CHINA. Chinese travellers are fast adopting the Jessica’s Secret app – it enables them to price compare thousands of products to find deals when shopping overseas – whether in duty free or department stores. From just over a quarter of a million downloads a year ago, 1.5 million users are forecast in a year’s time.

The app collects data across 40 countries from more than 300 retail outlets. According to Apple’s App Store, about 12 million real-time goods prices are available and the app updates those prices every 30 minutes.

In an exclusive interview, Jessica’s Secret’s Founder, Chairman and CEO Mirko Wang, tells The Moodie Davitt Report’s Contributing Editor Kevin Rozario all about a business venture that has become a ‘must have’ for outbound PRC travellers. This is Wang’s first interview with a global media title.

Kevin Rozario: When did you launch Jessica’s Secret, what was the aim, and why the name?

Mirko Wang: “We predict there will be 1.5 million users in a year’s time”

Mirko Wang: I founded the Jessica company in January 2015 and the app was formally launched in December 2015. The very first version focused on price comparison of duty free shops and shopping malls for Chinese travelling overseas because it is considered essential by every tourist. Over the past three years, we have concentrated on this function in the travel retail industry.

In China, the name of Jessica is used by many young girls. We imagined a Chinese girl who likes to travel, to shop, and share the ‘secret’ of saving money with her girlfriends. Such secrets are very easily spread!

Where did the idea come from for price comparing when shopping abroad, and was your target always the PRC Chinese?

Before starting the business, I was a travel enthusiast and travelled abroad every year. When I went shopping, my friends and I had a problem: which country and which duty free shop or shopping mall was cheaper to buy from en route?

I am a smoker. When I first went to Europe, I thought Dunhill was cheaper in Europe than in China, because Europe is the origin of Dunhill. I was wrong. The price of Dunhill tobacco in Europe was five times that in China’s Sunrise Duty Free shop.

Many of my friends then asked me to help find out whether a cosmetic was cheaper in China duty free or in Japan duty free. It took me a lot of time. So I thought, why not develop some software to give me this information? This would save a lot of time, energy and money.

When I started to create the app, I wanted to build a great international company with travellers from different countries using it when they go shopping abroad. For example, some Cartier products in Canada are more expensive than in Hong Kong – thus many foreigners also need a price comparison app, not only the Chinese.

Which nationalities mainly use the app today, how many languages is it available in, and how has it grown?

We are an Internet company in China. Because we have a better understanding of the usage habits of Chinese users, we are now concentrating mainly on them. For the time being more than 95% of users are Chinese tourists.

But we have developed an English version and we hope to have more English-speakers using our app. In future, we will also develop Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Russian and other multilingual versions. Because of staffing and capital constraints, the English version is currently less powerful than the Chinese version.

In China, Jessica’s secret is very popular. Every month tens of thousands of new users download it through word-of-mouth, and the monthly user retention rate is as high as 40%. There were 262,709 activated download users one year ago and today it is 649,141. We predict there will be 1.5 million in a year’s time. With the support of external capital, we believe there will be even more rapid growth.

According to the App Store, you manage to provide 12 million pieces of real-time prices of goods, updated every 30 minutes. How do you do that?

We have pricing updates across 40 countries, and more than 300 shopping malls and duty free shops. In this respect, Jessica is more like a big-data company. We have solved the problem of global price data collection through IT. Because of the huge amount of data, it is impossible to collect and update data through manual operations.

How many duty free retailers do you show pricing for, and do you work in partnership with them, or can you get the prices in other ways?

At present, our price data includes 40 duty free retailers such as Sunrise, King Power, DFS, Shilla, Lotte, Everrich and so on. Most of the data are obtained through technology, though some of the duty free shops also provide data directly to us.

It is worth mentioning that we are not only an Internet big-data company. We also assist some duty free shops in promoting their businesses in China, such as King Power, Everrich, DFS – and even help them with Internet optimisation in the Chinese market. We have always enjoyed a good reputation, and maintain good cooperation with many duty free shops.

At present, Jessica is providing online discount vouchers to Chinese consumers, through both our app and other online platforms, and the cooperating stores include DFS, King Power, Shilla, Everrich and others. We hope more tourism retailers will partner with us to provide shopping coupons for Chinese tourists.

