products they are interested in against other options as they know everything on the site is amongst the most efficient models available.
For Shortridge, a law graduate who gave up a career in banking as a fund manager to join Ryness back in 2004, the idea always felt like a winner. "What became obvious last year was that all we seemed to sell in store was energy efficient light bulbs, but we weren't enjoying the same success with them on our website, so we decided we'd try and address the problem and launch a purely green website," he remembers. "Once we'd decided we'd try to do it for lighting we realised there was no other place to buy other energy efficient electrical devices and decided to expand what we'd offer on the site to a wide range of appliances and gadgets."
Besides operating as a retail channel the site also aims to educate customers about the range of different energy efficient products available and the cost savings they can deliver.
"There is a real issue at the moment with this impression that if you are going to buy energy efficient lighting you have to buy these swirly bulbs that stick out of the top of your lamp shade and don't work with dimmer switches," complains Shortridge. "But we've got dimmable bulbs and a wide range of shapes and sizes and we need to get that message across because people are confused by this new market and some retailers will take advantage of that confusion [to keep selling inefficient models]."
One area where customers are clear however is in their belief that energy efficient products tend to be more expensive than standard models. It is an impression Shortridge is desperate to challenge. "Again education is critical," he claims. "We need to get the message across that yes this bulb may cost £15 but it will save you more than that pretty quickly."
To help communicate this message Ecoelectricals also sells a number of energy metering gadgets that measure how much energy a device uses and how much it is costing the customer. "Once you have this kind of meter the natural step is for you to move towards more energy efficient devices and also try to conserve energy where possible," says Shortridge, who claims the little monitoring dashboards are amongst the site's best seller. "For example, everyone knows you shouldn't fill up a kettle when you only need one cup of tea, but you are far more likely to do it when you can actually see what boiling the full kettle is costing you."
Shortridge is also hopeful the success of the site coupled with Ryness' purchasing power will help drive innovation in an electrical appliances industry that he accepts has been guilty of dragging its heels when it comes to developing energy efficient products. But with new EU legislation threatening to outlaw the most energy profligate products and customers more and more concerned about the environment he is confident manufacturers' attitudes are beginning to change.
Ecoelectricals can also expect a fillip in the next couple of years if Gordon Brown gets his way and convinces his European counterparts to back a 5 percent VAT rate for energy efficient products. Shortridge won't be holding his breath for a change that he predicts will take a long time to reach fruition, but insists that such incentives are vital if the government wants to help accelerate demand for these products.
"If you look at the popularity of electric cars in London a big part of that is down to the fact they don’t have to pay the congestion charge," he argues. "Market forces will have a huge role to play in combating climate change, but we need incentives to help drive those market forces."
In the meantime, Ecoelectricals is on the prowl for new products and revenue streams with Shortridge keen to expand the company's fledgling business-to-business customer base and investigating whether selling solar panels online would prove a hit with customers. "The thing with this sector at the moment is that it is moving so fast that we'll see a lot more products become available in the next six to nine months," he says. "We're going to keep investigating new products and expanding what we offer."
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