Spill the Beans: Annabel Gray & Angus Muffet
In her latest interview for our Spill the Beans series, our Associate Director Australia, Annabel Gray, spoke to Angus Muffet, Country Manager (Australia) at ShopBack. They talked about how the online landscape has changed over the course of the pandemic, innovations in the affiliate space, and discussed what the future holds for affiliate and partnership marketing.
Before we jump into everything, could you provide a little bit of a background about your story and your role at ShopBack, and how you found yourself in the affiliate channel?
Yeah, sure. So for those of you who I’ve not met, I’m Angus, from ShopBack, I’m the Country Manager of ShopBack. So essentially, my job is quite simple. I work with a really high performing team, to bring ShopBack to into Australia, introduce ShopBack to Australians and grow the Australian business, providing value for customers and also for the brands that we work with as well.
In terms of how I got here, my ecommerce career started at Groupon Australia, and for those who don’t know, Groupon, way back when it first started, was the fastest growing internet company in the world. At one stage, if you’ve read the Groupon story, Groupon’s biggest deal was it was about to be bought out by Google for I think it was about $6 billion. So, a really, really interesting business to be a part of in terms of high growth, and a rapidly changing business model.
I joined in 2013, which was just after the boom of the group buying phase that we all went through. And the thing I loved about Groupon was the way that that it was a really, really big operation that would move extremely fast. And I would say probably one of the best digital marketing platforms around, they move quickly into being one of the leaders in mobile commerce as well. So you know, one of the most downloaded apps of all time, really, really sexy UI.
I kind of cut my teeth in and really started to build a strong passion for the ecommerce industry in that business. ShopBack came to Australia, and I’d heard a lot about the success that they’d had in Singapore, and then subsequently through Southeast Asia. That really sparked my interest, after meetings with some of the team at ShoBback. Hearing about the plans, hearing what they wanted to achieve in this market. It was for sure some of the great qualities that I enjoyed a Groupon that were going to be present or present themselves by way of opportunities.
So yeah, a really big step from ecommerce or affiliate. It was kind of like a big leap in terms of learning. In terms of the people that I work with and the products we have, I was very thankful It was a very smart move
So ShopBack has been quite disruptive in the market and has played quite a role in raising awareness in cashback specifically, but also around the affiliate channel as a whole.
Yeah, ShopBack started in Singapore. A couple of guys over there saw the success of the business model, in terms of cashback, in the US and UK, and how interesting it was for both customers and merchants alike, and they decided that they wanted to bring that into Southeast Asia. So it kicked off in Singapore, and then rapidly grew across six different markets before entering into Australia in 2018.
I’d note we’re in nine countries now. We’re across Asia Pacific and with Australia, one of our biggest ambitions was to become the leading rewards and discovery platform across not just Southeast Asia, but more impactfully across Asia Pacific, which I’m glad to say that we’ve done that. But the short backstory is the typical startup and venture so, specifically for Australia, starting in an Airbnb, with a couple of really bright people – basically turned the lights on and claimed the social handles. We hopped around a few different offices to where we are today as the team grew and expanded.
But it was really interesting starting a double-sided marketplace. You’ve got two issues to solve for the demand side so we had to scale from zero customers to where we are today, which is with over 1.2 million customers in Australia. Then on the supply side, same problem – how do we get from zero merchants to where we are today, which is which is 1400 merchants? Our mission is very, very simple. It’s just to be the number one pre shopping destination for customers. And the closer we can come to becoming a daily habit, the more impact that we can provide to our customers and our merchants alike.
How did you find your education piece when you were entering into Australia, as a lot of retailers over here may not have affiliate programs or may not be in the cashback space?
Well, incredibly hard. If you talk to Tom Howard, who runs the sales unit at ShopBack Australia, going and speaking to brands, even with an affiliate program when Shopback didn’t even have a platform to talk to, it’s kind of like selling a dream. I think that there was a lot of people that were really invested in growing their affiliate channels, so they were interested to see new publishers come into the market. But for those who don’t have an affiliate channel, defined affiliate strategy or budget or headcount, it’s still tough.
It’s like any marketing channel when you try to investigate – “What do we think the ROI will be if we place focus into this and dedicate resources? Do we think that that will be better for our business and help us scale faster than perhaps if we went to channel B that we’ve never used before as well?” So yeah, the reception we had for merchants in Australia was phenomenal. It was great to see them all. And we’re hoping that we’re growing fast enough for them and being as meaningful as we possibly can.
