It’s been four years since ePRO started operating its e-commerce portal DealExtreme.com, but in that short space of time it has amassed a customer base of 2.4 million – most of whom return for repeat purchases.
DealExtreme.com can record 75,000 to 100,000 sales a day from countries as diverse as Brazil – its biggest market – as well as Canada, Australia, London and the US. Despite being a Chinese-owned and operated firm, it is holding its foray into the China market until next year.
The company has achieved all this without ever running a traditional advertising campaign. In fact, until very recently, it hadn’t “advertised” at all, but instead allowed its customers to spread the message across social networks.
This social networking-led strategy has now become its main communications channel.
“The strategy was more of an accident at the beginning,” says Candice Liu, president of business at ePRO. “We didn’t have a lot of money to advertise. But today it’s the DNA of our customers.”
I venture to Shatin to meet Liu and arrive at a modest and somewhat unassuming office.
In front of me are three screens which track – to the second – sales taking place across the globe and in only a few minutes the orders are rolling in. Or so it seems.
“This is not our peak time,” Liu says. “In peak time we get orders every six to seven seconds.”
Liu explains that most of its efforts have focused on delivering quality products and not marketing its brand in a traditional sense. Its Facebook page has 188,470 highly active fans and on YouTube, the bulk of the 20,000 videos are user-generated.
It doesn’t stop there. Not only does the company not engage in traditional advertising, it does not discount or offer sales promotions.
“We are more brand-driven and not sales-driven. If you are on Facebook I don’t think you want people selling you stuff. We will find interesting topics or games to get people to talk. It’s marketing in a very soft way.”
But this strategy is not without challenges. Many marketers today grapple with the concept of customers having full control over its communications.
“We have to learn how to face bad complaints and issues. If you really want to control what people say, they will stop talking.”
Its next phase of expansion will see DealExtreme.com grow to eight languages, including French, German and Japanese.
Liu admits it is also testing some advertising options, but she remains sceptical.
“We have tried search marketing for three months so far. If the ROI is good we will spend money on it. I’m yet to see a boost.”