According to our statistics, Jessica ranks in the top three on many domestic outbound tourism platforms such as Ctrip, Qunar, Alipay, Tongcheng, Qiongyou, and so on.

Are duty free shops an important component of the app and are you looking to add more?

Duty free shops are a key part. Chinese tourists like to shop in duty free shops. At the same time, we are also adding some traditional department stores, luxury stores and electrical shopping malls. Examples include Macy’s, Harrods, and Power Buy (an electrical retailer in Thailand). These are also places of interest for China’s tourists.

Are app users mostly comparing prices in duty free stores, or regular shopping malls when they travel, and what do they look for?

From our current data, users are mainly focused on duty free shops, followed by luxury goods shops. The largest number of searches in our app is for Estée Lauder, for luxury it is Louis Vuitton. Because our main user group is young females, the most-compared products are cosmetics, bags and jewellery.

Many users are keen watchers of Sunrise Duty Free because it’s in China. King Power, DFS, and Lotte also get a lot of attention. Our consumers mainly use our app during the planning phase before their travel, so China ranks at the top based on location of the search, followed by Japan and Thailand.

You must be sitting on a huge store of data about travelling consumers and their buying habits. Have you leveraged this in any way?  

From our data, we can see which brands Chinese tourists are interested in, which specific products they search for, which country’s price data they check the most, and in which country they open the app most frequently. We are still trying to dig out other consumer behaviour data. However, for the moment – and based on our current business needs – we are more focused on creating a good consumer experience with our app.

Do you have many competitor apps in the market?

Fortunately, we have not found any powerful competitors so far. Of course we have seen some companies try and mimic our app in China, but it really requires strong technical expertise and a deep understanding of the tourism retail industry. This in-depth understanding is critical.

Is Beijing Miracle Capital Investment Company the 100% owner of the app?

Yes, Miracle Capital is the owner of the app, and I’m the Chairman and CEO. Luckily, during the growth stage we received support from several prestige venture capital firms and individual investors, including Cherubic Ventures and Hua Yao Capital; Wang Gongquan, a very famous VC investor (former CDH fund partner); and Michael Tong. They provide me with a lot of support and resources in the process of entrepreneurship, not just money.

Jessica’s Secret as marketed at the App Store for iPhone

What is your development/expansion strategy in the coming year, and in the medium term (next five years)?

The company now has three main lines of business: the Jessica’s Secret app, Jessica’s Media and Jessica’s IT. With the Jessica’s Secret app we hope to offer more price services to more tourists in the world so they can save more. We hope to improve the English version and develop other language services as I mentioned and become a world-class Internet company.

We are also in contact with duty free shops and some international brands in order to develop a pre-order function for tourists before travelling. We know this will be a big trend in the future in the travel retail industry. At present, brands like Shiseido, Clinique and financial services institutions such as UnionPay already place advertisements on our app. As more consumers use our app we believe more brands will advertise with us to promote themselves to consumers. Based on our big data, some companies are now also purchasing pricing data reports from us for analysis.

Jessica’s Media, our marketing service in China, focuses on social media such as Weibo, WeChat Moments, Baidu SEM, and some media that cover Chinese tourists. We know the Chinese market, and which websites or media Chinese tourists check, book tickets and hotels on, and what social software they use. We can therefore target precisely these users. We have been working with several duty free shops for some years, and gained a high level of service satisfaction.

China has a special Internet environment and Jessica’s IT has a role there. Many foreign duty free shops or shopping mall websites can’t be opened in China, just as we can’t use Google or Facebook. We are helping our customers to develop a Chinese pre-order website business, in addition to network environment optimisation. With our extensive experience we will help more duty free shops to solve this problem in the future.

To sum up, we are focused on making our app even better – this is our core business. At the same time we are using our marketing and technical expertise to serve global duty free shops, so that they can target the Chinese consumers more precisely.

Mirko Wang’s rise to the top

January 2015 – Present: Jessica’s Secret – Founder, Chairman, and CEO

November 2011 – December 2014: Miracle Capital – Founder, Partner

September 2007 – October 2011: China Council for International Investment Promotion Investment and Financing Committee (CIFC), Director of the Members Department

September 2005 – August 2007: Tixa Tech Group – Director of Product