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Has the new kid on the block finally grown up? Shopee claims dominance in South East Asia

One of South East Asia’s major e-commerce players will only turn five in 2020, but it believes it has surpassed its more established rivals to become a major marketplace in the region through its unique marketing approach.

When it was formed in 2015, Shopee initially found the going tough against the likes of Tokopedia, which turns nine this year, as well as Lazada and Zalora, who are both seven this year. Lazada and Tokopedia had the financial muscle as well, after investments from Chinese’ e-commerce giant Alibaba and SoftBank.

To play catch up, Shopee’s parent Sea Group, invested heavily into the platform, as it aimed to diversify beyond its gaming business, leading to huge losses. Sea posted a net loss of $250.8 million in the second quarter of 2018 after an initial public offering in October 2017.

For the most part, Shopee has benefited from the revenue that Garena, Sea’s gaming arm, has brought in, which stands at $108m during the same quarter. That has given Sea’s biggest shareholder, Chinese gaming giant Tencent Holdings, confidence, that the business is profitable, leading it to sign an agreement with Sea in November 2018 to publish its mobile and computer games in Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore, after the Chinese government froze the approval process for new games.

However, it appears Sea’s investment into Shopee is starting to pay off. The platform claimed in its earnings call for the last quarter of 2018 that it delivered more than 63m orders for the third quarter of 2018 in Indonesia, SEA’s largest country, and that it was the top downloaded app of the year in the country, beating Lazada and Tokopedia, according to research from App Annie.

A survey by TheAsianParent also found that for Indonesian mothers, Shopee is the first-choice shopping platform (73%), followed by Tokopedia (54%), Lazada (51%) and Instagram (50%).

Shopee’s rise to fame does not come as a surprise to Agatha Soh, the head of regional marketing at Shopee, who says Shopee’s success has come from customizing strategies for each market and creating unique initiatives and offerings catered to local preferences. She says this is necessary because South East Asia is a diverse region filled with varying cultures and populations.

In addition, she explains that Shopee has stepped up partnerships with celebrities to reach more consumers in the region.

For example, Shopee introduced a Celebrity Club, allowing users to easily access a curated collection of products by their favorite celebrities on Shopee, and look forward to special campaigns and events presented in collaboration with these celebrities. During the 11.11 and 12.12 global shopping festival, it hired popular Thai (Bambam) and Korean (Blackpink) ambassadors for each respective event to engage its users more deeply as they were able to get up close and personal through fan meets and events.

“The mobile shopping experience is also vital in attracting and retaining consumers in SEA who are highly mobile and digitally engaged,” Soh explains.

“Shopee’s in-app games are highly popular; Shopee Shake was played 46 million times throughout the 12.12 Birthday Sale campaign, while the newly launched Shopee Quiz saw 11 million participants tuning in from across the region. Due to the popularity of our in-app games among users, we brought them back for Shopee 12.12 Birthday Sale and expanded Shopee Quiz to include Taiwan."

Fan meets and Shopee coins

Going offline has also helped Shopee achieve its goal of creating an immersive online shopping experience for users in the region, as it utilizes an integrated content approach.

It established communities through various channels, including social media, key opinion leaders, and through its sellers, and leveraged this social media to develop content that engages its users on its various local Instagram pages such as product features, giveaways and a variety of promotions.

Tapping into out-of-home media is another way Shopee has increased the touch points that it has with consumers in their daily lives. In Taiwan, it held an offline event where it gave out Shopee coins and vouchers to increase awareness and engage users more closely in popular shopping districts in Taipei, including Ximending and Shihlin.

In Thailand, two thousand lucky fans interacted with their Bambam in person while the event was streamed live on Facebook.

Other strategies include a Super Brand Day (SBD), which is a series of co-branded campaigns with other brands on Shopee Mall. Every instalment sees a revamp of the app interface to highlight the featured brand for 24 hours, along with exclusive deals and promotions from the brand.

“Our initiatives during our recent shopping events show how our offline initiatives are tightly integrated with our online efforts,” explains Soh. “This provides a seamless omnichannel experience for users who not only have increased access to promotions and deals but are also continuously entertained by a wide range of creative content designed for local tastes.”

“This is evident during Shopee 11.11 Big Sale where we appointed Bambam as our official campaign ambassador in Thailand and had a mix of offline events (an exclusive fan meet for 2,000 lucky fans) and online events (live streaming of the fan meet).”

Shop till you drop

While it is a late entrant on the 11.11 shopping festival scene, Soh reiterates that Shopee’s highly localized strategy and user-centric approach will help it to combat consumers’ fatigue. She also believes that with an increasing number of mobile users and easier access to the Internet in SEA, the e-commerce industry in the region is poised for growth and shopping campaigns like 11.11.

“We continue to closely observe the latest trends, and to consistently innovate and improve our platform features in response to these trends as well as local communities’ preferences to enhance users’ shopping experience,” she says.

“Examples include engaging further with our users through games (Shopee Shake, Shopee Quiz in Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan) and relevant local campaigns or partnerships (Bambam in Thailand, Blackpink across the region) to reward our loyal Shopee community.”

Has the new kid on the block finally grown up? It depends on who you ask. One thing is for certain though, there is a healthy e-commerce scene in APAC, which will only benefit consumers at the end of the day.

Featured by The Drum

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