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Publication Date : 30-07-2012
The key to success for a retail business used to be location, location and location, but now it's like, like and like! Starting up a business has never been easier. With the availability of social media like Facebook, entrepreneurs can now approach target customers anywhere, anytime with a much lower investment.
Savvy entrepreneurs are blessed with unlimited free space to set up a shop on Facebook, where over 15.5 million members or 89.4 per cent of Internet users hang out to chat with friends, get updates, share photos and moments and revive memories. In the process, they also do some shopping. "Social shopping" has gradually become a part of the lifestyles of many Thai consumers.
Facebook users meet directly with amateur business operators and establish business groups on the platform. Collectively, they form a massive marketplace selling anything from food, cosmetics, clothing and furniture to big-ticket items like cars and even apartments. They have them all. Some FB pages are heavily promoted to find members who would click "like" and share the page further with their circle of friends, while others let their attractive products or pricing draw customers to the page.
The high penetration rate of Facebook makes it the most common channel, and to both business operators and consumers, it is far friendlier than conventional online sites.
Torboon Puangmaha, former CEO of Sanook Online Co, says the main reason social shopping has been a hit is because consumers are familiar with the media.
"When there is trust, it is easy for a business to take off."
The 3G technology and effective communications offered by application developers like WhatsApp and Line also help launch a business easily on social networks.
And it really happened to Ratchanee Sirwattanachai with the ShoppingUKsure page on Facebook. Her customers contact her anytime from anywhere via their smartphones to get more product details and bargain over prices.
"It makes social shopping even more attractive," she says.
"From my direct experience, a wristwatch with a price tag of hundreds of thousands of baht has been sold just over a conversation on the Line application alone," Torboon says.
Although there are no official figures for the online retail market, Kasikorn Research Centre forecasts e-commerce turnover this year reaching 73 billion baht (US$1.17 billion), or 5 per cent of retail sales. Small retailers remain the key contributors to e-commerce expansion. The three best-selling categories are clothing/bags/shoes at 35 per cent, cosmetics at 31 per cent and supplements/medicine at 8 per cent.
There is no doubt that e-commerce will grow further. A Chiang Mai-based Facebook page selling Decoupage crafts brings in at least 100,000 baht a month. "Since my products like napkins are at low prices, sales aren't that high," says the page owner who asked not to be named.
Sales are of course higher with brandname items like designer bags. A page set up by an aircrew can record sales of up to half a million baht.
Even if a retailer already has its own website, Facebook is still an attractive platform to reach out to customers.
Shortly before the unveiling of the Zalora Thailand website in March, the leading online shopping site in Berlin since 2008 set up a fan page on Facebook to interact with consumers. It has also just introduced a Facebook shop where over 77,000 "likers" (members) can do online shopping on Facebook.
"Facebook represents a great platform for the company to engage, interact with and listen to its customers. Obviously, Thais are increasingly using Facebook on a daily basis and social media is becoming a crucial way of interacting with your customer base," says Gerald Eder, co-founder and managing director of marketing for Zalora (Thailand) Co.
Eder also ensures that Zalora fans will be among the first to be alerted about sales and promotions.
Brandname Society, a shop selling used designer handbags and accessories in Bangkok, has reaped benefits from keeping in touch with customers directly on social media.
Siratcha Patcharasopachaim, the owner of the shop at J Avenue in Soi Thonglor, says the shop's Facebook page and Instagram photo sharing account have significantly helped drive sales. The shop's Instagram account has been open for over a month and now enjoys over 700 followers, many of whom have become its customers. Its Facebook page has become an online store where customers can view products and get more information by interacting with the shop via WhatsApp and Line chats.
"Sometimes our bags are sold a few minutes after being posted on Instagram. A customer just calls and books the bag," she says.
The dynamism of social media makes all the difference as the instant conversations and feedback somewhat stimulate buying decisions.
And in some cases, a real shop and a good location are not really needed for conducting a business. Ying (real name withheld) says she doesn't really need a Decoupage craft shop in Chiang Mai as her main income is from selling products online.
"The only reason I have my shop in a not-so-convenient location is because I need it for conducting workshops for my customers."
*1 dollar = 31.5 baht