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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Carousell

Carousell, the leading classifieds group in Greater Southeast Asia, is on a mission to inspire the world to start selling, and to make second-hand the first choice. Founded in August 2012 in Singapore, the group has a leading presence in eight markets under the brands Carousell, Mudah.my, Cho Tot, OneKyat and Ox Street, serving tens of millions of monthly active users. 

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Carousell is backed by leading investors including Telenor Group, Rakuten Ventures, Naver, STIC Investments and Sequoia Capital India.

In partnership with eTail Asia 2022, Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Ng Chee Soon, Managing Director at Carousell Singapore. Together we discussed Carousell’s growth in the last ten years, Singapore’s second-hand market and the company’s future plans.

RiA: In 2021, Carousell has officially become one of Singapore’s unicorns. Can you walk us through the growth of Carousell since its inception?

Chee Soon: Carousell was founded in Singapore in 2012 by three university students: Quek Siu Rui, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan. The brand has now expanded to 8 markets around the world, and is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing classifieds marketplaces.

The investment of US$100 million from STIC Investments marks a significant milestone that has brought Carousell’s valuation to US$1.1 billion and will power the group’s ambitions to redefine commerce for secondhand goods and automobiles in an increasingly digitally savvy, affluent and sustainability-conscious region.

Our horizon of recommerce offerings has also expanded over the years, and we have grown way beyond categories like fashion, electronics, and general goods. In order to meet the increasingly diversified needs of our users, Carousell has rapidly expanded the types of products and services, including the sale and rental of autos and property, as well as home services. Even though we have introduced these new categories throughout the years, classified goods is still our bread-and-butter.

RiA: The pandemic accelerated the adoption of second-hand shopping. How did that translate into Carousell’s user base or monthly transactions? Can you elaborate on the second-hand market in Singapore?

Chee Soon: As online commerce booms, we’re expecting that there will also be a corresponding growth in the preloved market. Over the past two years from 2019 to 2021, we have also seen a double-digit increase in secondhand listings on Carousell in Singapore.

Last year, we released the Carousell Recommerce Index (2021 Report) to highlight the importance of sustainability and recommerce in the Greater Southeast Asia region. The report covers findings from four Carousell Group brands—Carousell, Cho Tot, Mudah and OneKyat—across eight markets—Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam. The report found that 83 percent of our Singapore users surveyed have bought second-hand items before. Of the 83 percent, 74 percent choose to buy second-hand as it was value-for-money and 30 v say they do so for environmental reasons.

The report also found that Women’s Fashion was the most popular secondhand category in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, Hobbies & Toys rose in demand by 29 percent to take first place from Women’s Fashion in Singapore, as more look to secondhand items for entertainment during the pandemic. However the biggest increase in demand was Sports Equipment, which saw 86 percent increase in listing views as users sourced for alternatives when gyms had to close or restrict capacity with the various social distancing measures in 2020.

RiA: What are the best-selling product categories on Carousell? Have you noticed a shift in the last couple of years?

Chee Soon: The pandemic has shown that our mission is more relevant than ever. We have seen an increase in users and businesses as people need to buy more affordably, and sell to maintain their livelihoods.

With more people spending time at home, our growth categories have been:

  • Home Services: We have seen a huge increase in activity for Home Services with weekly demand doubling from 2020 till date. Popular services include renovation, home and aircon cleaning, repairs and movers. We are focusing on growing this category further in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
  • Sports: In 2021, when Phase 2 measures were announced, we saw a huge surge in the demand for home gym equipment on Carousell, with more people wanting to exercise in the comfort and safety of their homes. In terms of searches, which shows interest from consumers, we’ve seen a 320 percent increase in searches for ‘spin bike’ and up to 200 percent increase in weights, barbells and dumbbells. This same demand follows in the spike in responses, where users chat with sellers on the listing which shows an even greater intent to buy. The biggest spikes we saw here are a 1,400 percent increase in responses for dumbbells and a 914 percent increase in responses for spin bikes.
  • Luxury: For luxury, we’ve seen collectors buy more during this time where people might be reselling for a lower rate. From 2019 to 2020, we’ve seen over 100 percent growth for luxury items, out of which 85 percent are listed by casual sellers. We’re projecting that this growth will continue, especially as Singapore continues to recover post-pandemic and are looking into authentication capabilities on our marketplace.
Source: Carousell

RiA: Carousell (the brand) launched the autos vertical in 2017. In 2021, Carousell Group formed the Carousell Auto Group with all the various brand’s autos vertical. Can you tell us more about it?

