E-commerce platform Shopee found itself playing an increasingly central role in consumers’ lives thanks to COVID-19 and lockdown measures. Regional Head of Marketing, Agatha Soh, speaks to WARC’s Gabey Goh for WARC Marketer's Toolkit 2021 about staying relevant to users and what the future holds for live streaming and e-commerce in Southeast Asia.

How would you describe Shopee’s philosophy to the craft of marketing?

A strong user-centric and localised approach to all that we do. 

As a data-driven company, our marketing team believes in bringing together the science of data with the art of human insights. All of our campaigns are formulated with data-led insights, so they cater directly to shopping behaviour patterns. Beyond the data, it is important to understand the local consumers’ needs, expectations and nuances to ensure that it is customised for that market. 

We pride ourselves in our highly localised marketing approach as each market differs significantly in terms of culture, user behaviour and shopping preferences. For example, during the National Day Sale in Singapore, we launched a host of localised games, and in Thailand, where consumers favour celebrity endorsements, we had nine top stars join us for our recent 9.9 campaign. 

With more people spending time at home and shopping online, how has Shopee embraced this change and innovated to meet the demands of the “at home” economy? 

Key insights

  • Southeast Asia’s youth will form a big part of active shoppers in the next 15 years. They grew up communicating, collaborating and entertaining themselves on mobile devices and online shopping must evolve to fit these needs.
  • E-commerce and in particular mobile commerce is no longer a nice to have, but an essential touchpoint. 
  • Platforms will provide brands with access to millions of users and enhance support through in-app features and logistical support, in turn lowering a brands’ customer acquisition and operations costs.

We continued to focus on being relevant to our users by being nimble and adapting quickly to their evolving needs. When lockdowns were first implemented and there was an increased demand for daily necessities. We launched Shopee from Home, working with partners to scale up our offerings and provide greater savings on essential products. 

As people stayed home more and turned to online entertainment, we also scaled up our entertainment content on Shopee Live and across our social channels. We used a diverse talent pool to create content with Shopee, from celebrities to KOLs to singers and dancers from studios who no longer could perform at on-ground events or gigs. 

With more users turning to Shopee during this COVID-19 period, our consumer base has also grown. This translates into an increasing need to ensure that we deliver the most relevant and useful information to a wider range of demographics. Hence, this year we focused on launching new initiatives and programs tailored to different demographics from Shopee Mom’s Club targeted at parents, to S-Mart targeted at catering to everyday household needs.

This builds on our overall mission to ensure that all our users can benefit from our platform. On Shopee Mom’s Club, for example, mothers can receive help on their motherhood journey with vital parenting tips from fellow mothers and experts on the Shopee app and blog, as well as exclusive deals from trusted brands.

Agatha Soh, Regional Head of Marketing, Shopee

What trends or emerging habits have you observed from how consumers in SEA have searched and shopped on the platform since the pandemic began? 

On average, people are spending more time on Shopee a week. This reflects an increasing reliance on e-commerce, which provides users with one-stop access to essentials, health products and more. 

Habits formed over the last few months such as familiarity with online shopping will heavily impact consumer preferences in the months and years to come. We’re only at the early stages of this growth. For brands and marketers, e-commerce, and in particular mobile commerce, is no longer a nice to have, but an essential touchpoint to tap into this opportunity.

Shoppers increasingly want online shopping to be more than just transactional, especially as it replaces the in-store experience where there is immediate feedback. During the lockdown period, we also saw an increase in game plays and video views on the Shopee app, where shoppers want to be entertained and seek to stay connected online. Collectively our in-app games have been played 10 billion times in the first half of 2020, while in Q2 this year, 30 million hours were watched on Shopee Live.

This will only become more prominent in the year ahead and brands need to think about engaging their audiences to build longer-term affinity and loyalty.

Livestreaming and shoppertainment is here to stay. In your opinion, which brands have really leveraged this format most effectively that you would point to as best practice?

Via Shopee Live we’ve seen how brands and sellers redefine the way they form connections with their shoppers. For instance, we partnered with L’Oreal to launch an immersive digital experience, BeautyCam by ModiFace and Effaclar Spotscan by La Roche-Posay, powered by AI and AR. 

Shopee users were able to use augmented reality to try on different shades of make-up on their face, giving them photorealistic results with their mobile phone camera. L’Oreal also tapped into Shopee Slice, an in-app game, to deepen engagement with consumers for a more personalised online retail experience.

Some best practices that we can share with brands:

  • Live streams need to be entertaining, informative and rewarding: Consumers today have a short attention span and no shortage of media options, so a stream needs to be able to value-add and grab their attention. This can be done through subject matter experts, KOLs and having giveaways or exclusive discounts throughout the stream.
  • Live streaming should be a two-way engagement: Ensure that your brand KOL is constantly interacting with the viewers and use features such as live auctions and polling.
  • Live streams shouldn’t be a standalone: Brands need to be engaging their customers across multiple touchpoints. For live streams, brands should also be promoting it across their other channels before and after the stream.
What are your thoughts on how these formats will evolve in the coming months across the region?

