A new mobile app, introduced just five months ago, has elevated the social media experience in the Philippines to another level, with many users becoming instant entrepreneurs by buying and selling items online.
Shopee, a consumer-to-consumer social mobile market place developed by Garena Group of Singapore, has helped more than 100,000 Filipinos sell items online, even before the platform was formally launched in Makati City on Dec. 9, 2015.
Available for free on Apple App Store and Google Play, the Shopee app is equipped with a secure payment service and features that allow fast and easy shopping and selling transactions. Currently, it has millions of users across Southeast Asia, with half a million in the Philippines alone.
Shopee regional managing director Terence Pang, a Singaporean, says Shopee now has more than 500,000 users in the Philippines, and a quarter of them are sellers.
“If you think about it, we have half a million users, and roughly 25 percent of them are sellers,” Pang says in an interview at Makati Shangri La Hotel in Makati City.
Shopee is a mobile platform that allows users to buy or sell items in as fast as 30 seconds. It was soft-launched in Singapore in June and is now available in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan.
It has a user-friendly interface with an in-app Live Chat function that enables users to shop and communicate with one another. It also integrates social features, including hashtag functions, allowing users to easily search for the most popular trending product or keep up with the latest trends.
Shopee also features a seller assistant that guides individuals on how to manage their retail businesses on the platform. Sellers can use it to organize inventory and measure store performance.
“We believe that what we provide is a social focused, mobile-focused C2C market. We believe that it is quite a nobel, unique proposition,” says Pang, a UK-educated executive who used to work for Rocket Internet’s Zalora.
Garena Online, the company behind Shopee and established by Singaporean entrepreneur Forrest Li, is considered Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest growing Internet and mobile platform company, with Shopee as one of its most successful ventures.
Mobile shopping exploded in 2015, but mobile selling appears to be a bigger phenomenon in 2016. Shopee Philippines alone now has over 400,000 product listings, with beauty and fragrance, fashion and toys being the most popular categories.
The Shopee app has been up since June and has quickly drawn 500,000 users in the Philippines because it is easy to use, says Justin Daniel Arcenas, head of business development at Shopee Philippines.
Arcenas says Shopee’s mobile platform allows everyone to be a seller. “Just download the app. Register, snap a picture of any item, put the price details and the description. Then, you are good to sell,” he says.
“From the buyer’s side, just scroll the app, go to a category, sub-category and chat to the seller and maybe negotiate. Then go to the bank, make a deposit and wait for the shipping by whatever courier like LBC,” he says. “We actually have seen some sellers deliver the items by themselves,” says Arcenas.
For his part, Pang says the number of Shopee sellers is expected to further increase in the coming weeks, as the mobile platform introduces new features.
“We believe that as the percentage of users grow, the number of sellers will also increase to between 30 and 40 percent. We believe it, because it is so easy for anybody to start selling with Shopee,” he says.
Pang says the Philippines is now one of the seven markets served by Shopee, where it has local offices. “It has a huge potential in the Philippine market because there is a very strong entrepreneurial spirt in the Philippines. Everyone is excited to do his or her business here. We see a very good opportunity in the Philippines,” says Pang.
On why he is optimistic about the Philippines, he says the country will see a quick jump towards the mobile side. “The penetration of mobile is going to be very strong and that will help us as a mobile focused business,” he says.
He says Shopee focuses on growing its user base and developing more features to enable all sellers of all types.
“That is something we focus on–breaking down the barriers, increasing the safety and security, for us to enable all sellers,” he says.
Shopee employs 60 Filipinos at its local office at Fort Bonifacio, where it has heavily invested in marketing. “We can definitely say we had a lot of investment. If you look at the size of the team, 60 is quite sizeable,” he says.
On why Shopee chose to build a large Philippine team, Pang says the company believes in localization. “We don’t believe it is going to be the same model in Thailand or Singapore. A lot of decisions that we make are very local in nature,” he says.
Pang says the users themselves are promoting the mobile e-commerce platform among their peers on social media. “What we see is that the users are also doing marketing for us. That is something we find very unique. The sellers are driving buyers to come,” he says.
Shopee is currently in talks with local logistics companies to facilitate the shipping of the products sold through the mobile platform. “This will happen in the next two months,” says Pang.
At present, Shopee sellers use couriers such as LBC to deliver the products to their buyers, after the payment has been settled through the banks.
Pang says the focus of the company at present is to grow the user base, with the financial model to come later. This is the same strategy being followed by Internet startups today.
“Of course, where you have buyers and sellers, you will have orders and revenues. But for us, that is not the focus right now. The focus is how you build the ecosystem in the fastest way possible,” Pang says.
“For 2016, we are going to focus on bringing more features, have more comprehensive logistics options. There is a lot of development work that we aim to do on our product,” he says.
Pang says Shopee addresses common issues faced by users on other existing marketplaces such as fraud, transaction risks and the hassle of face-to-face meetings.
Shopee Guarantee, the platform’s secure payment service, ensures that if products are not received in the previously agreed-upon condition, payment will be refunded to the buyers in full.
Pang says the platform currently has 3 million product listings across seven markets. He says the goal is to become the region’s mobile commerce destination of choice.
Simply put, he says Shopee aims to build a community of “individuals who are passionate about online buying and selling.”
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