Josephine Chow, Head of Expansion at Singapore-based discount and cash-back shopping platform ShopBack reveals the company’s journey to success and its plans for the future.
ShopBack is an e-commerce site that guarantees good deals. The concept is simple: retailers selling everything from clothes to flights, hotel rooms to gadgets give commission to ShopBack for referring their brands to shoppers. ShopBack then incentivises those shoppers with discounts and a ‘cashback reward system.’ Since the website’s conception in Singapore in August 2014, it has attracted more than six million users from seven countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Australia) and partnered up with major retailers such as Taobao, ASOS and Bookings.com. To date, ShopBack has raised more than USD 40 million in capital from investors such as Softbank Ventures Korea, Singtel Innov8 and AppWorks as well as Japanese finance and credit card company Credit Saison. An integral part of ShopBack’s journey since its establishment is Josephine Chow, who sat down with us to discuss the platform’s path to success, its recent expansion into Australia and what they have planned next.
Josephine first met ShopBack founders Henry Chan and Joel Leung while she was working at Zalora, a fashion e-commerce site based in Singapore where the trio worked closely together. “I knew the two founders personally, I knew they were people I could really trust. They were people who are going to build something effective not just for consumers but for businesses as well.” For retailers, ShopBack works as an effective marketing platform. In the regular retail landscape, vendors often need to pay a hefty amount to marketing companies to promote their brands without any guarantee that sales can be generated. However, with ShopBack, retailers only pay when there is a successful transaction. As for the shoppers, ShopBack helps consumers save money via discounts and cashback. On top of that, they can also save time usually taken hopping from one e-commerce site to another as ShopBack offers a great variety of retailers on one platform.
Seeing the potential in ShopBack, Josephine decided to join the company in June 2015 as the Country Head of Singapore. Though Singapore is a small country, it served as a great test market as the majority of the population are active online shoppers who understood the concept. “Singapore is essentially a great place to start a business because if you look at some of the bilateral ties that they have with say Australia and Southeast Asia, the government actually work very closely with trade partners to open channels for you to expand your business to other markets pretty easily.”
Taking advantage of this momentum, in January 2017, Josephine transitioned to her current role as Head of Expansion, where she largely oversaw ShopBack’s expansion in Southeast Asia with great success. At the beginning of April 2018, ShopBack also made the decision to broaden their Southeast Asian focus and expand to Australia. “The thing about Australia is that it has a very mature e-commerce market. We basically wanted to better ourselves and test our ability and see if we could open up in a country that was a little bit more challenging.” Market wise, Australia has a huge population of online shoppers. “Because Australians are already spending quite a lot of money given their high GDP, it really helps us to move the business quickly. Plus, people are essentially already familiar with how to use ShopBack.”
Still, this stretch further afield has not been without its challenges. “Australian customers are generally quite vocal about their opinions, and dealing with their sentiments is one of the most challenging things that we have had to face. Now, the question is how do we level up to give them something even more useful than what they are already used to?” As such, ShopBack focused on improving customer services and experience. “Being customer first-orientated is extremely important. We spend a lot of time ensuring that everyone who makes a transaction on the site is happy with what we promised them, that the overall experience on our platform is perfect.” In addition, ShopBack uses ambassadors and influencers to spread the word. “A lot of influencers here are very big on shopping, which makes the connection between us and them a lot easier. They genuinely like our product, so that whole referral system through influencers is really effective for us.” As a result of their efforts, ShopBack Australia’s monthly traffic has jumped from 0 in April 2018 to 750,000 as they work with more than 500 e-commerce brands, from fashion retailers to booking engines and travel agencies.
When asked about plans for further expansion, Josephine explains that the company is looking into broadening its product offering. For instance, a new ride comparison function on the site allows consumers to compare taxi fares across different applications (Grab, Uber) without switching applications. Consumers can also compare credit card benefits and annual fees on the site before submitting any applications. To service this, as well as further geographical and product expansion, ShopBack will grow its engineering and brand teams in the near future.
ShopBack has certainly come a long way from being a small e-commerce platform based in Singapore to a multi-million company with an established presence in seven countries. Looking back, Josephine has no regrets. “Sometimes, you just need to be confident of the decision that you make. If you spend too much time trying to please everyone you are not going to get anywhere. It is similar to a quote from Game of Thrones,“If you waste time trying to get people to love you, you’ll end up the most popular dead man in town.”
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