Taiwan’s eCommerce market generated revenues of US$25 billion in 2013, according to data cited by the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei. The island’s robust logistics network, bolstered by ubiquitous convenience stores, help make same-day delivery commonplace. Yip says that Hong Kong’s eCommerce industry lags behind that of Taiwan due to its smaller population and dense brick-and-mortar landscape.
“[In Hong Kong] when people think of eCommerce, they think of Taobao to buy things from the mainland because it’s cheap. But when it comes to buying normal things like a shirt, you wouldn’t really go to Zara.com you’d just go to Zara because it’s across the street. Whereas in Taiwan, geographically it’s bigger, so there’s more of a need, and it’s a little more mature.”
Shopline’s latest round stands out in particular due to Ardent Capital’s participation. The Bangkok-based venture capital firm invests almost exclusively in Southeast Asia eCommerce plays. Its management team also directly oversees aCommerce, a portfolio company that provides back-end logistics and services for eCommerce companies across the region.
Back in November, aCommerce’s Paul Srivokal told Tech in Asia that the store-in-a-box model might not be suited to Southeast Asia, as eCommerce remains in the early stages and merchants will hesitate to pay for traffic. That might make Ardent bet on Shopline might therefore seem counterintuitive. But Yip says that his team’s proven record in Hong Kong in Taiwan shows that Shopline can execute once merchant preferences evolve.
“There’s no question in my mind that eCommerce is going to mature in this direction,” says Yip. “When this does happen, we want to be at the forefront of it.
“We told them we’re going to go to Southeast Asia anyway, so we’d rather do it with someone who has the resources to help us. They fully agreed and they supported us.”
In addition to Shopify, Shopline faces a handful of other Asian competitors. Taiwan’s 91mai, which is founded by former team behind Yahoo Taiwan’s eCommerce channel, offers a similar product for eCommerce vendors, but through native apps rather than mobile websites. Uitox, another Taiwan company founded by an eCommerce veteran, lets vendors build websites free of charge and monetises through commissions on purchases and value-added services.
In Japan, Base is seen as the market leader for the vertical with more than 150,000 shops on its platform. All companies have ambitions to expand beyond their domestic markets.