Jeff Lim (right), general manager at Shopline Singapore. Photo courtesy of Shopline.
While the e-commerce industry has brought new opportunities for sellers, buyers, and different operators, there’s no doubt that it also increased existing problems such as overconsumption and packaging waste. As the year-end shopping season comes close, Oasis talked to industry practitioners and experts to hear their thoughts on what needs to be done to create a better future for the sector.
Jeff Lim, formerly of Lazada and Zilingo, and now general manager at e-commerce SaaS provider Shopline in Singapore, sees himself as a venture builder and an entrepreneur. He says he has an ability to “build things from zero and grow them to 1,000 and more.”
Shopline provides software solutions for small and mid-sized enterprises to create and manage online shops. The company also assists companies with their social e-commerce operations, as well as with advertising and marketing strategy design.
“In short, we are a smart commerce enabler. We want to empower merchants to succeed everywhere,” Lim told Oasis. “In addition to e-commerce, we also provide solutions for merchants to integrate their marketplace channels, retail channels, or even social media channels into one platform.”
This interview has been edited and consolidated for clarity and brevity.
Shopline provides SaaS services to over 250,000 SMEs in seven markets across Asia, including China, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Photo courtesy of Shopline.
Oasis (OS): Having worked at Lazada, why did you decide to join Shopline?
Jeff Lim (JL): When I was in Lazada, we launched the very first Double 11 sales season in Singapore. It was so successful that today, mega sales happen every month in Southeast Asia. This is good from a consumer’s point of view, but for the SMEs, it basically means that you’re giving away more margin, and they see this as a not healthy life cycle for their businesses.
That’s the reason I moved to Shopline. We want to let merchants know that apart from promotional mechanics and besides just giving away discounts, you can also build brand loyalty and reach out to your targeted consumers at a much lower acquisition cost. At the same time, thanks to an intelligent management system, merchants can increase the consumers’ repeat purchase rate instead of just lowering prices. Working for a “new home” that helps increase the longevity of businesses is very important to me. SMEs are also still underserved, although they account for about 80% of the entire economy of Southeast Asia.
OS: What are some unique characteristics of SMEs in the region? How does Shopline adapt its product to meet the needs of local companies?
JL: We observed that maintaining a human touch in Asia and the APEC region is a big aspect for merchants when they go digital, partially because of cultural and language diversity. So, we put many human resources into building trust with merchants, educating them about our platform before onboarding them. Here in Singapore, for example, we have a team that teaches how to use integrated logistics and payment, and we have a team that visits merchants and does regular checks with them. Then, we have a team to make sure that merchants have the proper online infrastructure.
OS: What are some of the problems that the e-commerce industry as a whole needs to pay more attention to?
JL: Packaging waste is one of the problems. Business owners need to reduce this entire packaging race that fulfills the so-called unboxing experience. However, there are some solutions to this. For example, you could work with local partners such as Ninja Van, one of the leading local logistics partners in the region. They provide sustainable and environment-friendly packaging options.
Another example is Alibaba logistics, which employs a smart packaging algorithm that matches purchase items to the most space-efficient form of packaging. I think this has helped them to reduce over 15% of packaging this year.
OS: What about the overconsumption problem caused by e-commerce?
JL: That’s a very tough question to answer because, from an e-commerce point of view, the objective is to increase the basket size and increase revenues. It’s a tricky balance to manage. To be honest, I don’t think there’s an obvious solution or remedy to solve this problem, even in the next two to three years. At the end of the day, when prices are really good, consumer behavior is really hard to change. However, I’ve also seen some platforms promoting second-hand products and other recycled offerings, like Carousel. This could bring some changes to the industry.
OS: You identify as someone who can start things from zero. What are the qualities required to do that?
JL: First, definitely the passion. When I look for new people to join the team, there are people who are new to the industry, but their passion motivates them to do better. This is especially important in the very early days of a company when there are many trials and errors, and every teammate plays a significant role. The right energy and passion really motivate everyone to keep ongoing.
The second point is the vision. I always look out for visionary people who can picture what the industry is supposed to be in the future. Because these people can usually come out with new ideas, they also help us think about what we could achieve in the next six months.
The third point is execution—someone who can get their hands on things and is not afraid of tedious matters.