ShopBack looks to scale up in Australia

The cashback firm has garnered over 120,000 users and some 700 merchants Down Under.

SINGAPORE startup ShopBack is wrestling for a larger slice of the e-commerce pie in Australia - the firm's seventh and newest market in Asia-Pacific.

Offering cashback rewards for consumers who shop with its partner merchants online, ShopBack has amassed more than 7 million users and 1,500 merchants since its inception in 2014.

It currently operates in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand, and ventured into Australia in May this year.

In an interview with The Business Times, ShopBack's chief commercial officer Candice Ong noted that the Australian market holds "tremendous opportunities".

While Australia has a high Internet penetration rate of around 84 per cent, it is behind South-east Asian countries like Singapore and Indonesia in terms of app development - an area that ShopBack is well-versed in, she said.

Ms Ong added: "The consumers there are very used to procuring things online but their app development is only starting to pick up. Merchants are trying to get into the mobile app space, a lot of them want to drive app usage and that's where we come in."

ShopBack has since garnered over 120,000 users and some 700 merchants in Australia, which include e-commerce colossus Amazon and supermarket chain Woolworths. The firm's closest rival, Cashrewards, does not have a mobile app.

To further cement its presence Down Under, ShopBack has been "hiring aggressively" and onboarding new merchants over the past few months.

"Scaling that growth in Australia is tremendously important," said Ms Ong. "Making sure that we can operate and scale is very different from just starting up there."

The firm also brought Asia's year-end shopping extravaganza over to Australia with the ongoing ShopFest - ShopBack's inaugural shopping festival that is being held in all of its seven markets till January next year.

MEGA SALES

The festival sees over 500 participating merchants offer a wave of mega sales on selected days to drive both online and offline retail. These dates are typically Sept 9, Oct 10, Nov 11 and Dec 12 - commonly abbreviated as 9.9, 10.10, 11.11 and 12.12.

Also known as Singles Day in China, 11.11 has morphed into an annual 24-hour buying spree that exceeds the combined sales for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the United States.

Said Ms Ong: "In Australia, people are more familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday but I think it's just a matter of time before the other shopping events catch on here."

Establishing a foothold in seven markets under five years is a commendable feat for ShopBack, which focuses on cross-border collaboration among its offices in Asia-Pacific.

The firm encourages such interactions by sending local employees abroad to learn from colleagues in other markets and vice versa.

Townhall meetings are held every month and the general managers from each country are "closely connected", speaking with one another at least once a week, said Ms Ong.

She noted that maintaining close relations across the region helps the firm to stay ahead of the curve. "The different markets can teach us different lessons. Given that our geographical spread is quite wide now, there are so many lessons to draw from (to remain competitive)."

ShopBack also believes in hiring diversely to better understand the different cultural norms of each market. The Singapore office alone has employees of more than 15 nationalities.

Said Ms Ong: "We focus a lot on being able to tap the right connections and people. It's about hiring well, not hiring more."

To stay ahead of the competition in Singapore, ShopBack has also expanded into the offline space with its recent foray into the food and beverage (F&B) industry.

The firm extended its cashback model to food establishments - a growing market it intends to tap.

Known as ShopBack Go, this online-to-offline feature is slated for launch later this year. Paradise Group, Texas Chicken and Peperoni Pizzeria are some of the 200 F&B businesses that have come onboard.

A recent report from the Department of Statistics revealed that the total sales value of F&B services in August was estimated at S$728 million, up from S$706 million year on year.

Said Ms Ong: "Consumers pay merchants and merchants pay us the commission. This is the model that we have been tapping to scale our online presence and now we're bringing it offline.

"We saw that a lot of purchasing behaviour also extends offline and realised that when we write recommendations (on our blog), people tend to respond very well to the food space."

Consumers can redeem cashback when they purchase from a partner merchant with a Visa or Mastercard linked to their ShopBack account.

SHOPBACK GO

Following an activation event at 313@Somerset last month that attracted over 3,000 people to redeem 50 per cent cashback on Yole frozen yogurt, Ms Ong is confident ShopBack Go will be a promising step forward for the firm.

She said: "In terms of helping customers uncover value, we've done a pretty good job online. Now we want to help consumers uncover more offline."