Today we have the pleasure to interview Jean Yves LU, the founder of Epermarket.com, an online supermarket in Shanghai focused on serving the expat community.
Jean Yves LU is the founder and CEO of Epermarket, Shanghai’s ultimate online supermarket. With 18 years professional experience in the food and beverage industry he became genuinely concerned about food quality and safety in China. He felt he had to do something about this so he decided to open Epermarket – a place for Shanghai expats to buy food they can trust. With high-quality imported products and customer service as his top priorities, he spent more than a year developing the company’s ERP system, equipping the warehouse, developing the product range and strictly selecting the best suppliers.
Could you explain to us the concept behind Epermarket?
Epermarket is the place where all expats in Shanghai can get the food they miss from home. We invest all our energy and resources into offering an attractive array of high-quality products at affordable prices via a fully reliable service. I am confident that our advantages make the difference.
First of all we have the largest online selection of imported products in Shanghai – over 2000 at the moment and a couple of hundred more coming over the summer. Besides that our warehouse includes a wine cellar stocked to satisfy even the most refined customer. Regarding product quality we only work with suppliers that offer all local and international certifications. There is small percentage of locally produced goods that we also sell. Nevertheless we are very strict when selecting the suppliers and we fully guarantee the integrity of all our products.
After selecting our suppliers it all goes to our warehouse. It has a three tiered temperature-controlled system with an innovative warehouse management system (WMS) which allows full traceability for every product. Something truly new in the distribution sector is our product validation detectors. All items entering our warehouse receive a unique tracing code and are immediately registered into our system. When somebody makes an order our staff prepares all the products, but they can only exit the warehouse if they are validated by our detectors. If an item is missing or it’s expired the detector will set off an alarm. The warehouse is also equipped with 8 cameras that can be accessed online anytime by our QC department.
To make sure all orders stay at optimal temperatures in transit we deliver via temperature-controlled trucks. The trucks are also equipped with GPS system, and we can check from the office the temperatures and the driver’s route in real time.
Besides all these benefits the website offers many functions designed to make your shopping experience easier and to help you save even more. There are more things to say but it’s better if I let you discover them by yourself! Actually, there’s one more thing I would like to mention. I know trust is a hard thing to get in China but I can proudly announce that we are the first online supermarket to receive ISO certification!
How does your supermarket differ from a traditional shop?
Epermarket is different from regular supermarkets in so many ways. Most importantly is our food integrity and credibility. We provide customers with all the information regarding the products before purchase. As I said we offer full traceability for all our products right back to their source. We also utilize temperature controlled storage and delivery. Epermarket offers the best value for imported groceries in all of Shanghai. We believe we are the only supermarket where our customers can truly shop carefree. You can order from your home, office or hotel room, and we deliver everything that a regular supermarket offers right to your door. No waiting in line, no traffic, no waste of time or energy!
What’s your target market and from which country do the majority of your customers come from?
Since we opened we have mainly focused on the expat population of Shanghai. I can say that foreign families and young professionals are a big part of our customer database but students, as well as wealthy Chinese families, are also present. Our product range is mainly imported and painstakingly selected to satisfy the needs of the Western expat community in Shanghai. Our website runs in 3 foreign languages besides Chinese – English, French and German. Expats from English speaking countries make up a large part of the local expat community but Germans and French are also here in substantial numbers.
We are still a young company so right now we have to prioritize making our values even more well-known among the expat community here. However, we would be stupid to ignore the growing buying power and interest in imported goods from Chinese customers. In the coming years we want to be the biggest supermarket in Shanghai catering not just for the needs of expats but also Chinese customers.
In terms of product range and service; what are your target market’s main needs?
Well, as you know, Shanghai is a fast-paced, multicultural city so first and foremost we have to provide ease of use and convenience to our customers as well as multilingual customer services. In addition to this I think expats in Shanghai want to know where their food originates from. More and more people are concerned about food safety in China, and it’s not just the small grocers that have been involved in food safety scandals, huge global corporations have also been caught supplying harmful foods. This is why we want to be expat’s first choice supermarket for safe foods.
We take a strong interest in having the best selection of high quality meat & seafood, dairy products – especially cheeses, coffees and wines. Yes, you can easily find some of them, one here, another there, but we want to offer a full range for all of these categories, similar to what you’d be used to at home.
What do you think about e-commerce in China?
If you look at the popularity of sites such as Taobao, Alibaba, Tmall and so on, it`s clear to see that e-commerce is a very important part of the economy here. Statistically speaking in China the e-commerce makes up for 5% of the market. The number is lower than other countries – 9% in the US or 7% in the UK for example which means there is still a lot of place for expansion here as well.
However, with these sites mainly catering to Chinese customers we felt we needed to offer the expat community here in Shanghai the benefits involved with e-commerce. The truth is that the vast majority of expats here don’t own cars which can make going to supermarkets and taking your groceries home on public transport a real hassle. We want to take that hassle out of their lives.
As for our vision of e-commerce we provide our customers with total reliability in product quality, payment, traceability, and delivery. In terms of consumers making the jump to online shopping; different cultures have different opinions towards online shopping but foreigners tend to be more open here, especially when you offer them the products they know and trust.
What are the main problems you have met in China?
One very big problem is trust in food integrity. There are many unethical practices and there have been multiple scandals in the food industry even from some of the most renowned companies. To give an example, some companies repackage their deli meats to give the appearance of a freshly cut meat when in fact it was originally packaged meats. In another instance, some companies advertise their inorganic products as organic to promote sales and credibility. From experience, it is extremely important for consumers to recognize the official organic label to identify which product is actually organic.
The warehouse hygiene standards are often not respected in China and this is a major food safety problem especially when you are an online shopper and you only interact with a clean and beautiful web page. There’s always room for improvement but I can assure our customers that we do respect and surpass all current hygiene standards. Pictures of our warehouse are constantly updated on the site and it’s been successfully visited by the quality commission who accredited our company with the ISO certificate.
Another major problem is the language barrier. Learning Mandarin is so much harder than other languages. Communicating your meaning accurately to Chinese people is very challenging for foreign newcomers. And of course with a limited Chinese vocabulary and knowledge of the proper ways in saying the terminology, it becomes difficult to identify products and check the ingredients (especially important if you have food allergies). At Epermarket we speak four major languages so there are no barriers to giving customers all the support they need.
What is your plan for next year?
My dynamic international team and I have many ideas for the future. We will never stop in our quest to get our message and vision out there. My goal has always been to make Epermarket the gold standard for food quality in Shanghai and to truly be an important and useful tool for each and every one of our customers. I know next year we will be even closer.
Thank you Mr. Lu for this Interview.
More information on epermarket.com
Their Facebook epermarket
Marketing to China