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



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

Anurak Sareuthai is seen on a mobile phone as he sells dried seafood products during a Facebook live event at his house in Satun Province, Southern Thailand, May 30, 2019. Picture taken May 30, 2019. REUTERS / Jiraporn Kuhakan [19659003] Hawking dried shrimp, squid and fish in nocturnal Facebook ( FB.O ) lifestyles, Anurak, who is fast with a joke and skilled to interact with customers, can draw up to 300,000 viewers at a time.

He is supported by a team that helps respond to orders, answer questions on Facebook Messenger, monitor payments to his bank account and shout out the roof lines off camera for comic effect.

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

"Facebook and Instagram allow people. If you do the right thing with good content, you can make millions in just seven months," he told Reuters from the seaside resort of Satun.

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

Propagated by upgrades to mobile banking apps, sales via social media in Thailand more than doubled to $ 334.2 billion. Baht (USD 10.9 billion) in 2017, according to the latest report by the country's electronic transaction development agency.

In addition, sales accounted for 44% of e-commerce in Southeast Asia's second-largest economy and jumped from 21% the year before. Since then, banks have lost transfer fees, which are likely to drive the market further.

The popularity of the so-called social trade in Thailand is largely due to the fact that large e-commerce companies, cultural shopping trips and the wide use of Facebook ( FB.O ) and Instagram are relatively late. Ca. 38 million people or 57% of the population have access to Facebook every day, according to the US company.

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

"Social trade is a market for monitoring because Facebook has recently moved stronger in the trade direction with the launch of many trade-friendly features," said Alessandro Psicini, co-founder of Crea, who advises brands that will increase their social media sale in Thailand.

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

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

CUSTOMERS FIRST

In Asia, only Indonesia competes in social trade. It accounts for approx. 40% of e-commerce, but less than $ 3 billion, says 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 through social media are increasing in some countries.

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

Implementing a sale through social media can be difficult.

In Thailand, customers find products on Facebook or Instagram, while chats and payments usually take place on different apps. But for many Thailand, the appeal of social media trade is the direct communication with merchants.

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

"The Thai market is very customer-oriented," says Vilaiporn Taweelappontong, partner at PwC Thailand, adding that Thai shoppers love to browse and share, favoring social media across major online shopping malls.

"Dealers do everything to ensure a good experience for customers. In the United States and Europe, there is more standardization and there are fewer choices because the weight is at the back and things go faster."

The two largest online shopping malls in Thailand are now seeking to win over social media – who industry experts estimate number more than a hundred thousand. Both added live streaming services last year.

Alibaba's ( BABA.N ) Lazada, launched in Thailand in 2012, also launched an invitation-only program in August to bring social media sellers with a broad customer base on its website. About 300 traders have since joined.

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

However, some traders are not convinced.

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Patchararak Thanasintrakul, selling swimwear on Instagram account Swimsaic, hesitates with concerns about copycats and potential pressure to discount.

"We've been thinking about it. Lazada approached us, but we're worried about brand image. Lazada likes to support discounts, but our brand has never made discounts," she said.

A Lazada spokeswoman said the company did not force its merchants 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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