DRIVEN by rapid gains in smartphone use and people’s willingness to try new things in Myanmar, Alibaba Group plans to grow its business by at least five times in the country in the coming six to eight months, according to Frans Maas, managing director of Shop.com.mm, which is now under the fold of the Chinese e-commerce giant.
Myanmar’s biggest online shopping platform was acquired by Alibaba earlier this year.
“It is ambitious but we believe it is possible. Even though Alibaba has a very long-term vision, we hope to grow rapidly in this country,” Maas said in an exclusive interview.
“With Alibaba’s high technology and expertise in developing e-commerce in emerging markets worldwide, the company is set to maintain its leadership position in Myanmar’s e-commerce industry.
“Our strategy is that we need to develop local e-commerce first. Alibaba really believes in a localised e-commerce company, rather than bringing in a bunch of Chinese employees to Myanmar. Instead, Alibaba helps us build our own team, own structure and connection.”
Maas said Alibaba’s business expansion in Myanmar is under way, as the company aims to expand its current workforce of 230 employees to more than 1,000 in the country over the next few years.
Shop has become a company under Alibaba Group since its acquisition in May of Daraz Group, which had been owned by German start-up incubator Rocket Internet. Since then, all the contracts of the company’s staff have been under the management of Alibaba.
“Rocket Internet had a very short-term vision because they wanted to sell the company. They usually build a company and try to grow as soon as possible in order to sell it,” said Maas.
“Unlike them, Alibaba is committed to sustainability for many decades. They are much more focused on the long term, which means it is actually great to work in.”
The executive believes technology will mainly drive Alibaba’s growth in Myanmar.
“Everything is possible in Myanmar. We have seen a lot of significant changes here over the past few years. There is so much possibility with information technology - in personalisation for people, in direct messaging between customers and sellers, in real time data for sellers and so on,” he said.
“Technology will really shape customers’ experience, increase sellers’ skills and knowledge and improve the optimisation of the industry as a whole. For instance, payment technologies have improved in line with international standards. It is now super safe and secure.”
He foresees the use of technology-driven solutions that are more convenient and user-friendly in the months to come. This could have huge impacts on the e-commerce platform, he said.
More than half a million people in Myanmar use the platform for their online sales and purchases through its website or mobile application every month. A few thousand sellers have signed up on the website to sell their products online without the need to bother about the rental fees and electricity costs involved in opening a shop.
Maas expects to see a significant increase in the number of sellers thanks to its zero-commission strategy and better logistics and payment solutions.
“We are making it much more open for sellers so that they can closely work with us. For logistics, we have partnered with many companies, and Visa is our main partner for payments because it is the most sophisticated card in this country for online payments,” he said.
“MPU [Myanmar Payment Union] is not yet e-commerce enabled. But we will provide more payment options for customers in the near future. We are now actively discussing with private banks to introduce new payment solutions.”
The company will launch an instant messaging feature to ensure faster and better communication between customers and sellers within a few weeks. Consumers are also allowed to continue writing reviews, rating the sellers, and returning purchased goods to the sellers within one week if they are not satisfied with the quality of the products received.
“We will try to provide ordered goods as soon as possible, and will try to localise as much as we can. We will mainly focus on attracting new customers and educating sellers to ensure a better consumer experience in Myanmar.
We will educate customers and sellers about how online works through some video clips and handbooks in Burmese,” Maas said.
“Millions of Myanmar people have never bought anything online, as the industry is very young. Our main competitor in this market is Facebook because many people are buying and selling on Facebook, though it was not supposed to do so.”
Maas said the company’s growth would depend on how fast Myanmar people adapt to using new technologies.
“A very small percentage of businesses sell their products online because many people lack trust on e-commerce systems here. We will help build people’s trust on e-commerce. It is just a matter of time,” he said.
Maas said Alibaba would hold its first “11.11 The World’s Biggest Sale Day” in Myanmar on November 11 and he expects to see sales volumes 20 to 30 times higher than those of normal trading days.