And on that side, how do you work with advertisers to ensure that you are providing them value?
This is an ever changing problem statement, I would say, in a good way – in the way that we enjoy the fact that we’re challenged to provide value to merchants. I think that the best way I can talk about this is just by going back to what our role is for merchants or brand partners. It differs from brand to brand. Some people want us to drive new customers, some people want us to drive volume in or bring back lapsed customers. If you think about it, we like a digital shopping centre, in which all the brands we work with are housed.
It’s our job to bring as many customers – new, or whatever their status may be – into the shopping centre, to see all these brands to experience new brands and to see what all the brands’ current marketing messages are that they’re shouting about. So, our job is to fill our digital shopping centre. The way we do that by being agile, to grow our audience as quickly and as big as we possibly can, and with as wide a range of demographics as we possibly can as well. We employ our own growth marketing strategies, some really interesting ones around the influencer strategies that we have and the diverse mix of influencers that we use. We also dip our toe in a big way into traditional media channels as well, to bring new customers into our ecosystem.
But our job is also to bring more use cases for our merchants to engage with, to bring those customers into their own ecosystem too. We’re continuously working on technology developments around our app. A lot of our transactions, between 70 and 80% of all transactions, come through our mobile app in
Australia. This year, we’re bringing a new product to market, which is incentivised personalisation. From the merchant side, that’s kind of a technical way. From a customer side, they see it as a challenge in the app to say, “Hey, you’ve never shopped at The Iconic before,” or “hey, if you spend X amount at The Iconic, we’ll give you X.”
Or maybe they’re lapsed and The Iconic wants to bring them back, we can re-engage them that way as well.
We’re seeing a lot more of those segmented tailored strategies happening a lot more this year. For example, with lockdown in Melbourne and Perth, advertisers are now able to respond, so fantastic to see ShopBack have evolved to provide that additional segmentation and targeting as well.
Yeah, and I think it’s really interesting right? So if we go back to the reasons why brands work with us – to drive new customers, to bring lapsed customers back, to drive top line revenue or whatever the requirement is. This incentivised personalisation is a really smart way to be able to target these customers based on their status with that business. So new, lapsed, repeat customers, whatever the goal might be. Do you want to drive AOV higher, do you want to increase frequency, etc? We can do all that now through the platform, which is pretty cool.
Just touching on how we bring the value to brands, I touched on the influencer piece a little bit earlier. I can share this example with you: not only do we work with brands on a 365 day year kind of premise whereby we understand where their peaks and troughs are, and we help increase the peaks and also obviously drive more orders into the slower periods as well. But we also try and do a bit of brand building for them, too.
So in 2020, we did two collabs that were really interesting. One was with LookFantastic, and Martha Kalifatidis. For those of you that don’t know, Martha is, an influencer on Instagram, ex-MAFS star, she’s pretty out there. And she’s also a specialist in the beauty space. So, the partnership between her, LookFantastic and ShopBack was actually a really natural collaboration in that we kind of helped bring those people together.
The other fun one, I don’t know if you’ve just been watching I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, we bought Abbie Chatfield and Ryan, who are ex-Bachelor and MAFS together with BWS. Basically, Abbie’s an ex-bartender, and we knew that so we said, look, why don’t we do a collab with BWS? And Abbie made cocktails on this Instagram Live with Ryan. And they had to guess what cocktails they were making and there were a lot of Giveaways from BWS and BWS as a brand was interwoven throughout the segment. There were some really quality outcomes from that. One of BWS’s objectives was to grow their social following, and we managed to get an additional 3000 followers to their Instagram. So that was a really good outcome and it was awesome to watch.
So, looking back, last year was obviously a bit of a roller coaster. And we saw swings for businesses in both directions. What swings did you see at ShopBack over the last 12 months?
Well, 2020 I think everyone wrote it off. And then 2021 came in. and we’re on Groundhog Day all year. I think about 2020 in a couple of ways. So, from a consumer standpoint, there was so much uncertainty, certainly around the lockdowns when they hit and then we had different versions of lockdowns in different states that impacted people’s day to day lives, their professional lives.
