Service Excellence Awards 2006: Winner - Small Business Award

FIREBOX.COM is a survivor. Founded in 1998 in a parental attic, it became profitable in 2001 and latest financial results are expected to show an £8.5m turnover from almost 200,000 active customers. This year, it will launch formally in the US. Its business is selling some 600 lines of gadgets, games, gifts and other cool accessories - 'boys' toys' to some, although 37% of customers are women and most orders come from outside the 18-34 age group. Offering a unique range of products and bringing items to market before the high street and online competitors are part of Firebox's style, contributing to its brand reputation and customer loyalty. As well as scouring worldwide shows for the next big thing, it gives manufacturers product advice and feedback.

Although primarily an online retailer, the firm prints five million catalogues a year, and orders can be posted or phoned in. Catalogues drive traffic to by carrying varying money-off codes whose value is only revealed by going online.

But being a virtual shop means that customers can't touch or test products before purchase. Firebox provides detailed descriptions, and website customers can post product reviews (negative as well as positive) and digital pictures and videos of themselves using purchases. This online feedback provides customers with perhaps more information than they'd get in a bricks-and-mortar store; it also gives them confidence in the quality of the merchandise as well as managing their expectations - all of which reduces product returns. 'If someone smiles when they read a review but doesn't buy, we've still done a good job,' says MD Chris Robinson. Customers can post questions about products for the customer service team to answer. Often, another customer steps in with the reply.

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