The Crunch: As a 17-year-old avid gamer living in Canada, Derek Szeto got tired of finding great video game deals in the US but few at home. So he created RedFlagDeals — a site where Canadian shoppers could share and discuss discounts. Today, RedFlagDeals’ employees are as passionate about bargain-hunting as the site’s visitors, and they work together with users on forums to highlight savings. RedFlagDeals is a distinctive feature of Canada’s unique e-commerce landscape — and is growing exponentially through a community built on cooperation and trust.
In 2000, Derek Szeto was a teenage video game enthusiast. Whenever he went online searching for deals on his favorite games, he found great discounts in the US — but sparse bargains in his home country, Canada.
That’s when he got the idea to build RedFlagDeals. He wanted to create a community where he and his friends could share and discuss Canadian video game bargains — and fans quickly flocked to the site.
“Our growth has been entirely organic,” said Jeff Novak, RedFlagDeals’ Brand Director. “From video games, it grew into electronics, and then from there into multiple categories.”
Soon, savvy deal-hunters joined the forums to discuss how to get the best mortgage rate, how to price match, where to buy the best eyeglasses, how to find an affordable landscaper, and more. “It’s a natural extension from where we started,” said Jeff.
In addition to everyday users who want to find a quick deal before they head out to do their grocery shopping, a strong subsection of RedFlagDeals’ users are people who live and breathe great deals.
“We have a very active forum community. The cornerstone of our site is the kind of user who likes to be an insider and who wants to be the person to discover great bargains no one knows about,” Jeff said.
RedFlagDeals continues to grow its reach, even launching a credit card selector tool. The site’s visitors can pick features they want — such as no annual fee or a low interest rate — and are shown credit cards that match their criteria.
“We’re all about creating content our users love,” said Jeff.
A Connected Community of Deal-Savvy Employees and Users
How does RedFlagDeals know what its users will love? It starts with the company culture.
“Everyone who works here loves a great deal. If there’s a Coca-Cola giveaway down the street from the office, half of us will run out to grab a free can,” Jeff said. “When flyers come in advertising Black Friday, we can’t stop talking about who will buy what. We’re not only working at RedFlagDeals, we’re all RedFlagDeals users.”
When employees show up to work, they’re invested in improving a site they love to use. That has a big impact on the company’s decision-making process — which is evident in its content-creation structure.
“We’ve done a great job of keeping the editorial and advertising teams separate,” said Jeff. “When we write about a deal, it’s because we truly think it’s a great deal, not because some advertiser needs to knock a thousand units off its shelves.”
Because retailers know that RedFlagDeals employees are expert bargain-hunters, some brands reach out to the team before announcing a sale. “They’ll call and ask us, ‘Do you think you would write a post recommending this deal?’ And, if we say, ‘No,’ they’ll often reconsider and revamp their plan,” Jeff said.
Hardcore deal-chasers trust RedFlagDeals and are a huge presence on the site’s forums. They’re also vocal and not afraid to share their opinions. “That means we get a lot of feedback, which is difficult for most companies. But if we put out a new feature, within minutes forum users will post critiques complimenting its strengths and critiquing its weaknesses. That gives us the opportunity to react quickly and improve the site for users.”
Users are open with RedFlagDeals, so the site returns the favor. Whenever an employee posts in the forums, they use a special tag. “We identify ourselves, which builds trust. Our community manager is well-respected by our users and starts lots of conversations with visitors,” said Jeff. “We even have a group of users who test new features for us. We couldn’t do that if we didn’t have such an engaged community.”
Cultivating a space where users can speak freely helps RedFlagDeals understand what they want. When they see forum members asking about televisions, the editorial staff writes articles about the best time of year to buy TVs. If consumers are confused about warranties, they’ll create guides to explain the issue.
“We see ourselves as the thought leaders for consumers in Canada,” Jeff said.
Historical and Cultural Factors Make Canadian E-Commerce Unique
Jeff’s experience with Canada’s shopping culture gives him insight into the differences between American and Canadian consumers.
“In terms of e-commerce, we’ve historically lagged behind the US. I think it’s because Americans used to have a lot of catalog shopping. That got people accustomed to ordering products and waiting for them to be delivered. So, when e-commerce started to grow, it wasn’t a big leap for American shoppers,” he said. “In Canada, we didn’t have as many L.L. Beans and Eddie Bauers, so it took us a little longer to warm up to e-commerce.”
Canada’s unique geography can also make distribution challenging. “It’s such a big country,” said Jeff. “While the majority of Canadians live within 100 miles of the US border, outside of that, we’re incredibly spread out.”
Nevertheless, the country’s e-commerce traffic is steadily growing. “We’re following America’s lead. Five or six years ago, Black Friday didn’t exist here. Our closest equivalent is the day after Christmas, Boxing Day. Now, Black Friday rivals Boxing Day,” Jeff said.
The RFD Effect: Retailers Sell So Much, They Can’t Keep Up
As Canadian e-commerce expands, RedFlagDeals’ growth is booming. The site averages 5,000 new forum posts daily and 4 million monthly visitors — 1 million of whom are registered users.
That is why retailers get tremendous responses from bargains shared on RedFlagDeals.
“We call it the RFD Effect. Once, Tim Hortons had thousands of coffee makers they wanted to sell at a discount. When they gave our users the first shot, our traffic crashed their site,” Jeff said. “We’ve had retailers call us and say, ‘Hey, can you shut this post down for a little while? Our site can’t handle it.’”
The RFD Effect highlights the passion of RedFlagDeals users. While its intensity can cause short-term problems, Jeff said those woes are welcome.
“It’s the kind of problem you want if you’re a retailer because you’re selling so much you can’t even keep up,” he said.