We Asked 3 Founders to Define E-Commerce Success

High gross merchandising volume (GMV)? Frequency of usage? Conversion rate? Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)?

If you’re interested in the fast-moving world of business-to-consumer e-commerce, what are some of the measurements of success? We spoke to the founders of three B2C e-commerce organisations to find out how they look at success - and it’s not what you would expect.

An Inspired Life

Miranda Qu is the co-founder of Xiaohongshu, also known as Little Red Book, a social e-commerce platform that blends shopping, e-commerce, user-generated content and reviews. The app has 85 million monthly active users spending over 100 million RMB each month on fashion, cosmetics and lifestyle products. Most of Xiaohongshu’s users are young women, who see themselves as part of a community, sharing detailed personal experiences of products they love, in reviews known as “shopping notes”.

And that’s what sets China-based Xiaohongshu apart from Taobao or other eCommerce apps: great content. In its early days, content was all that it had, and in many ways, it has stayed true to its roots.

“We don’t do ads,” says Miranda. “Any content you find on Xiaohongshu is true, written by our own users, with no benefit to do so.” When e-commerce options became available on Xiaohongshu, the inherent trust that users had on the platform was transferred from the community to e-commerce, said Miranda. Commerce just became a mere extension of the value that Xiaohongshu provided to its users.

Miranda’s awareness of her company’s value proposition in the competitive eCommerce landscape underpins her measure of success. She describes success in lofty terms, a desire to influence the lifestyles of millennial Chinese, “As young Chinese people discover different lifestyles, I’d want the first brand they think of to be Little Red Book. I think that’s the kind of success we want to achieve.”

Tokopedia Sets Its Sights On Impact

Hitting a billion dollar run-rate is the ultimate dream for most successful start-ups. But once Indonesian technology company Tokopedia hit $1 billion GMV in their online marketplace business, going after the next billion was not the first thing on their minds.

“We stopped playing the GMV game,” says William Tanuwijaya, founder and CEO of Tokopedia. “And we started to think about impact.” With Tokopedia - a portmanteau of ‘Toko’ (‘shop’ in Bahasa Indonesia) and ‘encyclopedia’ - contributing up to 1.5% of the country’s one trillion dollar economy, William and Patrick Cao, President of Tokopedia, have set their sights much further than sales.

“The internal measurement is how [much] of this economy will be contributed by Tokopedia. We are no longer fighting for our e-commerce market share in Indonesia, or our market share in the e-commerce pie,” says William. Looking beyond the e-commerce bubble, Tokopedia evolved its ecosystem to infrastructure-as-a-service, providing logistics, fulfillment, payments, and financial services technologies to empower online and offline commerce. William calls this move a ‘pillar of evolution’ for the company, especially in the impact that it brings to millions of businesses and partners in their ecosystem.

“Honestly, I think for us, we’re just getting started. We’re thinking about how we contribute to Indonesian GDP,” adds Patrick.

Serving The Next 400 Million in India

High school friends Kunar Bahl and Rohit Bansal co-founded a flash deal website called Snapdeal in 2010. Ten years on, Snapdeal is now India’s leading online marketplace with over 200 million listings, products in over 600 categories and boasting over 30 million unique buyers on the platform.

Things may look rosy now, but just two years ago, in 2018, Snapdeal was going through trying times as it navigated a fiercely competitive e-commerce landscape in India, including almost merging with its biggest rival Flipkart. The organisation emerged from the bloody battle with a brand new focus and strategy.

“Our company found a great opportunity in re-focusing ourselves,” says Kunal. “In a way, [we went] back to our roots of building a marketplace that serves the needs of the next 400 million e-commerce buyers in India.”

Who are these 400 million buyers? To Kunal and Rohit, they were a growing wave of Indian consumers going online for the first time, and whose needs were not being met by current e-commerce companies in terms of price and selection. “GDP per capita in India is much lower,” shares Rohit. “And a large number of Indian users who are coming online now do not have that kind of [high] income. The pricing in which these users buy things is very different from what is being sold.”

For Snapdeal, success came in the form of identifying and maintaining laser focus on this value-conscious segment of online buyers. “[We] set up our entire organisation with a clear focus of serving the needs of these consumers, which also means that we set up our supply chain fulfillment and logistics capabilities in a manner that we can sell products which are $5, $7, $10,” says Rohit.

“And it seemed like a dream then,” confesses Kunal. “Not many people believed it could be done given the irrational competition that we see in India. But we just worked with a lot of focus and discipline serving the needs of these particular customers with this type of selection, with the type of service and experience that they wanted. And it seems to be showing quite promising results.”

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