What Deter People in Southeast Asia from Buying Online?

We find out from Winnie Khoo, the newly appointed General Manager for Singapore and Malaysia in Carousell, a peer-to-peer buy and sell mobile app. 

Prior to joining Carousell, Winnie founded her own online business “Iamthirsty.com.sg”, Singapore’s largest and most comprehensive training portal with more than 10,000 courses listed from 500 institutions. She was also formerly the Managing Director in PropertyGuru.com.sg. Before PropertyGuru, Winnie was the Senior Director at Alibaba.com in mainland China where she was in charge of the marketing of Alibaba.com’s International site.

“A fundamental reason why many of us prefer the brick and mortar retail experience is because we like to touch, feel and experience the product before buying,” said Winnie from 19 years of experience in the e-commerce and property industry.

And she continued, “Behind that, there is a variety of factors, including an inherent distrust towards online shopping, the lack of infrastructure in payments and delivery to support a smooth and easy buying and selling experience online, and perhaps because the option of shopping online for many parts of Southeast Asia is simply not available yet.

“We should consider that of the 600 million people present in Southeast Asia, almost 400 million are not connected to the internet yet. These are some reasons why 3 in 4 consumers over the age of 16 in the region have not made an online purchase before; and online retail penetration in SEA is only 3%, compared to 14% in the US and China.

Players are Shaping the Market, and Carousell is Benefiting From It 

Despite the challenges, things are looking up for SEA.

“Southeast Asia is on the cusp of an e-commerce golden age. The region’s expected to chalk double-digit numbers in the next five years. We are in one of the most rapidly developing e-commerce markets, with the e-commerce industry expected to grow into a US$200Bn market by 2025,” Winnie explained.

“When you consider the young demographic in SEA, the large number of users that will come online, and the growth of disposable incomes, it’s quite clear that SEA has huge potential in the longer term. What’s less clear is who gets to capture most of the value.

I think consumers will certainly benefit, as well as the ad-giants that have established reach to the consumers.

For those that play further down the value chain and solve retail problems of logistics and payments, there’s still a lot of investment going to educating and shaping the market now. However, it’s not certain that the players who venture into this are the ones that capture value when the market fully develops. The investments to shape the market are necessary though, and (they) benefit Carousell.

As the various e-commerce players build a market of online buyers and help brands sell more goods to consumers, they also create a market of people who are familiar with online transactions, and have more and more excess items to sell. This is where peer-to-peer marketplaces offer value, as a platform like Carousell that allows people to sell their things easily, to find new owners who will treasure the things they no longer need.

As people consume more, there will also be more under-used or unused things they’ll want to let go of. There is a huge opportunity for a mobile classifieds marketplace like us to influence the way people buy and sell online.

There will be always be competitors, but we see them as validation that we’re solving a global problem. We intend to double down on growing our product and engineering teams, and stay focused on what we do best — making it easy for anyone with a smartphone to snap, list, and sell in 30 seconds.”

But Again, How do We Overcome the Trust Issue of Buying Online? 

“We encourage the buyer and seller to arrange for a face-to-face meet up in public place to deal. This allows a certain degree of trust and accountability,” expressed Winnie.

She also said that Carousell is more than just an online marketplace: “We are community-focused, and connect people through Carousell Groups. Whether they are Lego collectors, sneakerheads, or avid photographers, we bring together people of similar interests and hobbies.

We pay a lot of attention to offering our communities a very localised experience. Whether you’re a user in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta or Taipei, the app will be optimised in your local language; you can view items in your local currency, and even see categories and Carousell Groups that reflect local trends and interests. Recently we launched over 80 sub categories, specifically created based on local key search terms, to enhance the experience of discovery on our marketplace.

We work with local teams to do this. We’ve seen strong growth in markets like Indonesia, with over 50% MoM growth in transactions since January 2016.”

We also organise offline community meetups for our users based on their interests. Some of our recent meetups have been for Harry Potter fans, Adult Fans of Lego (AFOL), and even anime lovers. It is the connections and stories from Carousellers that inspire us to continuously make Carousell even better.”

Apart from being strongly community-focused, Winnie also elaborated on two other areas that set Carousell apart: simplicity of use and the power of passive discovery.

On simplicity of use, Winnie stressed that Carousell is mobile-first, and their goal is to help people snap, list and sell in less than 30 seconds. “Our buyers and sellers use an in-app chat system to deal, so no more fumbling with SMS, messaging apps, or emails. Our intuitive, mobile-first interface makes use of smartphone features that people are already familiar with, making it easy for anyone to buy and sell using their mobile.”

On the power of passive discovery, Winnie described Carousell as “a window into other peoples’ wardrobes and collections, where people can discover unique treasures, vintage gems, and other valuable items.”

Big Plans Forward 

“Our goal is to become the world’s number one classifieds marketplace, so that every smartphone user in the world is empowered to buy and sell without any hassle or fuss,” said Winnie.

“Five years from now, we want to be a smarter mobile classifieds marketplace with data science and machine learning incorporated to give each user a more curated and personalised experience. As we expand into new markets, we’re excited to grow our global community of users who share our belief that changing the way we consume things can make life more meaningful.”

Carousell has demonstrated this ambition with its acquisition of Caarly, a mobile-first productivity tool that makes it easier for used car dealerships to manage their inventory. Since its launch in Singapore in 2014, Caarly is a trusted partner to more than 200 car dealers, which make up a significant proportion of the car dealerships in Singapore.

“Carousell has acquired all of Caarly’s relevant automotive assets, and welcomed the entire team into our family. Existing Caarly partners in Singapore can continue to use the Caarly platform to list their inventory with a simple 1-tap post to cross post to the cars category on the Carousell marketplace,” Winnie explained further.

“The used-car sales industry is rather traditional, and many dealers still rely on spreadsheets and printouts to keep track of their inventory. There’s a lot of potential for a mobile productivity tool like Caarly to help car dealers stay up-to-date with the latest figures easily, using their smartphones. One of our priorities is to double down on our product and engineering strengths, and explore how technology can be used to better serve car dealers and end consumers by improving search and discoverability, to better match demand with supply on our platform.

We also intend to use our learnings from Caarly in Singapore to explore opportunities in other markets. Singapore is our most mature market, and its infrastructure and diversity make it an ideal testbed for our projects and experiments.

Carousell aims to be the world’s top mobile classifieds marketplace, and it is definitely our goal to offer the greatest variety and volume of listings in every vertical. We’re focused on winning the cars vertical in Singapore first, and using our learnings to grow into more verticals and markets, including property and services.”


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