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E-commerce platform bets big on millennials

Shopee, an electronic commerce platform, employs 250 Filipinos with an average age of 24 in an elegant office building in Fort Bonifacio.

Shopee, which is also present in six other countries, occupies a whole floor spanning 2,000 square meters at Net Park Building.  A part of Singapore’s Sea Ltd., Shopee focuses on growing its market in the Philippines, whose e-commerce sector was estimated at $1.2 billion in 2017, and other Southeast Asian countries.

“In terms of the outlook of e-commerce as whole in the Philippines, it’s just pure growth. Last year, in terms of e-commerce revenue from the Philippines, it was at $1.2 billion...I don’t think it’s ever going to stop. I think the whole concept of online shopping is just beginning to warm up in this region, and it shouldn’t be stopping at all,” says Agatha Soh, Shopee’s head of regional marketing.  Shopee provides an online link between sellers and buyers.

“I think Filipinos are very entrepreneurial, which is why Shopee came in at the right time to provide a tool, a platform for these sellers who might not have had access to be able to reach more buyers before,” says Soh, who carries with her over five years of experience in e-commerce. 

Prior to joining Shopee, Soh worked as a marketing manager at SingPost eCommerce and spearheaded Zalora Singapore’s overall customer relation management strategy and execution.

Shopee’s head of regional marketing Agatha Soh at Shopee’s office in Fort Bonifacio

She says Shopee has provided Filipino entrepreneurs an online platform to grow their business. “We have gotten feedback from sellers who really love us. They tell us about how much their business has grown. I think it’s really harnessing this spirit. At the end of the day, it’s a platform that we want to bring to all kinds of people in this country,” says Soh who graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Communications and New Media from the National University of Singapore. She also holds a minor in Technopreneurship from Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management. 

Soh says Shopee believes in empowering sellers through the Shopee University. “We believe in the value of it. We ran it across 40 states the last two years. So far, we’ve garnered more than 3,500 participants. And the feedback that we’re getting from the small sellers is really positive. They like that Shopee is here to really help them grow. More often than not, some of them are very new to the whole concept of online selling,” she says.

Aside from employing mostly millennials, Shopee also looks at the younger generation as a source of growth.  “It is the growth of the power of the millennials. It’s not something that’s specific to the Philippines. Across the region we do see that. But when it comes to the adoption of technology, millennials are early adopters. They spend so much time on mobile, on Facebook, on Instagram. Leveraging on what these millennials can take the lead on, and kind of expanding it to the rest of the audience after,” she says.

Soh says millennials represent around 60 percent of Shopee’s buyers.  “The majority is the younger audience, 18 to 25,” she says.

“It’s interesting because, more often than not, not just in the Philippines, but when we launch new features, when we launch new tools, we get more real-time feedback from these millennials because they use the app a lot more often. They spend more time on the platform. They are basically our ambassadors per se, and we take their feedback quite seriously to figure out how best to tailor the features further to suit the audience,” says Soh.

Soh says Shopee does not focus on the revenue side at the moment and invests in growing the market.

“Right now, Shopee’s free. We don’t charge any fees. We don’t charge any commissions, and monetization right now is actually not a priority for the Philippines at this moment in time. I think this whole concept of monetization is not something that we think is a one-size-fits-all approach, the same way we have been doing in all the countries in Shopee. At the end of the day, when we talk about monetization, the bigger question is, how ready is the market?” she says.

“A lot focuses on how do we bring Shopee to get more people to know about Shopee across the nation and not just in the main cities that people always talk about. How do we continue to build our product, our tools, our features to cater to all kinds of sellers...And then for smaller sellers, what is it that they need, what kind of tips and tricks, we continue to work on them,” she says.

“This year we continue to expect aggressive growth on a monthly basis. And this year we are planning to do a huge round of brand awareness pushes because we think that our product is ready to be able to bring out to the rest of the nation,” says Soh.

Shopee has recently tapped brands such as Colgate, Palmolive and SM Store to be on its platform.  “Our goal is to continue to bring in more of these big sellers. A lot of them want to expand their presence online, and Shopee provides a good base for them to start with because we already have a huge base of users,” she says.

“What’s more important, a lot of these brands want to reach out to millennials, which are younger users, younger buyers, which is what Shopee is very strong in right now,” says Soh.

Shopee recorded 80 million downloads in 2017, including 6 million downloads in the Philippines.  “In terms of performance as of October last year, we are looking at more than $5 billion in terms of gross merchandise volume across the region,” she says.  

Shopee has 180 million active listings in the region, including three million in the Philippines.  Other markets served by Shopee are Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Shopee has been in the Philippines for more than two years.  

Soh says the Philippines, in particular, offers a lot of opportunities for growth.  “We really believe that, whenever players want to enter Southeast Asia, everybody talks about Indonesia. Everybody talks about all these big countries. But what I strongly believe in this day, the Philippines is a market with a huge potential,” she says.

Topics: E-Commerce platform , Shopee

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