5 Disruptive Ecommerce Startups We Saw in 2015

Online consumer spend will touch US$1.7 trillion in 2015, eventually going on to reach an eye watering figure of US$3.5 trillion by 2019, predicts eMarketer. The market research firm says that worldwide growth in ecommerce spend will be mainly fueled by increasing demand in the Asia Pacific region – which is forecasted to increase by a healthy 25 percent year-on-year. By the end of the decade, online channels would account for almost 12.5 percent of total retail sales globally.

Despite these giddying figures, the Asia Pacific region still lags behind its Western counterparts. Ecommerce spend is onlythought to be one percent of the total retail pie right now, as compared to 6 to 8percent in North America and Europe. It’s clear there’s opportunity for further growth, which partly explains the reason why millions of dollars are flowing into the (relatively) untapped markets of India, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Image credit: Tech in Asia’s Kathrinna Rakhmavika

As more people come online, the challenge is for ecommerce startups to continue innovating, as well as tap into more niche segments. At the end of the day, if consumers are satisfied and happy with their online transaction, it’s safe to say that they’ll continue to shop in that app. That will help with retention and greatly lower user acquisition costs – one of the main factors driving marketing spend.

In no particular order, here are 5 startups which disrupted ecommerce markets across Asia in 2015.

1. Craftsvilla

Craftsvilla – the ecommerce store for ethnic Indian products – is almost five years old but has truly proven its mettle this year. It raised a total of US$54 million spread across two rounds within a span of eight months and may very well be gunning for an IPO in the near future.

Often referred to as the "Etsy of India," the startup’s value proposition lies in its ability to connect consumers with authentic Indian artisans. Most of these craftsmen and designers ply their trade outside major urban centres, which means consumers aren’t likely to find their products in shopping malls or other retail outlets. Craftsvilla helps solve this problem and brings artisanal goods to the reach of global consumers. There are over 25,000 designers and two million products available. What’s not to like?

2. Honestbee

Honestbee, an Instacart-like service, is one of the hottest names in Singapore at present. The startup – which employsfreelance runners to buy and deliver goods to your doorstep – prides itself on its nimbleness, distinguishing it from competitors like RedMart and GoFresh.

There’s a real war for dominance in the online grocery space, but despite its late entrance into the scene, Honestbee is determined not to be swatted away. The startup managed to secure US$15 million in a series A round within a few months of launch and announced it would be expanding to Hong Kong.

One of the advantages it may have over its rivals is that it doesn’t need to burn through large amounts of cash to invest in things like warehousing, inventory, and logistics as it simply utilizes existing offline retail to get the job done. Rivals will argue, however, that they’re cheaper because they buy things in bulk and cut out the retail middleman.

Honestbee’s promise of delivery within an hour is also a potential game-changer. RedMart has caught on but it remains to be seen who will come out on top.

Definitely a startup to keep an eye on.

3. Shoppee

Shopee CEO Chris Feng (Photo credit: Shopee)

The consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace concept isn’t particularly new, with the likes of Carousell and Tokopediahaving made major headway in the past. Rumors are abound that Facebook is eyeing up the space too as it considers ecommerce a natural extension of its social platform. But Shopee isn’t particularly concerned.

The Singapore-based startup, part of Garena’s suite of apps, launched fairly recently but has already managed to carve out a niche for itself. It does so by introducing features ignored by the competition.

Shopee users can, for example, pay for items within the app itself, through a secure payment solution called "Shopee Guarantee." When a transaction is confirmed, the startup holds the funds in an escrow account and only releases the cash to the seller after delivery is confirmed. Shopee’s partnership with ecommerce delivery startup Ninjavan helps the process, and distinguishes itself from other marketplace apps where consumers have to arrange for shipping and delivery themselves.

Shopee also has a social element built in – users can follow one another, use hashtags, and even have a news feed of sorts. And the approach seems to be working. According to mobile app tracking service App Annie, Shopee is surpassing the popularity of the traditional leader, Carousell, in markets like Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

4. Ninja Van / aCommerce

Paul Srivorakul, CEO of aCommerce

Of course, one of the key enablers of efficient ecommerce is speedy and reliable logistics. There’s no point advertising your wares online if you don’t have a way of ensuring they reach the buyer within the timeframe you promised and in glistening condition.

Tech in Asia has previously argued that there’s immense opportunity for efficient players in the ecommerce logistics space as startups overcome delivery bottlenecks and utilize sorting algorithms to spruce up their game. Two such startups that really stand out are Singapore-based Ninja Van and Thailand-based aCommerce.

aCommerce, which has offices and distribution centres in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, boasts over 140 enterprise clients and 300 percent growth since January this year. The startup has raised over US$20 million in funding and is doubling-down on an offline-to-online shift after an investment and partnership deal with DKSH, a major Swiss company.

Ninja Van has proven to be similarly effective. Its main rival is the behemoth Singpost – but the startup has effectively utilized technology to be more agile and swift. Ninja Van specializes in last-mile delivery, helping drivers determine the fastest route to their destination using special "sorting" algorithms. It delivers approximately 5,000 parcels every day and is growing at a healthy rate of 10 to 15 percent.

5. Quikr

Colossal amounts of money have been poured into traditional ecommerce sites in India, with the likes of Flipkart and Snapdeal profiting from an investor frenzy to back the next winner. But that hasn’t stopped classifieds sites like Quikr from quietly purring along.

Classifieds may not have the snazziness or marketing appeal of other ecommerce stores – but they’re effective. Quikr, which competes with the likes of Naspers-backed OLX, established itself as a tech unicorn this year, valued at US$1.5 billion after raising a series B round of US$150 million. That’s certainly no small change.

But the company isn’t just sitting back. In fact, it’s trying to constantly reinvent itself, introducing new categories, and buying other startups which it thinks will give it a competitive advantage. Quikr is moving aggressively into the online real estate space – it launched QuikrHomes earlier this year, and acquired RealtyCompass, a startup focusing on real estate analytics.

The acquisition of RealtyCompass was the second time Quikr chose to buy out a company in this space. Earlier, it bought Indian Realty Exchange, a mobile-first aggregator of real estate agents.

The Indian classifieds giant is certainly flexing its muscles and has grand ambitions for the future. It already covers verticals like matrimonials, electronics, and pets – but it’s displaying a willingness to go after the big-ticket items too.

Classified ads might seem retro, but Quikr’s bravado, fearlessness, and lack of stasis means it certainly deserves a place on the list.

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