It all just clicks for Expansys

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As a global online technology company, UK e-tailer Expansys is at the forefront of consumers’ increasing desire to shop on the net. Expansys tells Michael House how it plans to build on a good position

According to statistics released by the UK’s Payments Council earlier this month, around 37 per cent of the UK population over the age of 18 (18 million people) now favour shopping online to shopping in the high street.

So it’s little wonder Manchester-based online handset retailer Expansys finds itself in a healthy position and a “leading global online technology superstore”, according to its chief executive Anthony Catterson (pictured).

“Online has had real growth over the last five to 10 years. What you are seeing now is a maturing of the online market in the way that physical retail matured historically,” says Catterson.

With operations now in 50 countries globally, including Hong Kong, and a headcount of more than 200 staff, Expansys is one of the leading online retailers. It supplies consumers and businesses alike with an array of tech products – including a strong emphasis on smartphones.

The successes are shown in its six-month results to October 31, 2010, announced in December, which saw it post a pre-tax profit of £1.4 million, compared with a £0.2 million loss for the same period in 2009. The result was the first profit the business has posted since it was publicly listed in 2007.

It stated that notable areas for the increase came directly from sales of smartphone handsets, which were up 32 per cent year on year.

But it’s not simply a case of having the contracts and watching the money come in.

Catterson believes companies need to differentiate themselves from the crowd and provide customers with things that their competitors can’t. He points to attributes such as good value and good service as “givens” and a failure to provide them will ultimately see a company lose out on market share.

“What they (online consumers) want are retailers who understand the product-set intimately and are able to provide real and relevant information when they are making their selection decisions,” says Catterson.

“There is a role for Expansys in the cellular and wireless space as a specialist, compared to the broader competition that we have, whether it’s in the UK or in Europe itself.”

Reaching out

It’s this specialist approach that has allowed Expansys to gain what Catterson describes as “an incredibly loyal” and “solid” customer base. And he admits the company, to the general public, is not a household name, labelling it a “well-kept secret”.

But, although more than able to retain and please customers, Expansys’ “well-kept secret” nature has also stopped it emerging completely into the public domain and in the process acquiring the brand recognition that other online retailers enjoy.

Although Catterson would like to establish its branding to the wider public, he says he has to play his cards carefully as any bold move could alienate sections of the client base.

The approach, Catterson says, is to market a non-traditional service in an non-traditional way by turning to new media, such as social networking sites and partnerships, as potential opportunities.

He highlights the partnership with Channel 5 programme The Gadget Show, which stars Jason Bradbury, who appears regularly in Expansys-branded YouTube gadget reviews.

Catterson says this form of marketing allows Expansys to become instantly recognisable and to bond with existing and untapped customer bases. It also, importantly, keeps marketing spend to a minimum.

“Jason (Bradbury) has been creating bespoke video content for us for over six months and we are really pleased with what he has bought to Expansys,” Catterson says.

“It’s brilliant to bring him and Expansys together in a non-commercial way and allows us to re-emphasise the kind of brand credibility (we are after) by saying, “The nation’s number one geek is an Expansys partner, so this is a brand you should know a little bit more about.”

A recent April Fool’s joke carried out on camera by Bradbury and Expansys, in which he said an iPad 2 could take ‘X-ray photographs’ if it was wrapped in cling film, was posted on YouTube and received close to 185,000 views – over 150,000 within the first two days of it airing.

It was brand exposure that “delighted” Catterson.

On top of Bradbury’s video appearances, Expansys had a stand at the Gadget Show Live, at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham earlier this month.

The event gave the company further opportunities to promote its relationship with Bradbury – he made regular appearances at the stand – as well as enhance its brand exposure through a rare opportunity to meet and talk to customers in a traditional store environment.

Strong platform

Catterson claims Expansys has built a credible platform for device manufacturers and accessory providers to launch their products. He says Expansys’ ability to push products onto its site, quickly and effectively, makes it a valuable partner for any company looking to get its product to market.

“What makes Expansys so attractive for these companies is that we are the only people they can talk to that can theoretically launch a product in 50 countries worldwide, overnight,” he says.

“We have this fantastic technology platform, with local language, local currency and brilliant development capability.”

But Catterson insists it’s not just about getting a new device and putting its image up on the Expansys website.

Expansys has deals in place to run and operate HTC and Motorola’s European accessory stores. It was also a major partner for accessories manufacturer Parrot during its launch of its AR Drone helicopter – a remote control flying gadget, controlled by a smartphone.

Expansys took control of major supply chain tasks for the product, from online ordering to logistics capabilities.

The fact that the retailer doesn’t have the costs associated with an extensive store infrastructure also lets it take advantage of products in very short order. It helps take the relationship with product partners to “the next level”, as Catterson describes it.

Full article in Mobile News issue 487 (April 25, 2011).

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