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Sweet smell of online business

By CNN's Robyn Curnow

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Lush uses feedback from its web forum to make key business decisions.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Cosmetics company Lush is built around selling organic bath products, but while its ethos might be about back to basics, the Web is playing an increasing role in how it conducts its business.

With ultra-trendy shops all over the world that are stocked with products which are handmade from fresh fruit and vegetables, Lush has a global following.

But while its shops are in cosmopolitan locations, the company headquarters where products are manufactured on the south coast of England, resembles a farm kitchen, where natural ingredients are lovingly concocted for Lush fanatics.

But appearances can be deceiving. Organic does not have to mean old-fashioned, says company founder Mark Constantine.

He says the chatroom on the company's Web site is now a vital business tool.

Customers and Lush management use the cyber forum to debate the products, and they do it with passion and purpose.

"I think it's turning out to be the core of the business because you can get so much information," Constantine says.

"You have to be brave -- especially from our staff members' points of view -- because it can be very critical and if you're not willing to hear the truth, you probably wouldn't want to go there. So it's a little frightening and people in the forum are seen as fanatics, but we all need fanatics and more of them."

Company spokesman Karl Bygrave says the Internet allows the company to react and act quickly, based solely on direct customer feedback.

"Recently, we made some changes and within a few days of the product going on sale in its revamped form, the customers were telling us very strongly that they didn't think we'd made a very good decision," he says.

"Because of that, because it is such a direct communication we were able to make the changes and revert back to what we had before."

Bygrave says the chat room is the basis for a direct relationship between the company the customer, which helps product development and online sales.


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