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The Asia-Pacific Region is the global leader in e-commerce sales, and China alone accounts for over half of global e-commerce revenues in 2019. No one is more aware of this global trend than Sally Chue, whose Soul Marketing Group, an e-commerce marketing firm she co-founded seven years ago, has served 1,000 clients over the past seven years, and is now working with major e-commerce platforms such as Taobao/TMall and JD.com. She has won numerous awards, including the GBA Outstanding Women Entrepreneur Award, the Innovative Entrepreneurship Award, and the Hong Kong Professional Elite Ladies Selection Award.
While studying at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sally, a Chinese Language and Literature major, worked as a marketing intern in a major electrical appliances company one summer holiday – this was how she discovered her passion for marketing and sales. Prior to setting up her own company, she worked for eight years at a manufacturing plant as a marketing and sales officer, a position that required frequent travel. She quit her job to plan for her upcoming marriage and because she wanted to spend less time travelling. A friend who was then working at 'ubuyibuy' invited her to join his company and that was her first experience with e-commerce. Later ubuyibuy was acquired by Groupon and became Groupon Hong Kong. It is the fastest company to reach billion-dollar valuation and was listed in Nasdaq in three years' time.
'After leaving Groupon, I set up Soul Marketing with a co-worker. I thought the set-up cost of a marketing firm wasn't that high, and we gave ourselves six months to try out our business plan,' Sally reminisced.
'Our office at that time was just a 100 sq. ft. room with a couple of tables. We were then recruiting an administrative assistant and I still remember vividly how a prospective candidate, upon entering our office, exclaimed "What an office!", turned around promptly and left without saying a single word.'
That prospective candidate would have regretted her hastiness if she had known how successful Sally's company was to become. It is now a company employing over 100 people. Two years ago, it was acquired by Shunten International (00932.hk).
Soul Marketing provides a one-stop service to clients who want to launch their products online and offline. Most companies cannot afford to build their own teams of designers, creative content writers, video technicians, and logistics support. Sally's company provides all or part of these services to spare their clients the time and trouble of setting up their own teams.
'We will soon launch the first-ever system in Hong Kong that connects with over 20 e-commerce platforms in over 10 countries,' said Sally.
E-commerce platforms, such as Taobao/TMall and JD.com, function like online department stores. In collaborating with different e-commerce platforms, Sally helps those platforms look for sellers who are willing to sell their products on the platform.
The future of e-commerce in Hong Kong actually looks bright, despite the fact that the economy is now languishing in the doldrums. In fact, the current 'perfect storm' of crises gives rise to 'clouds with silver linings'.
'The COVID-19 virus infection has dealt a hard blow to retail sales in Hong Kong, and some conservative clients who used to resist e-commerce are now willing to give it a go.'
'On the one hand, I am happy for the sustained growth in e-commerce during this period, but on the other, I feel sad over the economic downturn which will affect many people and families. I always tell my staff we should not only serve the big companies but also the smaller ones, because a small company often means the fortunes of a whole family. I think we have a social mission to fulfil.'
Sally believes that traditional retail businesses and e-commerce are not competitors but that they are in fact mutually beneficial. Very often, when one company's online business prospers, its offline business will flourish too.
'Many companies make themselves known on the e-commerce platform first, and afterwards they set up their own non-virtual or offline shops. E-commerce is not a threat; the real threat is resistance to change and refusal to accept new technology.'
There are some products and services which can only be distributed through offline shops, for example, food and beverages, and cosmetic treatments. But even for such products and services, they are increasingly dependent on digital technology for promotion and delivery of services.
'More eateries are now making use of delivery apps, and you only need to use your smart phone to scan a QR code for ordering food and payment. We call this an industrial transformation, because the mode we run our business is changing.'
By using 'big data' technology, online shops can gather information about what customers need, and both online and offline shops can make use of such information to design and provide new products. In this way, the products that the consumer wants and demands will be available as needed, and promptly delivered.
Sally's business reaches out to the UK, US, Australia, Turkey, and the Middle East. She noticed that while Asian customers are more brand-conscious, Westerners pay more heed to pricing. Hence, it is important for businesses in Asia to be more pro-active in brand building, and e-commerce is a perfect platform for such endeavours.
The energetic Sally is equally active in the charity sector, and among the numerous organizations she serves are the Hong Kong Rehabilitation Power, SAHK, and the Regeneration Society. She first came to realize the plight of people with disabilities through one of her best friends at the Chinese University who was disabled himself.
Sally was a member of the CUHK Torch Fund Donation Committee 2019, and the Committee was able to raise HK$1.1 million for the Fund. 'Many CUHK alumni are very willing to give back to their alma mater. I am now enrolled in the university's EMBA programme and I appealed to my EMBA classmates to donate to the University.'
She regards her major in Chinese Language and Literature as a boon to her marketing business. Reading inspires her to be a serious and critical thinker. She is also able to read contracts and documents faster than most of her colleagues because of her solid language skills.
'I find that what you major in and what you do eventually doesn't necessarily have to be related. Some of my classmates are now working in private banks, and others have set up their own businesses.'
Sally is a dynamic, charismatic and approachable person. In her, we see a CUHK alumna who can transform her personal success into commitment to wider society. Her big-heartedness can be seen in her willingness to volunteer her time and efforts to various organizations across the city.
Reported by Eliza Chan
Photos by Eric Sin
This article was originally published on CUHK Homepage in Mar 2020.