Some people have been massively impacted financially, there was a lot of uncertainty from the consumer point of view. From the brand’s point of view, there were wild swings depending on who you speak to, but there were over-demand issues when we saw that the panic buying hit. Interestingly, we saw the panic buying going in kind of two-week waves, so from groceries and alcohol, with people’s priorities set on food. Then, in the first two weeks of lockdown that moved into very much a health and fitness kind of “I’m going to be at home for a while, I need to set my home up for fitness,” into home and office, into beauty.
It was very clear lines in the sand. every couple of weeks, so we were pivoting around trying to help our brands navigate those, those very clear changes. Today, we’re not seeing as drastic changes and it’s more geographically, so Perth gets locked down we start to see some different behaviours there. But for ShopBack it was, you know, we’re kind of a double-sided marketplace. So on one side, we’ve got the customers’ shock. On the other side, we’ve got the merchant shock, supply demand shocks. And it came at an interesting time because we’re about to run our second birthday, which we were planning to launch late April. When the lockdown hit, certainly from our brand partners, there was some concern around what budgets were going to look like, how were customers going to react to this, will I have enough stock to be able to service the demand I’ve got?
So we had this uncertainty on the supply side of our business that we had to be really last minute with our planning and try and help our merchants who still wanted to be part of the birthday event. But we had to kind of compress the planning time and really work with them on that.
From the customer side, it was a little bit different because we were just launching a birthday, and a conversion campaign like a ShopBack second birthday Kumbaya stuff is not really what you want to do at the start of a pandemic. The research that we did told us that customers still expected us to do marketing, but they wanted to be engaged. So we designed a lot of the normal campaigns that we would run, but then we laid in a whole bunch of engagement campaigns on top of that, to keep people entertained when they were at home and stuck in lockdown.
One of the most crazy ones was we ran this Amazing Race, where essentially we planted 50 clues across the Internet, and had customers leave our app, go and find the answer to the clue, come back to the app for another clue, go find that in the internet somewhere. And it was basically who got to the endpoint got a share of all the cash and prizes. We had 15,000 customers engaged in this Amazing Race. We were blown away, I thought it was awesome.
And then, of course, we had Cashback Troopers, which is our in-app game. Essentially, you go into the ShopBack app, and you’ll see Cashback Troopers – give it a play, it’s very addictive – It was played for 14 years total last year, customers played the game for 14 years cumulatively. I’m not sure if we built a monster with that. I think if we take it out of the app, we’re gonna have some kind of revolt because people love it.
And it’s a big business decision at those times, to invest in something which isn’t necessarily conversion focused, but it’s in the customer’s needs. So it’s something that’s fun and engaging, and is addressing that need within customers rather than by now. It’s building that longer term relationship.
Absolutely. And I think there’s some other brand that did that really well, whether it was through a partnership or through their own assets. But I think that that was a really impactful use of our time and resource, to kind of try and not sound too altruistic, as though we’re saving people through lockdown. We weren’t, let’s face it, that we were certainly doing our bit to keep people entertained and sort of backing away from the transactional stuff and moving more towards the engagement piece.
Do you know what your score is for Cashback Troopers?
Oh, god, it’s terrible. There’s actually a leaderboard on the Cashback Troopers game so you can see where you stack rank for anyone in Australia. And I actually don’t even know where I am. It’s bad. But last month we ran a Zoom contest, so we had everyone posting their leaderboards. And we talked, we picked the top 10 people, and then hosted a live Zoom where they did a Cashback Troopers battle to see who was the number one Cashback Troopers player in Australia, and we got there. So we actually know who it is definitively!
And now looking forward for ShopBack, do you think we can expect to see any of those behaviours continuing into 2021?
Yeah, I mean, if I had a crystal ball, I could obviously tell you definitively. I think looking at some of the research that others have done, Boston Consulting is a good place to look well into the pandemic, they surveyed customers and said, Hey, will you continue your COVID shopping behaviour after, when, when when lockdowns are eased? And the respondents said one in three will continue their COVID shopping behaviours. We all know that the rapid change in consumer behaviour throughout 2020 was quite beneficial for economy in general, just because customers wanted to shop safely and conveniently.
We expect that certainly, for those millions of new households that shopped online for the very first time in 2020, you’d expect a large amount of those shoppers to stay, if they could find what they wanted or they had a quick and easy checkout experience, the delivery came on time. Why wouldn’t you continue to shop with that convenience?
