Vastly popular in China, social commerce has yet to hit the same heights in Hong Kong, though the opportunities are almost endless.
Something is stopping Hongkongers from fully embracing social commerce (s-commerce) – essentially, the purchase of items through social networks. In China, millions of people are using platforms like Mobile Taobao and WeChat to shop, share photos of their purchases with their contacts, write reviews, and shop some more. In other parts of Asia, C2C businesses like these are also gaining traction.
In Hong Kong, while informal “buy and sell” groups are becoming popular on Facebook and Instagram, more formal s-commerce, which allows users to make purchases through social platforms, has yet to hit the big time in the SAR.
This may seem surprising, given our love of shopping, technology and socialising, but our history and geography offer an explanation: Hong Kong is a crowded city jam-packed with malls and retail shops that has a deep cultural connection to traditional bricks and mortar shopping.
We Hongkongers also treasure our online security: a recent Mastercard survey showed that only 37.4 per cent of Hong Kong consumers felt safe shopping online.
But our love of convenience is starting to change Hong Kong’s s-commerce landscape, evidenced by our growing relationship with more formal “mobile marketplaces” like Carousell, a start-up originating in Singapore which arrived in Hong Kong last year. Users “snap a picture of the product they want to sell, name a price and the product will be listed”. Potential buyers then browse through items and contact sellers directly. Other small s-commerce marketplaces like MilkMart and Letgo offer similar services.
The downsides to these marketplaces are a lack of legal protection for both parties should something go wrong, and the fact that unregulated transactions make it hard to prove that merchandise is genuine. Even so, Carousell saw over two million listings in the six months after its Hong Kong launch, with over 500,000 items marked as sold.
While Hongkongers’ natural online cautiousness may be putting the brakes on a potential B2C and C2C s-commerce gold rush for now, Carousell’s success shows that there are plenty of room for start-ups to grow. By developing s-commerce platforms that are convenient and secure and take Hong Kong’s unique shopping ecosystem into account, innovative start-ups can burst open this treasure trove.