Tapping the Asian E-Commerce Mitochondria: Multiply and Real World E-Commerce

I would have prepared an abstract for this rather lengthy post, well you’ve been warned, but instead I’m inviting you to read on if you’re interested to know more about the Asian online market.

Mind that this isn’t a research paper; hence I wouldn’t be presenting any detailed charts and/or graphs, rather, I would derive most of my statements from real world experiences. By the end of this article, I’m optimistic enough that you’d understand and appreciate the sleeping dragon beneath Asia’s e-commerce industry, and potentially expand your knowledge of emerging markets in other parts of the world.

A Typical Asian Flea Market

To give you a heads up, I’ll work my way through a couple of short stories, followed by some analyses and insights that would hopefully drive my point. Lastly, we’ll look into the repositioning of media sharing network Multiply into a promising e-commerce platform in Asia.

Three Real Life Stories

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Makati City, Philippines, August 2010

Every morning, I start my day by spending an hour or two browsing through my laundry list of things to accomplish: my emails, my Twitter stream, and of course my feeds. While I was looking around, I came across a Mashable Meetup scheduled for October approximately three cities away from where I live. The meetup was open-to-all and was initially planned for social media marketers who would like to sit down and share ideas and experiences about the local social media scene. From the list of attendees, it’s interesting to note that most of them were people I didn’t know, and some were people I probably heard of somewhere.

Well, I wasn’t able to attend the gathering due to some other appointments, though it’s really fascinating to know that a group of random social media marketers were willing enough to meet almost anonymously in a cafe to discuss things that interested them the most.

ABS-CBN Interactive, Quezon City, Philippines, July 2010

I’ve been doing fine art and graphic design as a hobby for years now and it just dawned to me that I’m getting quite tired of dabbing paint on canvas and laying out designs on Photoshop and Illustrator. To cut it short, I wanted to get into photography as it was both creative and technical, not to mention that most of my friends were into it, including my girlfriend who loves taking photos for her Asian fashion blog.

That said, I really needed a camera, and I wanted to get one that perfectly suited my needs, and fast. After doing much research, I locked my eyes on getting one of these DSLRs (Canon EOS 7D), as it was fairly new and had the features that I needed. Sadly though, local retailers sold them with outrageous price tags and it goes without saying that I knew better deals existed online. Luckily, a colleague of mine led me to an online store she trusted that sold a myriad of photography equipment, and from there I started my hunt for my new toy.

EDSA Shangri-La, Mandaluyong City, Philippines, October 2010

It was an early afternoon when I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a sellers’ forum by SEA e-commerce powerhouse, Multiply. During the forum, chosen sellers were invited to get a sneak peek of Multiply’s upcoming releases which featured a more solid e-commerce infrastructure. That aside, another aspect that interested me was the fact these SMEs were everything but anti-social. They were as enthusiastic and relationship-centric in person as they are in their Multiply storefronts.

After the forum, we were treated to a sumptuous buffet where some sellers were open enough to share their good and bad experiences as entrepreneurs.  Discussions about the Multiply updates continued, including queries about SEO, SMM, and CRO that I was so eager to help them with. All in all, it was a fantastic event seeing the faces behind Multiply’s most successful storefronts, not to mention the bright road ahead for the now e-commerce platform.

The Virtual World as Potential for Real World Relationships

The three stories I shared above basically convey the fact that virtual relationships are extensions of our real world relationships. In reality, the more the virtual world mirrors the real world, the harder it is to tell them apart not because either one is misleading or cloaking our real experiences but because the two support each other in an amoeba-like ecosystem—today, they have become inseparable.

Moreover, the social web has become the closest it can be to science fiction’s teleportation and time travel. The social web has indeed connected us to the rest of the world instantaneously. It basically transports us to places we’ve never been, enables us to make transactions that either way would have been virtually impossible, and more importantly, it allows us to create more real world relationships.

Real World E-Commerce

Aside from what I’ve already shared above (the social web as part of the real world), the three stories also share different facets of Asian culture and Asians’ online habits, specifically their fascination with new relationships, e-commerce, and online shopping.

Here are a few key takeaways:

1. My first story basically says how the social web has opened up Asia’s rather uptight and traditional cultures about social relationships. With the advent of on demand information, business, and entertainment, it’s pretty normal to actually meet someone you’ve “met” online to do things you’re both interested in, which is a very good thing indeed (scammers and bogus individuals creep the web some might say, but isn’t it the case offline as well?).