I think it’s like you say it’s, we’re driven online by the external factors by the need, but then it’s the convenience. It’s the experience that keeps us there is going to keep Australians shopping online this year.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that presents its own challenges for anyone in the ecommerce space, ShopBack included. It’s how, again, we’ve had this opportunity, COVID caused a lot of headaches and caused a lot of pain for a lot of people from strictly from a business sense. There was a window in time there where behaviours changed. There was a once in a lifetime behavioural change in our consumer behaviour. So then how then do we ensure that we continue to give the shoppers an exceptional experience? How do we continue to show them value in the products and services that we sell, so that they continue that behaviour?
And, you know, I really think that shoppers will, if you have a good experience, why would you go back to the way you were doing it? That’s my point. I think people are extremely habitual. It doesn’t take long to form a habit. I think scientifically, it’s like 90 days or something – we’re well past 90 days. So yeah, the challenge for brands, then, is how do you retain these customers? How do you keep them in your ecosystem? And not lose out on the change in behaviour opportunity that presented last year.
And so what’s next for ShopBack? This year, it’s been a fantastic growth period, and APAC domination – any adding any other countries to your bow?
At this point in time, I’ll say that we’re happy with our standings in APAC, and you’ll certainly be one of the first to know, as and when that changes.
Anything else that you can share with us for 2021?
I’m legitimately super excited for 2021. I think the last three years at ShopBack Australia has been rapid. And it goes in the blink of an eye because we do so much, so quickly and we share our success internally and externally.
For 2021, what we want to do is do everything that we’ve done for the last few years, but better. So, learn from what we’ve done over the last few years, really consolidate our learnings, and double down on what we know works. The other piece that was probably you know a bit more meaningful and structural and will affect both sides of our marketplaces, we’re imminently about to launch our product comparison feature. Right now if you come to ShopBack, or any other platform similar to us, and you want to buy a Dyson vacuum, you’ve got in your mind “Who sells a Dyson vacuum? Okay, these brands do,” then you go and search for those brands and either discover those brands for the first time or buy it from them previously. There’s a whole bit of a consideration factor there. But what we know is that two in every three shoppers who shop online compare prices before they make a purchase decision, or compare products before that purchase decision.
So by enabling product comparison within ShopBack’s environment we’ll allow that customer to come with Say they want a Dyson vacuum, but they don’t know which one. You’ll be able to come to ShopBack, type in “Dyson” in both web and app, and our product listing will show all the different models of the Dyson, which retailers you can buy those Dysons from, what those prices look like, and the cashback available too.
Across those four different criteria, we can help customers make smarter, better buying decisions. And when I say launching, it’s imminent. In fact, it’s live in most of our markets. Now you can log out of ShopBack Australia in the app and log back into say Singapore and see it in action. And we’re talking about wanting to have as much choice for customers in there as possible, in many markets. That means literally 25 million SKUs or more that customers will be able to come and discover to fulfil their needs.
What it means for merchants is that we move further up the discovery chain and further up the value chain. So instead of the first example, of coming in, searching with a brand in mind and you’ve got to try and figure out which brand sells that product. We’re going to help you find your customers find you because you sell that product and it doesn’t matter if it’s not the cheapest price in the market. People make buying decisions based on brand love, people make buying decisions based on brand reputation. It’s not necessarily the cheapest price.
So we believe that’s going to add value to all of our merchants and certainly move this further away from just the value proposition of being a cashback platform in the affiliate channel, we’ll be a major pre-shopping destination for customers and for merchants, that means capturing more mindshare of customers further up the discovery chain.
I’m looking forward to seeing it. And as you say, it’s shifting away from that conversion touch point to the consideration. So essentially, Google Shopping for cashback.
I’d love to say we’ll take Google on. And in fact, that’s the North Star. I mean, Google is certainly a leader in their product comparison space. But, you know, I think in the context of free shopping destinations, Google has certainly value propositions, I believe that ShopBack has quite unique ones as well in terms of loyalty rewards, and other value propositions that we bring to customers. But yeah, for sure, let’s take Google on.
I think that’s going to provide so much value to the partners which we work with. And I’m really keen to test that out.
