Interview: Big Apple Buddy

Retail Systems talks personalised shopping with Phillis Chan, co-founder of Big Apple Buddy, a new online service which delivers worldwide items that are only available in the US

Retail Systems: Tell us about Big Apple Buddy; how and why it got started, target audience etc.

Phillis Chan: Shortly after moving to the US from Australia, we became flooded with shopping requests from friends and family. We found ourselves regularly sending back gadgets and designer clothes that were only available in America. We figured there must be other people around the world who would similarly want access to the US market but did not have a contact in America to assist with their purchases. That’s how Big Apple Buddy started. We take care of the entire shopping process for our clients and focus heavily on delivering exceptional customer service. Our clients simply tell us what they want to buy and their item will arrive at their door in a matter of days. Our client base largely consists of busy professionals who want to get their hands on the latest products quickly and hassle-free.

RS: What are the biggest challenges currently facing your business?
PC: Our service is a relatively novel concept for most people. We’re not an online store like Amazon or a virtual marketplace like eBay. Communicating our value proposition at scale is the biggest challenge facing our business. We need to educate the market that we’re not selling them an Apple Watch or a Microsoft Band, but rather a service that allows them get the latest products from the US with minimal effort on their part. When they engage us, convenience is what they’re paying for.

RS: What are the biggest opportunities for your business?
PC: Our biggest challenge is what stands between us realising our biggest opportunity – achieving widespread brand awareness in the general retail market. We believe there’s a huge gap in the market for people looking to buy products from the US and who can’t devote the time to work through the logistics of buying from a US store that doesn’t ship internationally. If we can be front of mind when someone is looking to buy something that is only available in the US, that obviously presents very exciting possibilities for Big Apple Buddy and is something that we’re working towards making a reality.

RS: In terms of technology roll-outs etc, what have you got planned for the next 12 months?

PC: As noted before, delivering the best possible service is what we strive to achieve. The market has been exceedingly receptive, and we’ve seen tremendous growth in both clients and orders since formation. To ensure we can keep up, we’ve been investing heavily in our back-end systems to increase the efficiency of our quoting and client service processes. That ensures even greater responsiveness and a continuation of the seamless shopping experience that our clients have enjoyed and come to expect from Big Apple Buddy.

RS: Is the future of retail mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?

PC: From what we’ve seen, all three definitely have a part to play in retail for some time to come. Retail certainly seems to be trending away from physical stores, but we don’t necessarily envisage they’ll disappear altogether. There’ll always be some consumers who want to see, feel and touch the items they buy; that’ll obviously be the case with some products more than others. Within online, mobile is on the rise, but from what we’ve seen, consumers like to browse on mobile but not necessarily go through the entire buying process. Security concerns, user experience or other factors may be at play there.

RS: How would you describe the shopping experience provided by your company?

PC: Our goal with every transaction, is to ensure that the client enjoys the most seamless shopping experience possible. Once a client orders from us, we want them to rest assured that their item will be sourced from a trusted store and then shipped safely and efficiently to their doorstep. Throughout the process, we stand ready to answer all questions they may have, whether about our service, their product or life generally in New York. We aim to be more than a faceless service provider; just as we are for our friends back home, we’re here to be our clients’ Big Apple Buddy.

RS: What are the challenges of delivering a seamless, personalised shopping experience?
PC: One of the natural challenges that comes with running a high touch service is the need to make sure our operations keep pace so responsiveness doesn’t suffer. That’s one of the key reasons for why we’re investing in our back-end systems which, when fully operational, will mean we can deliver even better service than what clients have already been enjoying.

RS: What online trends do you see emerging in 2015?
PC: There’s definitely been a shift towards mobile browsing in 2015 so far and that looks set to continue through the rest of the year. That’s probably largely driven by the continual improvement in devices and increased mobile optimisation for websites (encouraged, in no small part, by Google’s “Mobilegeddon” update); both of these result in better user experiences and hence adoption.

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