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Business

From shrimp to fake eyelashes, social media sales soar in Facebook-friendly Thailand




SATUN, Thailand (Reuters) – The son of a Thai fisherman, Anurak Saruethai, never took life at sea. But seafood has been good for him.

Blood cream, octopus and fish in nocturnal Facebook ( FB.O ) lifestyles, Anurak, fast with a joke and adept to interact with customers, can draw up to 300,000 viewers at a time.

He is supported by a team that helps to respond to orders, answering questions on Facebook Messenger, monitoring payments to the bank account and calling out the lines outside the camera for comic effects.

The formula works so well, Anurak says he alone produced 26 million baht ($ 829,000) in March.

"Facebook and Instagram give people an opportunity. If you do it right with good content, you can make millions in just seven months," he told Reuters from the coastal town of Satun.

His success is symbolic of increasing social media trade in Thailand, where contractors sell products directly to customers via Facebook, Instagram and message apps such as Japan's Line Corp. ( 3938.T ).

Powered by upgrades to mobile banking applications, sales via social media in Thailand more than doubled to 334.2 billion baht ($ 10.9 billion) in 2017, according to the latest report from the country's electronic transaction development office.

In addition, these sales accounted for 44% of e-commerce in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy and jumped from 21% The previous year, since then, the banks have lost transfer fees, probably to drive the market further.

The popularity of so-called social trade in Thailand is largely due to the relatively late arrival of large e-commerce companies, cultural shopping preferences and the broad use of Facebook ( FB.O ) and Instagram. About 38 million people or 57% of the population access Facebook every day, according to the US firm.

Growth also highlights the global business opportunities for Facebook and its Instagram device.

"Social trade is a market for monitoring because Facebook has moved more sharply in a trading direction recently with the launch of many trade-friendly features," said Alessandro Psicini, co-founder of Crea who advises brands wishing to increase their social media sales in Thailand.

Facebook said this month that it wanted to expand into payments and start their own coin. Instagram in March introduced a cash button that allows users to shop without leaving the app, but that feature is currently limited to a small number of brands and US consumers.

Facebook and Instagram refused to comment on how they plan to make the most of social trading opportunities.

Anurak Sareuthai is seen on a mobile phone when he sells dried seafood products during a live event on Facebook in his home in Satun province, south of Thailand, May 30, 2019. Photo taken May 30, 2019. REUTERS / Jiraporn Kuhakan [19659015] CUSTOMERS FIRST

In Indonesia, only Indonesia competes with Thailand in social trade. There it accounts for about 40% of e-commerce, but is worth a less $ 3 billion, says consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The market is less developed, as many Indonesians do not have bank accounts and because of the challenges of delivering goods across the country's archipelago.

In other parts of Asia, shopping on major e-commerce platforms such as China's Alibaba ( BABA.N ), Amazon.com's ( AMZN.O ) Japan entity or Walmart WMT.N ) Indian unit Flipkart is the norm, although sales via social media are increasing in some countries.

Live streaming of merchants has gained popularity in China, while in India social trading companies have emerged over the past year. Satish Meena, senior analyst at Forrester Research, says the company's preliminary estimates provide India's annual social sales revenue of $ 100- $ 150 million.

Completing a sale via social media can be cumbersome.

In Thailand, customers find products on Facebook or Instagram, while chats and payments usually take place on different applications. But for many Thai people, the appeal of social media shopping is direct communication with sellers.

Chonticha Srisawang, 35, who has her own brand of false eyelashes and over 76,000 followers on Instagram, prang_bohktoh, says customers were comfortable placing orders after she took the time to answer questions on the chat app Line.

"The Thai market is very customer-oriented," said Vilaiporn Taweelappontong, partner at PwC Thailand, adding that Thai buyers love to browse and share, which favors social media across major online stores.

"Merchants do everything to ensure that customers get a good experience. In the US and Europe, there is more standardization and there are fewer choices because the weight is at the back and things are moving faster."

The two largest Thailand's online stores are now looking to win over social media retailers – who industry experts estimate more than a hundred thousand. Both made live streaming services last year.

Alibaba's ( BABA.N ) Lazada, who started in Thailand in 2012, also started an invitation program in August to bring social media salesmen with a broad customer base on their side. About 300 merchants have since joined.

Sea Ltd ( SE.N ) increased $ 1.5 billion in March, some of which will go towards educating salespeople on how to best use their Shopee platform, which debuted in Thailand in 2015

However, some merchants are not convinced.

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Patchararak Thanasintrakul, who sells swimwear on the Instagram account Swimsaic, is tough due to concerns about copycats and potential pressure to discount.

"We have thought about it. Lazada approached us, but we are concerned about brand image. Lazada likes to support discounts, but our brand has never made discounts," she said.

A Lazada spokesman said the company did not force its traders to discount.

Reporting of Chayut Setboonsarng; Further reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal in Mumbai, Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Cindy Silviana in Jakarta; Editing by Kay Johnson and Edwina Gibbs

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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