Carousell’s growth guru on making secondhand the first choice of consumers

Online marketplace Carousell has hired former Redmart marketer Penny Cox as its new vice-president (VP) of growth. For Cox, joining the classifieds brand is more than a job, it’s about pushing the sustainable benefits of buying secondhand.

Cox was previously senior vice-president for a regional supermarket, and vice-president of commercial and marketing at Redmart, where she helped grow its customer base of heartland Singaporeans.

Speaking to The Drum, Cox says: “In the early days at Redmart, we had to look closely at our customer base and compare it to the customer base we wanted to attract, and figure out how to better appeal to those households. That meant paying closer attention to local favourite products, being faster to adapt to trends and play closer attention to pricing. By having a laser-focus on this mission, we broke through into the heartland Singaporean customer segment.

“I want to bring this same focus on the customer to Carousell so that our users love the app so much that they want to come back again and again. I’m excited to work on Carousell’s mission to inspire the world to start selling and buying.

“I try to buy secondhand as much as I can and I want to leave a better world for my two-year-old daughter. I’m passionate about sustainability and I hope that Carousell eventually inspires a lifestyle where secondhand becomes the first choice,” she explains.

Cox is the most recent high profile hire for Carousell, which has spent the past few years poaching talent, including former SPH exec Su-Lin Tan as vice president of operations. More recently Lewis Ng joined as chief commercial officer and JJ Eastwood came on board as managing director of advertising.

As a result, Carousell is one of the best-known marketplace platforms in the South East Asia region. However, Cox explains that despite this, the brand faces challenges encouraging loyalty and becoming a go-to destination for big ticket items.

“Carousell is one of the pioneers in the online mobile classifieds space and in many ways is still widely associated with its undeniable strength as a general marketplace. In recent years, Carousell has successfully branched into high-value verticals such as property, autos and luxury. One of the challenges here is that the motivations for buying and selling in these various categories are very different — buying a secondhand mobile phone is very different from looking for a new place to live. So we need to offer them different experiences and messages. Maintaining a customer focus is the most important part of achieving breakthroughs in growth,” she says.

Cox is one of many people starting a new role during coronavirus lockdown restrictions. However, she sees this as a way to understand the changes that are happening due to the virus and rethink what they mean for a business like Carousell.

“Right from the get-go, I’ve been working from home due to the situation we’re in, and I’m acutely aware of what a major shift this moment in time is to our economy. In a way, Carousell is uniquely placed to help support our communities through difficult times by giving everyone the possibility to buy and sell – whether you need extra cash, or you want to find something that you may not be able to get your hands on in stores, or you just want to deck out your home office,” she explains.

As for the shifts in behaviour that she’s seen since being at Carousell, sectors like toys and games, gym equipment, home decor and electronics have been in higher demand. Fulfilling these demands has led the platform to swiftly ink partnerships with like-minded brands.

“To facilitate this we have partnered with several local delivery service providers like Blu, Gogovan, uParcel and Grab Express to offer easy shipping solutions and discounted shipping rates for our users, and we expect this trend for deliveries over meetups to continue after lockdowns end,” adds Cox.

Adapting to the changes presented by the global pandemic is about more than just fulfilment partnerships according to Cox, who points to Carousell’s involvement with projects that help the community, such as a $2m donation of ad inventory to non-profits.

“Aside from adapting to suit the changing needs of its consumers, Carousell has also had the opportunity to rally its community to help one another. With its community as one of its biggest strengths, Carousell was able to launch several ’#supportlocal’ initiatives to help the different communities that needed support, from local F&Bs that need a platform to operate, to retailers that need to establish an online presence having closed their brick and mortar stores, to creative freelancers who needed a platform to sell their merchandise and services, and even charities who needed more visibility to raise funds, whom we assisted with a $2 million dollar advertising support programme.

“As the situation develops, we’re working out how we can be the most useful to our communities right now. My role will be to consolidate these efforts across our regions and ensure that we continue to grow through the crisis, coming out the other side stronger,” she says.

While Cox is starting her role from home, she will be leading all the existing marketing functions at Carousell, from regional marketing to digital marketing, as well brand and communications. In addition, she will lead its growth team, encompassing product teams that focused on buyer and seller experience.

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