TDDD Interviews: Yuppiechef
With eCommerce being the flavour of the week on my blog’s featured story, I decided to get in touch with a friend from one of South Africa’s leading eCommerce retailers to talk about eCommerce in South Africa, the systems behind online shopping and the odd kitchen story too.
Introducing Chris Croxton, UCT entrepreneurship post-graduate and current Business Analyst at Yuppiechef – 4th time winning brand of the Best eCommerce Website in South Africa award. Chris has been at Yuppiechef for just over a year now, and has quickly grown into the fun and innovative culture of the Yuppiechef brand.
I was fortunate enough to have a guided tour around the Yuppiechef headquarters earlier in the year for a UCT retailing project, and was glad to be able to reconnect with Chris for this interview on the blog – the same day as Yuppiechef’s 8th birthday! Here’s a look at what we spoke about.
TDDD: Thanks for taking the time out for an interview with me Chris! You studied at UCT before working at Yuppiechef, can you tell us a bit about how your studies lead you into eCommerce?
Chris: My approach has been rather different, in that I studied advertising and marketing as my undergrad, and then moved into management (UCT Entrepreneurship). I then wound myself into the eCommerce space through Yuppiechef’s graduate program. This took me through 6 different areas of the business, spending a month in each area – ranging from finance to warehousing – and helped me gain a broad understanding and overview of eCommerce.
Chris: Andrew and Shane originally started out in software development, building intranets and web-apps for clients. They soon realized that their time was limited and the job’s return was highly dependent on the manual hours they put in each day. With the help of technology, they looked at developing an online storeand there passion for eCommerce was born. After developing the required knowledge and infrastructure, they began brainstorming ideas for a product. Initially, they came up with the idea to sell bug-zappers – those little electrified rackets to zap flies. The site got up and running, but a small oversight was the marketing side and no customer-base to buy the product in the first few hours of the sites launch.
Going forward, they realized that people often shop online to find items that they wouldn’t know where to find elsewhere. So they moved from bug-zappers to international flags, gradually gaining better understanding of the eCommerce space. After chatting to a friend who was a chef, who couldn’t find a specific brand of tools to purchase in South Africa, they happened to have spoken to someone recently who was importing these same tools into the country. With that, Shane had the idea for the company name, Yuppiechef, and they found an alignment between their eCommerce interest and a passion for food.
The Yuppiechef website launched with about 12 kitchen products and a customer base mostly consisting of friends and family. When the first unknown customer purchased a product, the team decided to take the opportunity to include a note in her package to say thank you for choosing them as a store and trusting them with the online transaction. Since then, every single order that has left Yuppiechef includes a handwritten and personalized card to say thank you.
Paul then joined Yuppiechef on the branding and marketing side, after time abroad freelancing as a brand consultant. The three of them became founding members to grow the business to where it is today.
TDDD: As a Business Analyst at Yuppiechef, what are the key roles and tasks you attend to on a weekly basis?
Chris: A business analyst is quite a broad term, and sometimes I’m not even sure what to expect from it on a day-to-day basis! But I spend a lot of my time in development – it’s an area that we’re really looking to grow. I work on our in-house system, building analytical reports to find out things like how many people are buying from specific areas or regions and what sources customers use to find Yuppiechef online. Most of what I do, is a mix of an analytical approach and optimizing business processes.
TDDD: Last year, Yuppiechef won “Best eCommerce Website in South Africa” at the eCommerce awards for the 4th year in a row. What are some of the key aspects to the business that has seen it succeed year after year?
Chris: I’d sum it up to 3 key areas. The first one would be customer service. It’s a big thing in industry and it’s something you don’t see done correctly in eCommerce, because there’s no human element or interaction in shopping online in front of a computer screen. We put a lot of emphasis into keeping our customer closely connected to the brand and interacting with our community.
Secondly, we focus a lot on design in unifying our processes and making sure the website and shopping process is clear and easy to understand. Focusing on areas like search and product discovery are key to the customer experience.
Thirdly, our internal culture plays a big part. We focus on our employees being happy and working in a positive environment as the brand itself grows out from this.
TDDD: I was fortunate enough to visit the Yuppiechef headquarters earlier this year and was impressed by the efficient in-bound and out-bound system the team has developed. How has this been a critical aspect to Yuppiechef’s success?
Chris: I think the ability for us to develop in-house has had a big impact on the speed and efficiency that we’re able to perform tasks. Very often, we’ll get requests from the team to add a new feature, the fact that we have developers in-house means that we can build a solution efficiently in a fast timeframe. All systems talk to each other, so for example; if we’re running a special and a product sells out, the system from the warehouse will notify the online system to take the product offline and instantly let customers know that it’s sold out. It allows us to be very agile and lean in our approach to developing and making sure that we have the best product available to meet the unique nature of Yuppiechef’s business.
TDDD: The South African eCommerce industry is growing fast, but covers a rather minimal percentage of the retail market. How can eCommerce retailers work together to get more South Africans shopping online?
Chris: South Africa does have a rather small addressable market in terms of people who will shop online, usually falling in the high LSM groups, with access to a credit card and an internet connection, as well as disposable income to spend. This creates a smaller pool of consumers to work with, but then the big challenge is to get them comfortable with purchasing online. Consumer confidence and trust with purchasing online needs to be taken into account.
But we feel that the more eCommerce stores that are going live in South Africa, the greater the awareness of online shopping and its benefits. I think that, over time, people will become more comfortable with shopping online, but at this stage we see our competitors as an eCommerce community in working together to create awareness and a greater market share for South African eCommerce.
TDDD: What was the first item you ever bought online from an eCommerce store?
Chris: I think the first item I bought online was a digital product, probably music. Since then I’ve bought a variety of items, from shoes and clothes to movies. I find digital eCommerce to be an interesting space because you can build a global platform that isn’t constrained to the physical delivery or logistics of a product, which can be downloaded instantly or engaged with.
TDDD: What’s your favourite item currently listed on the Yuppiechef store?
Chris: The Nespresso machine is probably my favourite purchase from Yuppiechef. I also enjoy the craft beer on offer though The League of Beers, an amazing online craft beer store we have joint forces with.
TDDD: Have you had any kitchen mishaps in the last couple of years that you’d be embarrassed to share with your kitchen-crazy Yuppiechef team?
Chris: The biggest issue is that I’m not in the kitchen enough, cooking is definitely not my strong point! I think it once took me an hour and a half to cook a small cup of rice.
TDDD: Do you have any advice for budding South African graduates or entrepreneurs looking to get into eCommerce?
Chris: eCommerce is exciting because it comprises of so many elements – from understanding the technologies involved, marketing, warehousing and finance - but still accessible for an entrepreneur to build out from their garage or lounge in the case of yuppiechef.com. If you’re looking to build your own eCommerce store, there are many easy to use out of the box solutions that will help get anyone off the ground. Rather than sitting there and waiting for an idea or product to come along, you can work on building your knowledge in the technology and infrastructure required that will house the final product. Keep an eye on the trends, how Google analytics works and how social media can play an important role. This helps you build an eCommerce toolbox to get started and making sales as soon as you have something to sell.