Golden Service Awards : Pinkoi
Selling Creativity, Custom Recommendations
Why is business booming for Pinkoi in countries around the world? Using a recommendations function and analyzing consumer preferences to target their needs, the company acts as a bridge between supply and demand to successfully navigate the intense competition of the e-commerce space.
Selling Creativity, Custom RecommendationsBy Lucy Chao
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 620 )
On April 1, users opening the Pinkoi app were greeted with the announcement of a new social networking function: KoiMeet.
“I feel awful. My heart hurts so much because I can’t see you…” read the message from a girl in the dialogue box after one selected someone to chat with.
Don’t be alarmed; it wasn’t real. KoiMeet was just an April Fool’s prank made by Pinkoi, which the site made evident after only a few lines when a new page came up displaying a special discount good for April 1 only.
Those not following along were actually tricked into thinking that the vertical supply e-commerce merchant had dipped its toes in the online matchmaking and dating market.
Getting people to talk with a cute, well-timed stunt is the sort of innovation that distinguishes Pinkoi in the e-commerce field.
Pinkoi took first place in CommonWealth’s 2017 Golden Service Awards survey in the “vertical e-commerce platform” category. It also achieved the highest score in the cross-sector Innovation category, and the second-highest score in cross-sector Distinctiveness.
Founded in 2009 by Peter Yen, Mike Lee, and Maibelle Lin, in 2015 the company made a splash when it secured US$9 million in funding from Sequoia Capital India and GMO Ventures.
Now counting over 1.5 million members and over 7,000 active designers offering around 770,000 online items, it has facilitated the sale of more than 3.4 million items to buyers in 88 countries. In addition to solid performance in its home base of Taiwan, it has ventured overseas with teams in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and China.
In the cutthroat realm of e-commerce, Pinkoi’s strategy consists of finding unique qualities to penetrate markets. Apart from providing diverse, distinctive merchandise, connecting designers and consumers is the biggest aspect differentiating Pinkoi from other brands.
Local Consumer Experience
“Our approach involves gathering people together,” says Pinkoi co-founder and chief executive officer Peter Yen. “We are one of the few companies to connect people with the brand and design merchandise in our Pinkoi social network,” he says.
Yen says that Taiwanese consumers care most about their experiences and social interaction. Pinkoi was conceived with these needs in mind, optimizing the consumer experience.
For instance, consumers with questions about merchandise can communicate directly with Pinkoi, creators, and designers rather than being insulated from them by agents, distributors, or logistics companies.
For consumers, this not only greatly boosts their trust and confidence, but communicating with designers from various countries also facilitates cultural exchange and understanding between them. In their effort to lower the bar to communication, Pinkoi features an optimized translation function to help bridge the language gap between consumers and designers, smoothing communication across national, cultural and linguistic borders.
Pinkoi customer Shen Yi-ting relates, “Pinkoi offers a variety of merchandise, a high degree of creativity, and customization for most products, which is excellent for gifts or personal use. And you can communicate directly with the designer and exchange ideas, which makes it feel a lot more welcoming than the typical e-commerce shopping site.”
Three years ago, Pinkoi integrated a product recommendation mechanism into its platform. Based on browsing and clicking history. it suggests more items a user might like
Last year, it introduced further enhancements to the Recommendations function based on a detailed analysis of 651 factors influencing consumer purchases, including sales price, designer nationality, product description completeness, and time spent viewing each product. By comparing analysis of the data, it identifies customer needs with greater precision, making them feel like the recommendations were made just for them. “Statistically, we’ve seen a sevenfold growth, ” Yen says, adding that continual optimization enhances exposure for designers’ merchandise.
This past March, Pinkoi introduced another new function: In accordance with consumption habits by region, Big Data analysis is applied to help consumers more quickly find items they like.
In other words, Pinkoi sets up its product pages according to the needs of consumers in different areas, so that the arrangement and presentation of merchandise seen by consumers in Taiwan, Japan and China varies. For instance, Japanese consumers tend to prefer apparel, as well as solid colors, while Chinese consumers favor high-priced merchandise. “From this strict ordering and analysis, the preferences of consumer groups in different markets becomes evident,” says Yen.
Social Media for Designers
Yi-chih Wang, senior industry analyst and deputy director of the Marketing Intelligence & Consulting Institute’s e-commerce section, believes that Pinkoi has grasped the essence of platform economics, tying together the supply and demand sides. Looking at supply side platform services, “Pinkoi takes care of designers, and doesn’t exact high commissions. It gives designers a great deal of room to present their design concepts and ideas,” he says.
Worth noting is Pinkoi’s establishment of a Designer Relations Maintenance Department, complete with staff charged with running a social network for designers. Using a closed Facebook group, the company can keep designers apprised of key information or events. Offline, it holds various real-life events as well as workshops on a variety of topics, facilitating the exchange and absorption of new knowledge among designers.
Each country’s designer group is run using local languages and familiar social media channels. At the same time, the company is replicating successful experiences in other countries.
Culture and creative brand Loopy joined Pinkoi back in 2011, the year of its founding. Says designer and co-founder Lucky Chen, “We designers really care about the personal touch. Pinkoi holds frequent meet-and-greet events, and employees write letters themselves. This increases my trust in the platform.”
“We spend a great deal of effort running the designers’ communities,” relates Pinkoi PR staff Echo Cheng. “All these small details, inside and out, reinforce the designer groups’ connections.”
Listening to Consumers
Asked how Pinkoi maintains consumer stickiness, Yen answers without hesitation, “Keep listening to consumers.” Myriads of channels are available for consumers to express opinions in the Internet age, and Pinkoi uses fan pages, customer service, designers’ communities, and app ratings to listen to customers and make adjustments and improvements based on their feedback.
“The critical part of listening is simplifying and categorizing opinions to maximize the impact for the social group,” says Yen.
Pinkoi is constantly getting feedback of all kinds, such as designers looking to use the platform to send email or texts to notify customers of special offers, revise voucher forms, or adjust shipping rates in the Japan region. From the platform’s standpoint, determining the priority of actions starts with issues having the greatest impact, taking into consideration data and resources to resolve 99.9 percent of designers’ sore points.
Addressing Pinkoi’s keys to success, Wang observes, “Taiwanese cultural creative energy and merchandise need an outlet, and Pinkoi has grasped this trend.”
Many people are curious as to how Pinkoi can maintain its distinctiveness and innovation.
The keys to success involve continuously bringing in employees from diverse backgrounds, constant trial and error, and encouraging staff to freely criticize and bring up different issues, perspectives, and suggestions under a corporate culture of openness and transparency. To these ends, Pinkoi even holds a monthly company-wide “all hands” meeting. “It’s like a general interpellation session every month, where anyone can question anyone,” says Yen with a chuckle, admitting that nerves keep him up all night before each session.
“Startup teams are like a ship. Unless all the sailing data is transparent, it’s not hard for everyone to lose focus, not knowing which direction the ship is heading,” says Yen.
This approach gives Pinkoi’s employees a clearer idea of what they are working for, and where they should place their efforts. With the gentle yet resolute Peter Yen at the helm, Pinkoi is sure to keep sailing around the world, powered by ample creativity.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman