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Wednesday, July 6, 2016, 23:08

Putting together a special shopping community

By Chai Hua

Editor’s note: A lifestyle and shopping app has taken regional markets by storm, helping carefree shoppers to declutter by putting up their unused or unwanted items on the block. The inventors say the new marketplace also helps people to strike up social relationships.

Putting together a special shopping community

In a shopping mecca like Hong Kong, people do have plenty of excuses for embarking on impulse buying sprees but, soon, whatever they have hoarded may start to gather dust in a corner of their home.

According to a survey by US-based charity organization Green Peace, Hong Kong girls have an average of 109 pieces of clothing stacked up in their wardrobe at any one time, with 20 pieces not worn at all or worn less than twice.

The poll also found that about half of the respondents would get rid of at least one T-shirt and a pair of sneakers each year. Based on the ratio, Hong Kong people discard 1.7 million T-shirts, 1.65 million pairs of shoes and 1.49 million shirts annually.

Half of those interviewed said they have never bought second-hand or “eco-friendly” clothing because they are in the dark as to how to acquire them.

Carousell – an online lifestyle marketplace and brainchild of Carousell Ptd Ltd, a Singapore startup – promises to tell carefree shoppers how to dispose of their unwanted items speedily and economically.

Carousell is a smartphone application that allows users to take a snapshot, type out a description and put up a listing of unused or unwanted items, such as clothes, furniture and even cars, on the block in about 30 seconds.

Chai Jia Jih, vice-president of Carousell, says their client pool has grown faster in Hong Kong than in Singapore.

He says it took only about eight months to hit one million listings in the SAR, compared with 18 months in the Lion City.

According to the entrepreneur, about 76 percent of Hong Kong families don’t have enough room to store their paraphernalia or unused items, so de-cluttering is always on top of their “do” list.

Chai expects to see some 10 million listings, or items on sale, in Hong Kong next year, saying they need the first one or two years to grow the community and foster customer awareness.

In 2012, three young entrepreneurs – Siu Rui Quek, Lucas Ngoo and Marcus Tan – built the first Carousell prototype in 54 hours at the Startup Weekend, a global event to help young entrepreneurs launch their startup projects.

They won the contest with Carousell and decided to work on it full time. In August 2012, the first version was launched at the Singapore iTunes Store.

Getting their startup off the ground had not been a walk in the park. Ngoo, a 27-year-old graduate of the National University of Singapore and Stanford University, recalled that, at one time, they had only seven new users a day.

“But then, we had 400 active users whom we kept in close contact with. We emailed every single person who had signed up,” he says. “Every single interaction with users can make a difference.”

He believes Carousell is not just a platform for selling. “It’s the community of users that makes it special.”

Chai explains why Carousell is positioned as a community rather than online shops.

Grouping them is a key part of our design, where users can find people with similar interest and hobbies, he says, adding that buyers and sellers can follow their favorite users and share items they have discovered with friends.

People don’t need to sell or buy all the time, he says, but they always want to check out fashionable and well-designed items, and share them with friends with a similar interest.

Therefore, focusing on turning it into a community can keep users stuck to using the application.

Carousell started off in Singapore and has since spread to 12 cities around the world. With more than 33 million listings, it has been ranked as the top lifestyle and shopping app in Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia.

Vica Chan, a 30-year-old Hong Kong resident, sold her BB cushion on Carousell at a 30-percent discount to its official price in two days.

“It’s a gift from one of my friends, but the color doesn’t match with my skin.” Four buyers showed interest in acquiring the item and Chan chose the first one. “It’s very fast,” she recalls.

However, unlike other online shopping platforms, Carousell doesn’t have a payment system. Chan received her payment through her personal bank account and mailed the BB cushion to the buyer.

She says she felt much “safer” using such a payment method, compared with inputting all her personal information and banking data into a mobile application.

According to Chai, they encourage buyers and sellers to meet face-to-face to finalize their transactions, and this helps them to strike up a friendship or organize offline activities to enable them to meet.

He believes paying online, in fact, can make transactions harder sometimes, while items can be delivered easier and safer offline. “If you don’t like the item when you see it, you can cancel the deal. It also encourages sellers to write an authentic description of the product with vivid details in order to increase the transaction rate.”
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