At www.anything.lk its nearly always 50% off. Since they launched a few weeks ago, the website has offered local customers deals on restaurants, boutique hotels, clothing stores, cakes and hair dressers – their best selling deal last month was a Rs.1000 voucher from Odel which they sold for Rs.500. Just over 600 people bought it. Barely a month since they launched that first deal, the fledgling company has 5,000 fans on Facebook (and counting).
They’re advertising everywhere – over email and SMS, over the radio, in the papers and even on the sides of buses – and they hope to replicate the success of websites like GroupOn. But unlike GroupOn, you don’t have to wait for a specific number of vouchers to be sold before the deal becomes available to all. It’s yours if you’re willing to pay.
Bright blue is a theme in their offices on Jawatte road. We’re here to meet Sabir Esufali and Jeggan Rajendram, both co-founders of anything.lk. Over coffee we talk about the first month of deals. What makes anything.lk particularly noteworthy is the sheer convenience they offer customers. They’re fully trilingual for a start – “we want our users to be able to interact with us in the language they feel most comfortable in.” They’re refining that service as they go along.
They’re proud of their staff and say they’re emphasising creative ways of presenting new deals and ensuring that users have the same quality of experience in every language. Considering that only a small percentage of the population have credit cards, they’ve also chosen to offer multiple payment methods. If you don’t have a credit card, you can pay through your dialog phone connection or pick it up directly from their offices. If you don’t have the time to go to them, they’ll come to you for Rs.100. They see themselves as anything but elite and judging by their online interactions, they keep their service patient and warm. “We just want to invite more people to the table.”
50% is a tantalising discount by any standards – it’s why the lowest they’ll ever go is 40% say the team, anything less isn’t good enough. One of their shareholders is Ensogo.com – South Asia’s biggest daily-deals company – and they use the same technology on their website. Linking up with Ensago helped them fast track setting up anything.lk. “We actually started in 2008 but the business model was very different. It was more of a business directory,” says Jeggan in his capacity as Head of Operations.
Their new model presents its own challenges. In a town where everything moves at a relaxed pace, customers don’t always understand that once a deal is done, it’s done. “Everything is processed in real time,” explains Sabir, adding that promotional codes are carefully tracked and vouchers can only be issued while a deal is still live. This might be anything from 2 to 5 days, but a countdown running under the deal keeps you updated. Fortunately, once bought, your voucher will be valid for up to 2 - 3 months – so you can take your time about spending it. Read the fine print though before you buy one, every merchant imposes their own conditions on the offer.
For the merchants it’s an interesting opportunity. It all boils down to the cost of acquiring a customer, says the team. Traditional venues of advertising can be very expensive – but a voucher will bring in a customer and likely their friends as well. Of course, once you have them, you have to keep them, and then ensure they come back. Their reasoning is simple: “take a new restaurant that is far away. You don’t have any incentive to try it. “If you have a 50% discount, then you have incentive. As long as he deals with you well, you’ll go back.”
A merchant provides a limited number of vouchers and these are sold on a first come first serve basis. A deal typically goes live around 8:30 a.m. and all the email alerts are delivered by noon. They take accusations of spamming very seriously and have chosen to have a U.S based company regulate their emails. If you choose to unsubscribe, your request goes directly to the U.S where you are taken off the list. Apparently, the penalty for spamming imposed by the FTC, per email is 16,000 dollars. It’s why it’s unlikely you’ll receive an unwelcome email from them.
They choose their deals based on what they think people will like, and say they take care to ensure that two similar deals don’t run back to back. Sites like GroupOn are fun for people who like to recruit friends and family, and they’ve tried to incorporate that element by making participation a big part of their website. You can share a deal via Facebook, Twitter and Windows Live Messenger. Every time someone you invited makes a purchase, you earn credits. Eventually, they hope to have more than one deal available. They say they’re also looking forward to the challenge presented by legitimate competition. That won’t be a long time coming – a few, such as www.groupganum.com, www.groupuplanka.com and http://smartpola.lk are already up.
In the meantime, every voucher sold is an accomplishment. For this young company, the only place to go is up.