Why the Google whiz turned gro­cer

For­mer Google strate­gist Amir Konigs­berg is us­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence at the in­ter­net gi­ant to make mySu­per­mar­ket into one of the UK’s most vis­ited sites. By Candice Krieger

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page -

WITH A ma­tur­ing on­line mar­ket, gro­cery web­sites need to cre­ate new ways to stand out to price-savvy cus­tomers. Stay­ing ahead of the game is gro­cery price com­par­i­son site mySu­per­mar­ket.co.uk, which com­pares the cost of prod­ucts among the big four on­line su­per­mar­kets — Tesco, Asda, Sains­bury’s and Ocado (Waitrose) — and lets users cost their bas­kets as they shop.

Founded three years ago by Jewish en­tre­pre­neur Johnny Stern, who has since left the com­pany, mySu­per­mar­ket has a 3.5 per cent mar­ket share — greater than Ocado — and has close to one mil­lion monthly users. Amir Konigs­berg, the firm’s vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, who has taken over from Mr Stern, be­lieves it can be one of the most vis­ited sites in the UK.

Is­raeli-born Mr Konigs­berg is a for­mer strate­gist at Google. It was there that mySu­per­mar­ket “caught my eye”. He has been in­volved in the com­pany, which uses tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped in Is­rael, since its in­cep­tion but says there has been a con­sid­er­able in­crease in the num­ber of users over the past 12 months as con­sumers seek more cost­ef­fec­tive ways to shop in the re­ces­sion. “The site al­lows users to save within an ex­ist­ing su­per­mar­ket. That has been one of the main fo­cuses of this year,” says the 32-year-old, claim­ing you can save up to 20 per cent on your av­er­age weekly shop, and around £1,000 per year. “That’s a pretty nice hol­i­day and all by swap­ping the like for like in the re­tailer of your choice, without even switch­ing be­tween them.”

But Mr Konigs­berg ac­knowl­edges that the site must con­tinue to in­no­vate to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly as the in­ter­net’s role in gro­cery shop­ping is in­creas­ing. In April, Tesco said on­line sales had in­creased by 20 per cent year on year, while Sains­bury’s re­ported web sales up by 20 per cent for the 12 weeks to 13 June. Ad­ver­tis­ing, which makes up about half of the com­pany’s rev­enue, has be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant. “We are bas­ing our web­site around the need for a more au­then­tic shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We have en­abled tech­nolo­gies, rev­o­lu­tion­ary to the fast mov­ing con­sumer goods (FMCG) in­dus­try, that al­low ad­ver­tis­ers to tar­get users based on the con­tents of their trol­ley.

“This type of su­per-tar­geted ad­ver­tis­ing is great for the user be­cause they re­ceive ad­verts rel­e­vant to them, and it’s great for the ad­ver­tiser be­cause it can drive sales. So far, this is go­ing very well.” For in­stance, Pam­pers will tar­get some­one who may have pre­vi­ously bought nap­pies or other baby prod­ucts. “They won’t be wast­ing money on some­one shop­ping for baked beans.

“When I was at Google, I learnt that ac­count­abil­ity and mea­sur­a­bil­ity are key and this is what mar­keters need to un­der­stand. That is the stage of the in­ter­net we were at three or four years ago, and it is slowly com­ing to the gro­cery in­dus­try,” says Mr Konigs­berg, who di­vides his time be­tween Lon­don and Tel Aviv.

Is it not a tough time for ad­ver­tis­ing in gen­eral, though? “It is hard but we are do­ing very well, as op­posed to the food and gro­cery in­dus­try in gen­eral. The FMCG in­dus­try is a bit of a late comer to on­line but they have jumped at the op­por­tu­nity of ad­ver­tis­ing on a chan­nel which isn’t just brands. It has bot­tom line im­pact be­cause we are tar­get­ing users at dif­fer­ent stages in the con­sumer buy­ing cy­cle.”

