Making connections in Utrecht
AO World transformed the online retailing of electrical goods when they launched in the UK in 2000. Now, they are on a mission to delight customers across Europe. Their new service and distribution center in Utrecht is an integral part of that strategy.
“The customer is at the heart of everything we do,” explains Stephen Richards, AO’s Director of Operations in Mainland Europe. “We strive to be the best electrical retailer and to give customers an experience that exceeds their expectations. We’re confident this business model is transferable across Europe.”
It certainly seems to be working well so far. As AO’s first foray into Europe (to Germany in 2014) proves. Their Net Promoter Score (NPC), the industry standard for rating customer satisfaction, is consistently above 90% in Germany. Initial feedback suggests their Dutch customers are equally happy.
The Netherlands was a logical step
Choosing the Netherlands to grow the European business was relatively straightforward. “Geography was one factor,” admits Stephen. “Initially, we will supply the Dutch market from our 35,000 sq. meter warehouse in Bergheim, near Cologne. Utrecht is a densely populated center, with fantastic transport infrastructure. As such, it makes logistical sense to open our new customer service and local distribution center there.”
We could hit the ground running
For an online retailer, digital connectivity is also paramount. “The Netherlands has excellent high-speed broadband and the Dutch are completely comfortable buying online,” continues Stephen. “In fact, they already have some high-quality ecommerce players, so you have to be very good right from the start. The competition in such a sophisticated market revolves around price and service. But that actually suits our business model perfectly.”
AO takes pride in being at the forefront of online retail innovation with exceptional customer service. Finding partners with a good cultural fit is one of the key filters AO applies when looking to expand overseas. “Our UK success has, in large part, been down to choosing the right partners to work with,” says Stephen. “And, we found that we could do business with some very like-minded people in the Netherlands. The Dutch are fair, honest and upfront and that’s exactly how we like to work.”
Connectivity is about people as well as technology
The availability of relevant skills was another reason AO World chose Utrecht for their customer service and distribution center. “Connecting with customers at a local level is extremely important to us,” says Stephen. “We needed to recruit, so the NFIA and Invest Utrecht put us in touch with local job fairs and everything started to fall into place. We were certainly made to feel welcome and that they really wanted us to be here. We have built a fantastic team of around 80, mostly local people who really understand and can connect with our Dutch customers.”
The NFIA and Invest in Utrecht also worked with AO to help them find legal and business partners, including an electrical goods recycling center. With this support network in place, AO are confident their Dutch business will continue to grow. “We want to build on the great start we’ve had,” says Stephen.
“We’ve built a smooth supply chain and strong supplier relationships very quickly in the Netherlands. So, we’re expanding the product range and we envisage establishing a Dutch warehouse at some point, rather than relying on our German distribution center. Most of all, we’re going to carry on obsessing about caring for our customers.”
“It definitely feels like the Dutch business has been part of our group for far longer than a year,” concludes Stephen. “We’ve settled in very quickly. Utrecht is a fantastic place to do business. It’s also very beautiful and the people are really easy-going and fun to be around.”
AO World celebrates a successful first year in the Netherlands!
About AO World
Online electricals retailer AO.com was founded in 2000 by John Roberts following a £1 bet in a Bolton pub. Roberts remains an Executive Director of the company today, while former COO, Steve Caunce was appointed CEO in February 2017.
Formerly known as Appliances Online, the company rebranded in 2013 to become AO.com and the current logo was born. In the same year they aired their first TV advert, and reached 1 million Facebook likes. In February 2014 the company floated on the London Stock Exchange as AO World.
AO.de was launched in Germany in 2014, with AO.nl following in 2016. 2016 also saw the opening of an 84,000 sq. meter, purpose-built HQ located in Bergheim. AO.com stocks over 4000 products and delivers millions of electricals every year from its 740,000 sq. ft. warehouse in Crewe.
AO’s user-friendly websites aim to provide helpful and impartial information on all of its products, and are able to price match any retailer stocking the same products. AO also offers customers free and next day delivery on thousands of products, as well as installation and recycling.