In many countries, it is nearly impossible to get the latest products introduced in the US market until they ‘diffuse’ down. One Australian couple spotted lucrative global opportunities delivering US-introduced (but not yet internationally introduced) products to customers wanting it all now. Melbourne’s Phillis Chan and Ben Chaung picked up stakes from Melbourne and moved to consumerlandia, she leaving law and he his ops manager for Blue Apron. Their friends back in Oz were constantly asking them ‘Can you get us’ this or that product and mail it. They figured right that they were not the only people in the world who had friends that wanted things
In 2014, they launched Big Apple Buddy, a ‘shopping concierge’ service, helping customers across the globe get the latest laptop, smartwatch or gadget as soon as it is released in the US. Shoppers fill out a form about their desired product and ask for a quote. The concierge’s job is to locate the gadget at the best price, purchase it from a reputable store and ship it, via courier, directly to the shopper. They have pivoted their business model several times. At first, they offered anything the customer wanted. But they soon realized that they should narrow their product list.
The company now serves customers in 110 countries, turning over AUD low millions a year from the demand of customers desperate to get their hands on the latest gadgets before they are released in their own countries. ‘Immediacy’ is the customer’s greatest need, Chan noted, ‘the majority of the site’s consumers are tech-enthusiast male professionals in their 30s and 40s who would likely stand outside a store in a line for hours just to be first to own a new iPad or iPhone’.
For shipping, they charge USD50 for the first box and USD15 for subsequent packets. Through partnerships with FedEx, DHL and UPS, each shipment takes approximately two to four business days to ship globally. Unfortunately, they also charge New York sales tax. But that is the magic of their business model: They appeal to customers who will pay the top US retail price plus nine per cent New York sales tax plus delivery – all to satisfy the urge to have it first.
As sophisticated as their hometown Melbourne is, say Phillis, ‘I too completely understand the frustration of delayed product releases and international shipping barriers. There’s nothing worse than reading a glowing review on the latest gadget, only to find out you have to wait months or even years for it to launch in your country.’ Ben says the most popular products include virtual and augmented reality headsets and voice-activated ‘smart home’ tech – such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home. Games manufacturers and universities have become their customers since they want to develop competing software before the product is launched in Australia. Another pivot was to pitch the ‘empty shelf’ market. For example, US cosmetics giant Sephora’s stores in Australia simply did not carry all the brands available in US stores. To address customer concern about counterfeit products, Buddy only purchases from reputable retailers.
Questions about lucrative global opportunities
- How would describe Buddy’s target customer? What pains and needs do they have?
- Imagine an analogous business, say, in golf products, drones, or purses? What lucrative global opportunities can you spot?
- While the US might be consumlandia central, which other locations/countries might serve for a different product offering?
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