Online retail tussle stepped up as small shops get lift

Updated: 2015-06-13 08:01

By agnes lu in Hong Kong(HK Edition)

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Competition in Hong Kong's online retail business has grown fiercer with small designer shops being given a lift by a Hong Kong-based startup to give others a run for the money.

These shops, with designers or craftsmen producing unique garments and handicrafts, which were driven by soaring rents high to operate from the city's high rises, leaving shoppers at a loss, have now been given a new lease of life.

Startup enterprise Popmap is helping to put these shops on its online map to boost their sales.

Rather than calling itself an e-commerce platform, Popmap considers itself a marketplace of businesses discovery - midway between the consumer and the merchants, online and offline.

"Due to skyrocketing rents, designers have been forced to move into high-rises or even industrial buildings far away from the city center," said Idris Sersoub, founder and CEO of Popmap.

Launched last year by a team of four tech-savvy French with angel funds, the location-based website and its mobile app allow users to browse products and shops nearby and purchase them directly online.

Buyers can choose pick up their goods at the store, or order delivery service, which will bring their purchased items to their offices or homes as fast as within an hour.

For each successful sale, Popmap takes in 10 to 20 percent of the sales value as commission. It can also help shop owners to synchronize inventories among the shops, the website and the app.

So far, 170 shops have registered and more than 15,000 items listed for sale. An average of three shops join the website daily, with 80 percent of them being fashion and accessories stores, and the rest selling home decor and lifestyle products.

Most of the businesses have a physical store, but others are still operating from their homes, offices or showrooms.

Given the traffic, Sersoub said it's a considerable deal for these merchants, with their not-so-favorable location and less online exposure.

Online retail tussle stepped up as small shops get lift

"They're alone," he said. "If they're on Etsy or on their own websites, they're still lost in so many other websites, and you cannot find them unless you know their name. But on Popmap, even if you don't know the name, you'll find them because they're near you."

But just like everyone else, the team did not get to know the interesting individual shops automatically. They have tried different ways, including walking everywhere and knocking on door to door, searching online, asking friends' friends, and reaching out to shops on Facebook.

Although Hong Kong has long been noted as a city that discourages the development of e-commerce, as access to everything here is very convenient, Popmap said what they value is the city's many shops hiding in and behind the high rises.

Besides, unlike Paris or London, where shops are usually many small buildings alongside the streets but sometimes can be too far away to reach, Hong Kong's smaller city size and convenient transportation is surely a plus.

But the problem is that "it can be fast to find things from the shops you already know, but there're many shops you don't know are closed to you as well," said Sersoub.

The website has spread its footprints to Europe, with shops in France, the UK, Sweden, Spain and Denmark, but the operators still see locating small stores in Hong Kong as the main focus.

"You get to taste the flavor of what Hong Kong has to offer, and that's why we started here because of its diversity," said Sersoub.

 Online retail tussle stepped up as small shops get lift

As more and more small designer shops and craftsmen walk out of the industry due to soaring rents and fi erce competition in Hong Kong, e-commerce platforms which serve as a marketplace between consumers and merchants, online and offine, have shed new light on the business. Jerome Favre / Bloomberg

(HK Edition 06/13/2015 page7)