It wants to create a healthy e-commerce ecosystem with its management and logistics tools, targeted branding, and carefully designed UI
The regional e-commerce space is becoming increasingly crowded. There are a myriad of platforms you can hop on to hawk your wares.
From Lazada, Reebonz, Qoo10, Zalora, Ebay to Carousell, it seems sellers and buyers alike have no lack of options to choose from. So how can new e-commerce players hope to crack this market?
One way is to focus on niche products. But that can be very risky. Lykestore, an e-commerce site carrying curated lifestyle products failed to take off because of the low demand in Singapore’s already tiny population.
The best bet, sometimes, is to face the competition on the same playing field, and win over consumers by offering a superior platform, or at least, one that can tackle existing pain points in the ecosystem .
The CEO of Singapore-based C2C platform Shopee, Chris Feng, believes he has identified these gaps and that Shopee is well positioned to fill them.
At first glance, one might not be convinced about Shopee’s unique value proposition. In fact, the app does bear striking similarities to Carousell, another Singapore-based C2C marketplace platform, with the items and user features arranged and displayed in an identical format.
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But the devil is in the details, and there are nuanced differences. From the carefully designed UI and subcategories, to the tools and mechanisms to allow smoother transactions between the seller and buyer, Shopee may have more to offer than the competition.
“We are a very different animal from Carousell. I don’t think it’s easy to make comparisons, we are not exactly competing in the same space,” says Feng. “Carousell is focussing on second-hand items, while we focus on the full range, and we have SMEs selling on our platform too.”
You see, Shopee is not content to be just another enhanced classifieds platform. It wants to be a place where brick and mortar businesses can take their business online intuitively, and for other e-commerce sellers to have another venue to sell their products.
Tools of the trade
Just like Carousell, Shopee has a live chat function, allowing customers to exchange messages and photos with the sellers. But that’s just start. Shopee comes packed a range of free inbuilt business tools.
One of them is the “Seller Assistant” feature. For sellers with a substantial inventory, Seller Assistant helps to organise items and measure store performance. This also allows the app to make suggestions on which products need to be restocked or reduced in price.
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Sellers with existing online shops on photo-sharing platform Instagram, Shopee allows them to easily import those listings onto its platform.
“When they [sellers on Instagram] come, a lot of their followers come as well. Most of them sell popular items, so the buyers will come along. One of our main [user] acquisition channels was actually from there,” says Feng.
Shopee also offers a delivery option, but unlike Zalora or Lazada, it doesn’t have its own fleet of delivery vans.
Instead, it partnered with Singapore-based logistics startup NinjaVan. Buyers with bigger orders and located far from the sellers can opt to have their goods delivered via NinjaVan. The seller then tracks the delivery process through the app.
Sifting out the bad stuff
One of the many problems e-commerce players face is weeding out fraudulent deals, ensuring a smooth transactions so you don’t have to resort to this in case a deal goes afoul.
Shopee tackles this by making the registration process more stringent than other platforms. Sellers have to provide their phone number to verify their account. They also have to supply their bank account number if they wish to receive payment online. Through its “Shopee Guarantee” payment service, sellers only receive the money in their account once the item has been successfully delivered.
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“Besides that, we have a system to flag any suspicious or banned items,” says Feng.”We have built an ecosystem management that filters out these products and we have a dedicated team to handle this. All these makes it easier for the buyer to buy stuff and ensures that only proper sellers are on our platform.”
Marketing to the right users
Interestingly enough, although user acquisition is a fundamental growth metric for e-commerce sites, Feng believes that it can be a double-edged sword.
Too little traction and lack of buyers, and the sellers will take their wares elsewhere. Grow too fast, and low-quality buyers and sellers might creep into the system.
“The quality of Shopee’s ecosystem is dependent on our sellers and buyers. I want to control the growth in a way that I can maintain that high standard. We don’t want bargain hunters (or affectionally known as “lowballers”) or unreliable buyers in our system,” says Feng.
Shopee sends out its brand message not only through influencers such as high-profile bloggers and fashionistas, it also accomplishes this through the design of its UI.
“Brand guidelines such as the colour of the banner, and categories such as home owning — all this dictates the type of seller or buyer we want to attract to the app. We want to attract the mature, resourceful and trustworthy user,” he says.
“The market is constantly shifting. We need to make sure we capture the right kind of markets. Figure out which channel we can use to attract these buyers and sellers,” adds Feng.
Shopee leverages on most major social media platforms — Pinterest, Facebook, BeeTalk and others — enabling users to share products and shops with their friends as well as follow their favourite sellers. It also uses hashtags and feeds to push new curated products to them.
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Hyperlocalisation is also key to the experience. The app’s interface is carefully tailored to each country’s market.
“You need to be able to cater to each market’s taste. In Taiwan, they want more options, in Thailand, they want less options. In Indonesia, we also have to optimise for the app for slower Internet connections,” he says.
Plans for the future
For now, Shopee is fully funded by Singapore-based online gaming unicorn Garena and has no immediate plans to raise funding.
Other social functions such as a community within the app, where users with common interests can mingle, are in the works.
Feng, who is also head of Garena’s mobile business, is keen to incorporate lessons gleaned from his experience with the mobile gaming sector into Shopee.
He likens the user’s experience to that of a gamer playing as a character in a video game.
“When we design a game, we think about how the user progresses as time goes. There are two curves. One is the achievement, and second is the excitement level. If you make the achievement too difficult, the excitement will go down. Vice versa, the excitement will drain quickly if it’s too easy.”
“The same goes for e-commerce. How do we feed the user with enough information so that he will still come back after he completes his purchase. How do you balance keeping the platform interesting and making it worthwhile for him to stay? ” says Feng.
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