Yeah, I’m glad to hear and we’re in very, very final stages of conversations with most of the brands that we work with around what we need and how it works. And we’ve had nothing but an amazing responses, certainly from our brand partners. So now it’s up to us to really educate Australians that they can come to ShopBack, not just to discover brands and earn cashback, but to really start their shopping experience on any of our platforms, no matter what they need, if it’s price comparison or other.
Sure. So last year, to give you a bit of a context, in terms of, you know, I’ve mentioned that there’s 1,400 brands that work on ShopBack. 250, in the back end of 2020, came on board to ShopBack so they were new brands to either the affiliate space or new to ShopBack. So we’re finding that the affiliate channel is certainly growing in terms of awareness in in Australia. It’s probably a lot way behind, you know, some other regions like the US and UK, but the size of the prize is a little hard to ignore now with the size of the channel is.
But what I would say is that certainly, coming from someone who makes marketing decisions in terms of budgets, I’ve got much smarter people who decide on strategy and execution. But in terms of like, where we place our money, it’s very cool to be able to say, let’s isolate down to ShopBack, we’ve got 1.2 million users in Australia, we work on a CPA model. The only time a brand gets charged, commissioned by ShopBack, is on successful sale, and on a predetermined commission as well.
In other words, you could come and list on ShopBack and not pay a cent if you don’t make any sales, yet you’re in front of over 1.2 million customers. In terms of a risk-free channel with quite a proven of track history and performance, I’d say that it actually for anyone who’s looking to diversify their marketing channels and their marketing mix or spend. it’s actually really interesting channel to lean into.
And of course, people like Annabel or others are very approachable and open for a conversation. I’ve worked with many channels, but many of them are a one way conversation. This is our CPC, this is exposure, this is how many slots you’ll be in, with no guarantee on back ends and no discussion around performance. It’s just like, “Oh, wait, sorry, that didn’t work. How about we do something else?” Or, give us more money, basically.
But in the ShopBack sense, we really work very, very closely with our brand partners, understand where they’re needing to get to, what their objectives are, and then design mechanics and campaigns around it using various platforms and mechanics. Cashback isn’t the be all and end all. We can help them discover users in different ways as well.
What’s the best piece or the most impactful piece of advice which you’ve received?
This one’s pretty close to my heart, and certainly something that we empower everyone in ShopBack with as well and that’s soliciting feedback. I firmly believe it doesn’t matter where you are in an organisation or what part of your career you’re at, you really should be asking for feedback. And in terms of quality, the quality of that feedback is obviously the question that you ask, but also how willing the person is on the other end to give you that feedback.
After presentations, I’ll speak to my guys and say, “how did I go? Tell me point blank, you’ve got to give me a couple of really constructive things to work on, please, I don’t want you to just say it was great. Give me constructive things.” So the feedback piece and soliciting feedback with quality questions is super important.
A really interesting thing I learned that Toyota, the car manufacturer. They actually had a problem culturally with people feeling comfortable enough to give feedback. So, on their factory floor, where all their workers are in the production line, they painted a red box. For new employees to the factory, to get their induction done, they had to stand in this red box and give quality constructive feedback. And it was just a way to say to those employees, culturally, we know it’s a bit hard. And maybe you don’t feel comfortable in giving that feedback that you’re in the red box, and you need to give that feedback.
So I really think it’s an interesting thing, and I don’t have red boxes. Maybe I will, but I actually don’t have to, because the guys are great with feedback. But it’s just an interesting way to say to people, “hey, you should be comfortable with giving feedback.” The most important thing I’ve learned, though, is no matter what the feedback is, no matter how much you think it’s relevant, irrelevant. No matter what your mental kind of decision is based on what the other person has given you, all you should say is thank you. You’ve asked for it. They’ve given it. Thank you.
I think that’s important, asking for feedback with an open heart and accepting it when it comes in. I think it’s fantastic advice.
Yeah, thanks. And I can do better by asking for more feedback. I really think that the beliefs that I’ve gone through, the learning leaps and the awareness, I think it’s a lot around self-awareness and being able to kind of ask the right questions and introduce that into your daily life. I think that takes you further than reading any book will.
Brilliant. Thank you so much, Angus. It has been brilliant catching up with you and covered a lot of ground and thank you for your time. I really enjoyed it.
Pleasure. Thanks so much, Annabel.