2. The second story shares the reality about Asian women, specifically moms whose secret lives are spent engaging the social web (e.g. blogs, forums, female networks, shopping, etc.). My colleague, Tasha, who shared her trusted online photography store (which happens to be a Multiply store), is a young mom who greatly values her family, how do I know you might ask? Well her purchasing habits basically give it away.

Multiply Photography and Gadget Stores

Apart from Asia’s great value for the concept of family, it’s valuable to note that Asian moms love to talk and actually are the strongest referrers of products and services (recall how she referred her trusted site to me). According to a recent study conducted by Microsoft and Starcom Mediavest, [Asian mothers spend around 17 hours a week online on learning and talking about products and services that primarily relate to their motherhood. In fact, they also embrace and engage in online shopping mainly for their children and themselves.]

3. The third story communicates a handful of things but it’s primarily a microcosm of the abundance of small and medium enterprise businesses in Asia—how it’s easier to operate and how it’s easier to keep in touch with loyal customers. You’ll see this evidently in numerous night markets, flea markets, shopping bazaars, and tiangges (including the Chinatowns, and Little Tokyo’s) scattered all over Asia and the world.

Lastly, I also mentioned the concept of loyalty, which is a strong social economic system in Asia. Merchant-customer relationships, at least in the SME level, play a big role in business.

An example of this would be the suki (“loyal customer”) system present in the Philippines, which basically is an application of relationship marketing—a means to leverage on merchant-customer relationships to get return customers and better deals respectively (an explanation of why the sellers I met were so enthusiastic about how to service their customers better, even delving into more technical aspects of e-commerce such as analytics and landing page optimization to improve customer experience).

Multiplying in a New Direction

Multiply has long established itself as a strong media sharing social network that prided itself in real world relationships—Multiply was never a more-friends-the-better social network, rather, Multiply wants you to add connections based on your real life relationships with them (e.g. business contact, mother, brother, and so on).  As compared to other social networks such as Facebook, Myspace, Friendster, Hi5, and Bebo, Multiply was indeed ahead of the pack when it came to media sharing and privacy.

However, as we all live in constant beta, change is the only thing that’s constant and in the age of status messages, feebs, and tweets (basically broadcasting your activities to virtually everyone and anyone), Multiply has found a new home in e-commerce (paved by Asian Multiply users who thought of using the platform for selling)—real world e-commerce that is, anchored on the strong Asian culture of merchant-customer relationships that can both develop online and offline in that aforementioned amoeba-like ecosystem.

Apart from building that strong e-commerce positioning and infrastructure, which I believe they’re working on as we speak, Multiply is indeed on the right track by tapping the Asian e-commerce mitochondria to get that gigantic flywheel moving forward. At the same time, by embracing other social technologies that not long ago might have been a major offense, Multiply can expand it’s real world relationship-building scheme to drive more business online and offline. This goes without saying that they, of course, will still be banking on their strong privacy and media sharing technologies.

Moving forward, I wouldn’t be surprised if Multiply merchants would want to add a handful of contacts labelled as loyal customers or sukis and in turn provide these clients with additional discounts or incentives. At the end of the day, this means that the Asian culture is paving new ways and patterns in delivering happiness to customers.

In comparison to other e-commerce platforms and sites such as Amazon, eBay, Big Cartel, and Shopify, Multiply is clearly in the direction of being a highly customizable, community-driven, and free e-commerce platform that prides itself in trust and real relationship building.

Meanwhile, other e-commerce websites such as Rakutan, YesAsia, and TradePort have also established themselves in Asia in an attempt to leverage on the same untapped economy.

In Summary

The success of e-commerce in Asia heavily relies on its real world social framework, the few insights that I’ve shared above are testament to this fact—the convergence of virtual and real world relationships support buying decisions and help improve choice architectures. Therefore, it is quite imperative for e-commerce platforms such as Multiply to work hard on these variables (including the market of moms) to yield optimum productivity and success.

It’s your turn, do you agree with what I’ve shared here? Anything you might want to add that I missed perhaps? Moreover, how do you find the relationship between the real world and the virtual world as a gold mine for market research? I would love to hear your thoughts and insights.


First and foremost, I am not a geneticist. I neither toy with bacteria, viruses, cells, nuclei, nor mitochondria. I basically used the metaphor to establish the fact that the Asian e-commerce scene is an untapped industry—and a sustainable one at that.

Also, not long ago, South Africa based media giant Naspers has acquired controlling interest in Multiply through its Myriad International Holdings unit. Despite the change, Multiply will continue to run under the same management composed of its founding members. Read the full story on TechCrunch.