We believe there is huge potential for live streaming to further grow and develop in Southeast Asia. Governments in the region are also rapidly improving digital infrastructure and these trends will power new possibilities for live streaming. The arrival and development of 5G will drive further growth of live streaming as consumers can expect smoother and higher quality live content on mobile, while brands and sellers benefit from the greater available bandwidth. 

We expect live content to become more varied and complex as consumers, brands, and sellers become more familiar with live streaming. We will also see non-conventional industries like automotive and housing leveraging live streaming. We see businesses from traditionally offline sectors such as agriculture are already streaming on Shopee Live, and we expect this trend to persist. 

In addition, consumers’ expectations to further engage on digital platforms will see live streaming converge with other emerging industries and technologies such as AI and AR to enhance the overall experience.

How is Shopee planning to further support and grow in this space?

We are continuously refining the Shopee Live interface to deliver a seamless and rewarding viewing experience, as well as helping brands and sellers engage and sell more effectively. Some of the ways include:

  • Educational support: We introduced special “Shopee Masterclass” sessions to help sellers learn from those who have successfully used Shopee Live to boost sales and store traffic. This is in addition to other educational initiatives such as step-by-step guides on our Seller Centre and tutorial webinars.
  • Operations support: Brands and sellers can also work with Shopee to produce live content that appeal to users in each market. They can also leverage our local networks to engage celebrities, influencers, and hosts for their streams. 
How do you balance building your brand with driving short-term performance?

Building our brand and driving near-term performance are not mutually exclusive objectives. Consistently catering to the needs of all our users, creating content that they resonate with and elevating their experience, will enable us to achieve both short- and long-term goals.

Our approach to building our brand is based on a simple concept – understanding what our users want. We listen actively to our users, and constantly innovate and adapt to ensure that their needs are being catered for. Building this trust of our platform amongst shoppers, sellers and brands is an ongoing process. Every touchpoint and every experience matters. We carry this philosophy in every campaign we roll out and every initiative we launch.

Shopee is known for bringing on board very high-profile brand ambassadors (Cristiano Ronaldo, BLACKPINK, Phua Chu Kang) – do share the rationale behind this strategy and how it has worked out for the brand in achieving targets/objectives. 

Our strategy for brand ambassadors (BA) is an extension of our goal for Shopee to provide a ‘Simple, Happy, Together’ experience for all our users. This means BAs need to be easily recognisable, unique and relatable to our users, able to bring people together and most importantly, reflect Shopee’s fun and positive personality.

Phua Chu Kang is an example of our hyper-localised approach. He is an iconic character, known and well-liked by Singaporeans of all ages. We also paired his famous catchphrase with a catchy jingle to create a more memorable experience. The result was an attention-grabbing video that appealed to the Singaporean audience.

The pandemic has forced a lot of brands to seek new and creative ways to engage with homebound consumers. What is the best way to approach this challenge of standing out in a digital-centric and hyper crowded marketplace?

The key is to stay relevant. Given that we live in the digital age where consumers have a wide variety of choices, it is essential to truly understand what our users want and offer the most relevant option to them.

What is your outlook for the year ahead?

E-commerce will continue to see sustained growth and play a bigger role in the way people do business and in the way we shop. Southeast Asia’s youth will form a big part of active shoppers in the next 15 years. They grew up communicating, collaborating, and entertaining themselves on mobile devices and online shopping must evolve to fit these needs.

According to a Facebook report, 70% of shoppers in Southeast Asia don’t know what they want or where to get it. Consumers visit multiple websites when researching and purchasing an item. As they need to do more and more of their shopping online, they would seek out channels that simplify and streamlines this process for them. We will see two major shifts as a result:

  • From brand.com to platforms: Platforms will provide brands with access to millions of users and enhance support through in-app features and logistical support. Overall, this will lower a brands’ customer acquisition and operations costs. We recently launched Shopee Premium to help luxury brands make the digital leap.
  • Brands want greater visibility online: As more brands and sellers come online, they need to compete for visibility. Recognising this trend, we partnered with five leading media agencies to launch the Shopee Media Agencies Partner Programme to empower them to help their brand partners succeed in e-commerce.
  • Consumers want more than just a transaction: The growing influence of millennials and Gen Zs have forced brands to think about their value to the consumer in terms of experience and engagement. Brands will need to think beyond simply selling a product to engaging the consumer at every digital touchpoint, to surprise and delight. 
What are you and the team anticipating in terms of opportunities/challenges in meeting business objectives and how are you preparing/planning ahead for it?

As we shift into the next normal, we expect a shift in consumer priorities and traditional retail experience to change as well. Hence, it is important for us to stay abreast of consumer trends and work with brands and sellers to ensure that we deliver the most relevant experience to engage buyers. 

What do you think will be the single biggest challenge that marketers from all industries and markets will need to grapple with in 2021?

The pandemic has highlighted the need for both businesses and consumers to be more prudent in spending. The biggest challenge for marketers will be to continue delivering value despite the economic outlook and engage consumers in preparation for the recovery.