Why Flipit is willing to take a punt on New Zealand's shoppers

An old church is Flipit's office in the Netherlands
Founder of Flipit (an onliine shopping portal), Jochem Vroomwho talks to Idealog about why there is still room to grow the online retail market not only in New Zealand but across the world.

Flipit, an online shopping portal offering discount codes, is ready to take on the battle for NZ's shopping dollar. Founder Jochem Vroom believes the company's careful partnerships gives it a good formula for success. The discerning shopper, Vroom says, is not all about looking for cheap deals but after getting the best value. In the meantime advertisers and retailers are also getting more focused in how they position themselves in a crowded online market filled with bargains.

We recently caught up with Vroom to talk about Flipit's presence in New Zealand and how a Dutch entrepreneur has managed to take his company global.

Q: Why launch Flipit in New Zealand? Don't we already have a crowded market, with Groupon and GrabOne? 

A: Flipit.com is very different from the group buying and daily deal websites. The biggest difference is that on our site you don’t have to register and you don’t have to buy anything; on Groupon it costs money to buy a voucher. We also have more of a focus on online retail, providing coupon codes for hundreds of web stores. If you want to buy a black dress for example we will have voucher codes for web shops where you could order it with a 10% discount. Group buying and daily deal websites mainly focus on local deals; a big discount on a meal in a restaurant in Auckland or a 2 for 1 deal on a jet boat ride. They don’t really focus on online retail.

As a company we have a lot of experience in building a large additional reach and added value for publishers we work with. We focus on building great relationships with them so we are able to offer our visitors exclusive coupons that they will only find on Flipit. This in turn creates loyal visitors and the unique codes set us apart from other websites that collect discount codes.

Q: Since your launch in Dec 2013, how has site traffic been, and how active have users been?

A:We see a very stable line of growth in traffic in New Zealand. Between April and November (2014) traffic has increased by 600% and advertisers are keen for partnerships with us.

Q: What are some of the challenges of building a venture such as Flipit across borders. When you talk coupons and discounts for customers, is there an assumption that cuts across borders? Does  everyone love a bargain, or do localised behaviour make it a bit more complicated? 

A: International markets differ a lot. First of all, some markets are of course more mature than others. Germany, for example, has been a leading e-commerce country for years and therefore competition is high, but consumer awareness of coupon codes is also a lot higher. Younger upcoming markets don’t have the big competitors but require patience for e-commerce to grow, and for consumers to realise that there is such a thing as discount codes and Flipit.com.

Flipit founder Jochem Vroom says there is high demand for coupon codes.

Q: What is the vision behind this product and how have you marketed it? How many sites have you got around the world and where, and what are the countries you plan to enter?.

A: We've set our sights on offering the most personalised couponing service out there, whilst constantly expanding the geographical scope of the company. We’re currently live in 22 countries worldwide and will be expanding even more in 2015.

Besides the unique codes that we offer, we are continually evolving Flipit. We started out with a couponing platform, but our goal is to offer our visitors the best money-saving experience possible while creating added value for the advertisers we work closely with. Flipit might evolve into something completely different than a couponing site. That’s also why we chose the name Flipit - we can ‘flip over’ to whatever consumers want from us.

One example of this constant improvement is the optimization of our email campaigns through segmentation and personalisation. Registered users can select their favourite shops on Flipit.com. They can then choose to only receive an e-mail notification when we have a new coupon code for one of their favourite shops and we also regularly offer members-only codes. Based on their behaviour we also recommend web shops and coupon codes they will probably like.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the process, of gathering partners. For example, ASOS is on the site, how do you select who to partner/offer on your site?

A: When we launch in a new country, it’s a combination of researching the most popular retailers in that country and also working with retailers with whom we have an existing partnership.  To use your example of ASOS, it is a brand which we have worked with since 2012 and it’s currently featured in 16 of our Flipit countries.

