21 October 2016
HKTV boss Ricky Wong replies to a customer on Facebook (inset). Photos: Facebook
HKTV boss Ricky Wong replies to a customer on Facebook (inset). Photos: Facebook

Can HKTV survive with its new online shopping mall business?

“Yes, I am really Ricky Wong. Can I help you?”

Wong, chairman of embattled Hong Kong Television Network Ltd., was replying to a customer on a social media platform.

The customer had made a purchase worth more than HK$400 on HKTV’s online shopping mall and was entitled to a free coffee machine, but the system said the freebie was out of stock.

He wrote on his social media page that Wong had set a trap to lure him to make the purchase.

In online shopping, the confidence of customers in the shopping platform is a key element of success given that shoppers rely on the platform’s owners to ensure product quality and for after-sales service.

That was the likely reason Wong was sitting in front of his computer at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night to monitor the response of the public to his newly launched shopping mall business.

Wong, who is well-known for his skill in communicating with customers, settled the dispute by giving his personal guarantee to the customer that if his order was over HK$400, he would get a coffee machine.

His rapid response earned him praise from the complainant, who said Wong was “a true gentleman”.

Such open, transparent customer service on a social network platform from HKTV’s chairman could become part of the marketing campaign for its online shopping service.

The company has kicked off a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to promote its newly launched online supermarket, part of its online shopping mall.

The online supermarket directly competes against the two market leaders, Wellcome and ParkNshop, as well as 759 Store, in the online shopping arena.

Since last Christmas, HKTV has beta-tested its online shopping platform while it waits for the result of a judicial review of the government’s decision to refuse its application for a free-to-air television license.

The firm aims to be the city’s biggest online shopping mall, offering the widest range of products from more than 100 merchants.

And now HKTV has expanded its online business to include its own supermarket, indicating the firm has shifted its business model from being just a platform operator to a front-line player, since it is responsible for maintaining its inventory.

A random check of the HKTV website suggests the company is trying its best to narrow its product offering to catch up with the offerings of its two main competitors, but there’s still room for improvement.

For example, the HKTV online mall doesn’t offer 8 kg packages of rice, which could be the result of the two market leaders applying pressure on its suppliers.

However, many big names, like Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and Hop Hing Oil Group Ltd., have teamed up with HKTV to have their products delivered directly to its customers’ homes within 24 hours, which could bring the prices below those in traditional channels, because this avoids having to pay distributor and shelf fees.

To promote the debut of the online supermarket, HKTV has poured money into marketing to build its brand.

It is running a campaign in the city’s 51 MTR stations and giving away geographically specific freebies to customers who buy more than HK$400 worth of goods in a single order.

For example, customers living in Quarry Bay will get a coffee machine, those in Sai Wan Ho will get a child’s dining set, those in Lok Fu will receive underwear, and so on.

In addition, HKTV is also offering cash rebates of up to 10 percent of the selling price for selected products.

While Wong has ceased investing in television production and is focusing on the online shopping business, many Hongkongers are still looking forward to new TV programs from HKTV.

Several comments on the social network argued that HKTV should quit the online shopping business and return to TV production.

Some expressed their sadness that the firm seems to have abandoned its TV business.

Their comments reflect how the high quality of HKTV’s productions has changed the way some Hongkongers watch TV, and they are unable to go back to the kind of programs offered by existing broadcasters like Television Broadcasts Ltd.

It is difficult for outsiders to speculate whether HKTV can succeed on the online shopping battlefield, now that it is no longer producing TV programs for its own channel.

The company has invested more than HK$10 million in building its own home delivery team for the online shopping service.

Now, HKTV needs to boost the gross merchandise value of its shopping platform to increase revenue from the merchants and customers.

With more than HK$1.8 billion in cash and available-for-sale securities, HKTV is in a good position to generate revenue from interest income, online shopping service fees and the sale of existing programs, so as to buy time before it gets its broadcast license.

That assumes that Wong still wants to be a television tycoon.

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EJ Insight writer

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