Epermarket, the online supermarket for the expat community in Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, celebrates its 3rd anniversary this week. Jean-Yves Lu, founder of the company, spoke to Shanghaiist on how it all came about and where he’s taking Epermarket to next.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Jean-Yves. First off, what inspired you to start Epermarket?
Well, after working in France for 16 years, I, my wife, and our two young daughters moved back to China. After we moved back, I became very concerned with providing my family with safe and nutritious food. I was dissatisfied with what was available on the market, and soon found out that I was not alone. Back in France, I gained a lot of knowledge within the food and beverage industry, so I was determined to find a way to provide expat families like my own with safe, healthy, and affordable food, and that’s how Epermarket started.
How has Epermarket changed since you first started?
All I can say is, it has changed a lot! When we first started 3 years ago, we only had 17 employees and an initial product offering of only 300 items. Epermarket today has become a full scale operation with over 100 employees, a website in 4 different languages, and over 4,000 of the best products that we find from around the world.
What challenges have you faced over the years?
When I think back, I’m delighted by how far we’ve come. If it wasn’t for the patience, understanding, and loyalty of our customers, we wouldn’t be who we are today. When we first started, we had an average of 18% out of stock items, and… I hate to admit it, but a late delivery average of 27%. My team and I have worked hard to improve this, and I’m proud to say that Epermarket has significantly reduced these numbers. Currently, out of stock is less than 0.8%, and our late delivery average is now less than 0.2%.
How does Epermarket differentiate itself from the competition?
Epermarket is different from our competitors in how we never compromise our values. Our mission is to serve the Expat community the best we can, and we can’t do that if ‘good enough’ is acceptable. Everything we do, from how we choose our suppliers, how wide our product range is, to how we do our best to connect with the community, reflects this. Everything has a strong vision with attention to detail, and that’s what sets us apart.
How do you choose your suppliers?
From the beginning, we have always been very selective about who we use as suppliers. We only work with suppliers who have appropriate business licenses and certificates. In the past, it was very frustrating because we have had to refuse many products because they just don’t have the licenses. The huge improvements in our product portfolio are really the work of our Product Manager, Peggy Liguori. She’s done a phenomenal job with choosing our suppliers and product line, and she really deserves a large portion of the credit. Peggy works tirelessly to find products that our customers’ request, is closely involved in how we choose suppliers, and is meticulous in her approach to taste testing all the products we sell.
There’s been a lot of concern about food safety in China in recent years. What does Epermarket do to maintain the safety of your products?
Well it starts with Peggy, who does routine visits and checks with our suppliers, and then it extends down to our warehouse, where we have a full time team that controls the quality of our product and storage conditions. This attention to control has once again been recognized by ISO 9001 when they renewed our certification recently. ISO 9001 is the one of the most widely known quality management system certifications in the world. It is a very difficult process to become certified, and you need to be recertified every year with an on-site audit to make sure that you are in compliance with their standards.
So what’s next for the company?
Going forward, we want to communicate the core values of our company more. We want our customers to understand that we are more than just a supermarket. We recently changed our slogan to ‘Expect more’ because why shouldn’t the expat community expect more? Over the last year, we have been working hard to improve current projects, such as Green Eper, our green initiative, and have continued to engage the community at events and through other venues, such as our sponsorship of the Shanghai Rugby Club. The community has given us so much, and now it’s time to give back. We’ve recently partnered up with Home Sweet Home, which is a great organization that helps people with special needs, and will be doing more with them in the upcoming year.
Tell us more about Green Eper.
Green Eper is our way of reducing our carbon footprint. It’s a concept really. The core part is a recycling program in which customers can fill our delivery boxes with recyclables and return the box to us upon their next delivery. For every 5 boxes of recycling that are returned to us, we donate a tree to the Million Tree Project; they plant the trees in Inner Mongolia to help with the desertification there. To add to our green efforts, we have changed our packaging to create less waste, as well as renewed our fleet with fuel-efficient cars.
Thanks for talking with us today Jean Yves, we really appreciate you taking the time for us today.
It’s no problem, I’m happy to. All in all, I’m very excited about the future of Epermarket. We’re on a good path to fulfilling our goal to become an indispensable resource for all expats in China, and every day is a step closer to that.