We want to give the New Zealand consumer what they are looking for, so by examining trends we can see which stores are most popular. We also work with affiliate networks in the region to make contact with retailers. If we are unable to contact them through these networks we will approach them directly to set up a collaboration.

Q: Customers searching for discounts – can you tell us a bit about the profile of a typical discount shopper. How are companies around the world tapping into this profile? What are the challenges?

People who use coupon codes are usually pretty savvy online in general, regardless of income. They are consumers willing to put in the time and energy to get the best deal and usually aren’t struggling to make ends meet. It is not specifically about looking for something cheap, or a bargain, but they want to get the best deal on things they buy.

Companies see that coupon codes are a very powerful tool if they set clear goals on what they want to achieve with them. In the recent past there was wild growth in spammy websites offering coupon codes. We are now seeing a trend of companies selecting one or two couponing partners who they can focus on building a quality relationship with instead of allowing everyone to hop on their affiliate program. There are many smart online shoppers looking for the best deals and it is important to have goals such as creating a higher order value, focussing on more returning customers, reaching new customers, to use coupon codes most effectively.

Q: Would you consider sites such as Flipit/GrabOne a new phenomena; how many survive beyond 5 to 10 years? What are the challenges of keeping them attractive and alive?

A: A trend that is common in the online entrepreneurial sphere and is already happening in the group deal circles is that the top is buying up all of the market share. Smaller group buying sites are being swallowed up by the bigger companies. I think that the ones that are able to adapt to the mobile innovations best will be the ones left standing.

On the one hand, in Europe the popularity of group buying sites has slowed as fewer companies are willing to offer good deals because of the small or even negative profit margin. The demand for coupon codes, on the other hand, is pretty much doubling every year. Consumers are becoming more aware that they can be using coupon codes to their advantage and online marketeers are better at understanding how to use coupon codes as a valuable marketing tool. 

Q: What are the key opportunities yet untapped in this discount/coupon market?

A: The cross-over between online and offline is still in its infancy, but will grow stronger over the next few years alongside mobile e-commerce. Tracking of sales is still not fail-proof as lots of sales are being done cross-device, but we are quickly hitting the 50% mark of traffic coming from mobile devices, so big innovations will definitely follow in the cross-channel marketing field.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself, and how you came into this business; and your work with affiliated marketing.

A: In 2008 I graduated from university and got my first job working for an affiliate network. In the evenings I began working on a few small blogs, writing about gadgets, tickets for events and ways to get discounts online. I saw how popular online couponing was in the US and how it had started to emerge in the UK, but in the Netherlands there was not anything like it at that point. By the end of that year my (self-built) Joomla couponing website had become so popular that I quit my job and decided it was time to take that couponing site seriously.  

This was just before the massive rise in online deal sites like Groupon. The thing I did differently to my competitors was that all the money I earned from the couponing website (which was growing in popularity) was invested into more advanced websites and couponing brands built by large professional web development companies.

The new websites got huge media attention after the launches and resulted in us becoming a market leader in the Netherlands, which we have remained ever since. However I wasn’t satisfied with just being a market leader in the Netherlands; we tripled up as a company, hired a load of international graduates who were living in Amsterdam and started our global couponing project Flipit.com.

Q: What is your connection to NZ, and how did you come to launch a product here? Do you ever come to NZ? Where are you based?

A: We chose to launch Flipit.com in emerging e-commerce markets that showed potential. After Flipit.com Australia went live, we noticed lots of site traffic coming from New Zealand and so we decided to offer Kiwis a portal of their own.

Flipit.com is run entirely from our main office in Amsterdam by employees from our target countries. I can say with confidence that ours is one of the coolest offices in Amsterdam -- it was a monumental church that was going to be torn down. Coincidentally there is a New Zealand pie shop right across the road where we often eat mincemeat pies for lunch. However, our next step will be to launch 14 offices all over the world. Since New Zealand is one of our main focus countries, we expect to have an office there in the near future.