Chee Soon: The Autos market potential is huge and we’re investing aggressively in Autos as it is a big thrust for our group in the next 3 to 5 year time frame. Our individual autos brands are now combined to form Carousell Auto Group, a profitable business unit that contributes the largest revenue share of Carousell Group. This is an indication of our ambition to reimagine the autos buying, selling and ownership experience across the region.

When we discuss autos buying, every marketplace is an online to offline experience, but we’re definitely seeing more of an appetite for omnichannel approach with virtual viewings and multiple points of contact with the consumer. Our aim is to build on this loyalty to provide our users with a truly e-commerce-like experience when it comes to the Autos ecosystem in cars, and beyond. What we’re really excited about is truly reimagining it as a fully online model, which is where we come in with our expertise as the region’s largest online classifieds marketplace and what we are doing on the recommerce front in other verticals.

RiA: Can you elaborate on Carousell’s authentication process for high value products?

Chee Soon: We have been looking at authentication capabilities for higher-value products, including luxury goods and cars. In Singapore, you might have seen luxury listings with an InstantBuy tag. We have been working on it as a convenient and trusted experience for second-hand, and we are piloting it in certain categories. Only selected sellers are allowed to list with InstantBuy, to ensure that all InstantBuy listings are high-quality, available, and ready to ship. Carousell will step in the transaction if the buyer receives an item that is not as described and facilitate eligible returns back to the seller and refunds to the buyer. We’re providing an ecommerce-like experience, but for second-hand, or recommerce, with (1) assured quality, (2) shipping, (3) integrated payment through Carousell Protection and even (4) returns with full refunds, all at much lower prices while participating in the circular economy.

In 2019, we launched the Carousell Rights Owners Programme (CROP), a platform to tackle counterfeit listings in collaboration with trusted brand partners by allowing them to directly remove listings of brand replicas from Carousell. We are also grateful to have such an active community who takes the effort to proactively flag suspicious listings or users to us so that we can take action.

RiA: You just mentioned Carousell’s community. How do you leverage digital innovation and technology to grow and engage with your community?

Chee Soon: How Carousell differentiates itself from other market players is that we are not an online marketplace that drives consumption, but one that inspires every person in the world to make more possible for one another by selling and buying. As a community-driven platform, Carousell allows for that human connection which has sparked magic, something that cannot be found elsewhere on e-commerce sites.

We see the community element very strongly during the pandemic where some users gave away masks for free or made reusable masks to increase the availability of affordable options. It is worth the work we have done in building a platform to enable people to support each other and strengthen the community.

We have also listened to our community’s interests. For example, we were inspired by our users to create a category to list free items. Many users have already been doing so, starting various initiatives such as hashtagging ‘#blessings’ in their listing titles. With improvements to the user experience for our Free Items category, we launched a #GiveforSG campaign during the National Day period in Singapore, harnessing the community spirit on Carousell. In a month, we exceeded our community goal of 20,200 items given away, which means that 20,200 items were repurposed and saved from being thrown out mindlessly. We’ve seen Free Items growing almost nine times since launch and continue seeing a very healthy adoption rate of this category where 80 percent of items listed for free are given away within seven days.

 RiA: What’s next for Carousell?

Chee Soon: Our priority remains on creating a lifestyle for consumers where second-hand is the first choice. Carousell is dominant across the horizontals, and we have the opportunity to provide secondhand options across the customer’s life-cycle. No other platform in SEA is able to do this. Our goal is to make transacting in a secondhand marketplace as convenient and trusted as any e-commerce platform so that secondhand can truly be the first choice.

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RiA:  What will you be sharing at eTail Asia 2022?

Chee Soon: I will be sharing key learnings on how to engage consumers and rally a community, even as companies go digital and automate processes. Our community is one of the things that is unique to Carousell. We wanted to ensure we do not lose the human touch with other parts of the platform, such as Carousell for Business (CarouBiz) which is a suite of premium seller tools that users can subscribe to via app and website. With such an automated process, it can be easy to lose the community engagement. However, we continue to engage this group of users in various ways, through events, training, community stories and so on. I hope attendees will be inspired to adopt some of our learnings and continue to nurture a vibrant community, even if their product may not seem like the natural fit at first.

Register for eTail Asia 2022 here.