Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Multiply is Shutting Down: Good or Bad News?

Indonesian version

These past few days journalists from various media publications have been reaching out to me, asking about the Indonesia's e-commerce scene. The news about Multiply closing down has surprised many, with most of them being the Internet industry players. The frequently asked question was "How is Indonesian e-commerce looking like at the moment?" and "What's your take on Multiply's shut down and what's its potential impact on e-commerce industry in Indonesia?" Here's what I have to say:

How is Indonesia's e-commerce looking like?

E-commerce scene in Indonesia is doing very well. In 2012, total Internet users amounted to more than 60 millions. From the number, approximately 5% have done online transactions, meaning that there are 3 million people in Indonesia who have shopped online at least once. This number excludes purchases for airline tickets, hotel vouchers, and concert tickets. Internet users in 2014 is projected to rise to 80 million and the adoption rate of e-commerce will reach more than 10%. There will be a surge in the number of online consumers to 8 - 10 million people. The average spending of online transactions currently ranges from 100 - 200 thousand Rupiah per transaction. If this consumer shops at least once or more, then the value of e-commerce transactions would easily reach 1-3 Trillion Rupiah or about 100 - 300 million USD. Internet adoption rate would grow significantly in the next 5 years – almost similar to the way we experienced the mobile adoption period during 2000 - 2010.

The numbers above shows that it is only a matter of time there will be a significant Internet growth and rapid adoption of online shopping behavior.

What's your take on Multiply's shut down and what's its potential impact on e-commerce industry in Indonesia?

Please refer to e-commerce business models found at the bottom of this article to fully understand my take on this.

The way I see it, Multiply's decision to shut down its operation was solely based on a strategic investment point of view rather than taking it from the e-commerce industry growth itself.

When it was still operating, Multiply used to provide a subsidy for each transaction through free shipping. Therefore, the more transaction that took place, the bigger the loss they suffered. In a marketplace business model, the potential revenue generated in comparison to the cost produced per transaction still take up quite some time to generate positive cash flow. Unlike Tokobagus that employs a media business model; the more listing people create, the higher the number of the revenue.

In a marketplace business model, the cost of market education compared to the potential monetization opportunity is still a long way to go. In the long run though, both marketplace and the media model would acquire quite a rich merchant database. If the merchants are already reaping the benefits of transactions, then it would be fairly easy for Tokobagus to also create a marketplace as well as a media.

Post- shut down, there's a number of qualified human resources available to be dispersed in the e-commerce industry. I experienced a similar condition when I left, when a good number of the talents now have become leaders in various e-commerce and Internet companies. The same thing also happened when Yahoo! let go of Koprol and when Detik was acquired by Transgroup; it contributes to growth of the industry because of the proliferation of talents with extensive knowledge and experience.

The talents now have the liberty to choose to to work in other companies or to form new startups in e-commerce. Investors certainly have more confidence to invest in those who are already equipped with an experience of running a similar business.

Therefore I am very optimistic that e-commerce will be huge in Indonesia!

E-commerce Business Model: Online vs. Retail Marketplace

There is a significant difference in between a marketplace and an online store. For an easier understanding, let's use the analogy of a marketplace as a mall and an online store as a retail store. The most popular marketplace model worldwide are eBay and Alibaba, while Amazon would be a very familiar name for an online retail model.

eBay's business model is to generate revenue from two things, listing fee and final value fee or transaction fee. Listing fee is charged to merchants or sellers for any products that appear on eBay. Sellers will still be paying for listing fee regardless the goods are sold or not. Meanwhile, transaction fee or final value fee will be charged by eBay when a transaction occurs – such fee is determined in a percentage amount of the value of goods sold. Since eBay has Paypal, they will also gain from the third kind of the fee via an escrow service or a payment made via Paypal. Such monetization model is fairly prone to the shady deals completed outside of eBay, therefore eBay provides a harsh penalty if they caught theirs merchant settling transactions outside of eBay. With these models, what eBay calls a revenue is not the total value of the transaction, but the listing fee and final value fee/ transaction fee received. Since eBay requires no inventory and all the operational services are performed by merchants, their profit is considerably high compared to Amazon.

Amazon deploys a very different approach, in which they treat all of their merchants as suppliers of goods. They set a margin for every transaction. In the retail world, clothing and books could possibly have a margin of 40% or more, but electronics, gadgets and computers normally can only go as far as 5% or slightly beyond. By applying a margin, what Amazon calls a revenue is the entire transactional value of goods. With this kind of model, the value of Amazon's revenue is huge. Yet, since the operational costs spent on inventory, risk, lost goods, and customer service are also comparably huge, their profit is considered fairly small.

Alibaba's approach is similar to eBay but still with a few significant differences. Their B2B marketplace model has to pay special attention to few particular services such as seller's verification, multilingual customer service, and also mediation service. This model has become sustainable for Alibaba because they collect recurring income from the sellers for all the services they offer.

When it comes to goods, goods owned by online retail can be of a consignment type or purchased. Consignment is often used if traffic to the online is considerably high and suppliers are convinced that their products will be sold once in the hands of the online retail. Purchased goods approach is normally done when the online retail wants exclusive products – and also weighing a risk factor that the goods might not get sold.

In the offline world, the marketplace model is similar to a market and a mall, while the online retail model is implemented by companies such as Sogo and Matahari.

E-commerce Business Models in Indonesia

Multiply applies a marketplace model just like Tokopedia. Such model generates revenue from value of the transaction or premium member features. Revenue from this model is considered small compared with the value of the transaction – whereas the costs spent are not small due to operational and marketing expenses. In the case of Multiply, they subsidize transactions with free shipping offer.

Blibli, Lazada and Bhinneka, with their online retail model, take a relatively higher margin than a marketplace model can do by only applying transaction fee.

Companies like Tokobagus and Berniaga who act on a media model offer classified ads to visitors. This model does not gain from transaction fee but from listings made by sellers. In an early stage of e-commerce in Indonesia, this model is quite simple. Sellers also directly feel the benefit of the paid, premium features when their listing is shown as a premium one.

Thanks to @deasurjadi for the translation

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