Be­sides, the com­pany is also ben­e­fit­ting from its other main rev­enue stream: In­sights, a paid-for ser­vice that pro­vides mar­keters, brands and re­tail­ers with real-time price data and trends. For in­stance, Asda’s fa­mous pocket-tap­ping ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign uses mySu­per­mar­ket data to claim it is the UK’s low­est price su­per­mar­ket.

Since its in­cep­tion, mySu­per­mar­ket has grown from a sim­ple price com­par­i­son propo­si­tion to in­clude a raft of con­sumer of­fer­ings and has brought in high-pro­file names, such as David Soskin, the for­mer Cheapflights CEO as vice-chair of its board. It now pro­vides in­for­ma­tion to brands, in­clud­ing Unilever and Kel­logg’s, and in­vest­ment banks. “What is unique about mySu­per­mar­ket is the abil­ity to pro­vide up­dates about of­fers and prices in real time to all man­u­fac­tur­ers and brands. It en­ables you to fol­low the cor­re­la­tion be­tween pro­mo­tions and on­line sales, which is a very pow­er­ful thing. We know which pro­mo­tions

work and which fail and that is very valu­able data for the con­sumer gro­cery in­dus­try.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Konigs­berg, the av­er­age trol­ley cost in July 2009 was £80.80, up from £80.10 in July 2008. “Con­sid­er­ing that food inflation is run­ning at about four per cent, it shows that shop­pers have man­aged to keep an eye on what they are buy­ing to keep their costs down.” He adds: “We have def­i­nitely seen an in­crease in the num­ber of peo­ple switch­ing be­tween shops search­ing for deals and down shift­ing to own-brand prod­ucts.”

Re­tail­ers are also hav­ing to change their tac­tics to keep their cus­tomers. Tesco, which has been los­ing ground to Asda, Sains­bury’s and Mor­risons, re­cently dou­bled the num­ber of points on of­fer through its Club­card loy­alty scheme in what an­a­lysts viewed as an at­tempt to close the gap with its ri­vals.

“We had seen a trend of shop­pers de­sert­ing Waitrose and M&S in favour of Asda, Tesco and even the hard dis­coun­ters: Aldi, Lidl and Netto,” says Mr Konigs­berg. “How­ever, with the high-end re­tail­ers be­lat­edly start­ing to fo­cus on cut­ting prices as well, many shop­pers are re­turn­ing to their favourite stores, con­fi­dent that they can now get their gro­ceries for a lower price than six months ago. In ad­di­tion, food inflation, which rose by ap­prox­i­mately 16 per cent be­tween 2007 and 2008, has now dropped off, mak­ing the price of bas­ket of gro­ceries slightly cheaper than it was a year ago.”

A PhD can­di­date in phi­los­o­phy and cog­ni­tive sci­ence, Mr Konigs­berg grad­u­ated from the He­brew Uni­ver­sity be­fore join­ing Google in 2005, where he helped de­velop their op­er­a­tions in emerg­ing mar­kets. Al­though Mr Konigs­berg has been work­ing with mySu­per­mar­ket for the past three years, he did not of­fi­cially join the com­pany un­til last year. “I was at Google when I be­came aware of the site. I met with Johnny and fell in love with the prod­uct.”

The site has se­cured fund­ing from Manch­ester-based com­mu­nal fig­ures Joshua Rowe and David Ham­mel­burger, in ad­di­tion to around £3 mil­lion from Grey­lock, the ven­ture-cap­i­tal firm that backed Face­book, and from Is­raeli ven­ture-cap­i­tal fund Pi­tango.

As for other on­line op­por­tu­ni­ties, he says: “There are loads of op­por­tu­ni­ties in re­tail to help shop­pers with a more con­ve­nient ex­pe­ri­ence. It is about mak­ing peo­ple do less work, while em­pow­er­ing them with in­for­ma­tion. Any start-up that is able to do this — treat the con­sumer as the king — will win.”

Big hit: Gro­cery com­par­i­son web­site mySu­per­mar­ket pro­vides Asda with data for its fa­mous pocket-the-dif­fer­ence ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign

MySu­per­mar­ket’s Amir Konigs­berg

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