The development of e-commerce in Hong Kong has been slower than in places such as Japan and Korea, but that looks set to change.
"In those countries, e-commerce has taken off, with many people shopping online and bidding in online auctions," says Arthur Chow, director of e-commerce service for Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) Limited. "However, the available data shows that Hong Kong is number two worldwide in terms of broadband penetration and just behind Korea."
When pictures and video clips can easily be accessed over the Internet, shopping online becomes an attractive proposition. It also helps that, since establishing a division in late 2004 to advise merchants how to set up online shops, Yahoo! has worked on 90 such projects in Hong Kong.
This number is sure to grow quickly, especially if the rents for local shops continue to soar. In fact, many retailers already see the e-commerce alternative as an important channel for boosting sales. There are also many individuals who are using the company's online auction platform to sell on a part-time or full-time basis. It receives about 1 million visits every month and the number of product listings has reached close to 500,000.
These developments and the undoubted potential which exists have created a new focus for marketing professionals. "We are educating the market, showing that it is easy to do business online and that companies can make a lot of money," says Mr Chow.
The company's marketing team has been using case studies and testimonials from successful online sellers to promote the concept. "It is clear that the market for this form of shopping could expand very quickly," he explains. "We see a difference today between traditional and online marketing methods, but the line is starting to blur and people will need to become familiar with the newer techniques."
Online selling still poses some unique challenges and requires a certain pioneering spirit. Mr Chow notes there are few precedents to follow and that this means marketing creativity is at a premium. In particular,
The market for this form of shopping could expand very quickly
e-commerce professionals have developed ways to target audiences based on their online usage and predicted behaviour. "On our site, users will see different advertisements based on their unique profile, allowing us to target based on demographics," he says.
The recent popularity of online blogs and podcasting is giving marketing teams new technologies and new ways to reach an audience. Each change brings a new challenge and makes it possible for inventive types to really make their mark.
When assessing candidates, Mr Chow looks for creativity and for people who already make extensive use of the Internet. "In order to understand user behaviour, it is best to be a user yourself," he says. Applicants should also have strong numerical skills and be experienced in data analysis. The feedback from e-commerce marketing campaigns is immediate and the number of views, clicks or purchases must be quickly tabulated and interpreted. That information will form the basis for ideas to improve strategies and sales.
Yahoo! expects applicants to have at least three years' working experience for junior marketing positions and between eight and ten years' for management roles. "There is a shortage of experienced e-commerce marketing professionals in the market," says Mr Chow. "However, as long as someone is an online user who understands the Internet, they will be a good fit."