German bad boys of the Web, the Samwer Brothers, are expanding their Rocket Internet in a blitzkrieg of Southeast Asia. Already infamous “cloners of the Web,” they have launched copies of Zappos, Amazon, and a delivery service called Food Panda in the untapped and populous markets of the region.
The Zappos shoe/apparel ecommerce clone Zalora and delivery service FoodPanda (not a clone of anything specific, as far as I can tell) have launched in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It looks like Amazon clone Lazada has only launched in Indonesia. But its been widely reported that Rocket plans on expanding the site to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines — and they’ve set up Facebook and Twitter accounts set up for those countries as well. (Their clone in the Middle East just changed names from Lazada to Mizado, any ideas why?)
These sites may actually be able to gain some traction in the region as most people here haven’t heard of Amazon and don’t care what’s a clone and what isn’t. The challenge for Rocket in Southeast Asia won’t so much be dispelling negative public opinion about their cloning practices, as it will be actually getting people to shop online.
Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines have a combined population of over 430 million increasingly tech-savvy and Internet-hungry people. But they are still widely distrustful of online payment. Beyond that, online payment systems simply don’t exist in many of these countries, and mobile payments aren’t yet a viable option. With credit card adoption in single digits, cash is still king and still will be for a while.
In more mature emerging markets like China and Russia, pioneering ecommerce vendors have painstakingly had to build out local distribution and cash-on-delivery routes to solve this problem. The Samwers have yet to prove they have the operational chops or the patience for that kind of undertaking.
Regardless, the move means jobs for the region, which is a good thing. Rocket is on a mad hiring spree throughout Southeast Asia – they only opened their Bangkok office in the last few weeks but have told job candidates that they plan on expanding to about 300 people in the Thai capital over the next few months.
At a hiring event at the prestigious Asian Institute of Technology, the company said that they “moved to Thailand some weeks ago to build the largest ecommerce website in the region.” If their hiring goals are similar in the five other countries they’re entering, that would total a whopping 1500 employees in Southeast Asia. That’s a lot of cash flying around even for this duo.