(Bloomberg) – Samantha Proyrungtong, co-owner of an artisan food shop in downtown Bangkok, keeps three phones and a laptop glued to Facebook and Softbank Group-backed Line Corp.’s social-media app throughout the workday. She needs them not to hear from friends and relatives but to get orders from customers since her shop, Vivin Grocery, relies on chat applications for a big part of its sales of goat cheeses, locally sourced jams and organic vegetables.
Throughout Southeast Asia, consumers’ affection for haggling and interacting with businesses is fueling a boom in social commerce. Unlike the U.S. or China, where most consumers do their internet shopping with established platforms run by companies like Amazon.com Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., in Thailand almost half of all e-commerce takes place through social media or chat rooms on Facebook, WhatsApp or Line’s app.
Customers can talk directly with store employees or the owners themselves about prices and sales, and the relationships built through personal conversations have helped drive social commerce’s popularity.
The rapid adoption of commerce via social media across the region could offer valuable lessons to internet giants like ByteDance Ltd. and Facebook’s Instagram, which are experimenting with the format as they try to disrupt the traditional styles of platform commerce.
On a recent weekday afternoon, Proyrungtong received a message from a customer through one of the store’s official messaging accounts asking whether their double-duck sandwich was available. Proyrungtong messaged back to confirm the duck’s availability, quickly concluded the sale, confirmed receipt of payment via bank transfer and arranged a time for pick-up at the store, all via messages.
“We saw the need to shift online and have a competitive platform that people can order easily off of,” she said, adding that managing customers can be challenging.
“You need someone who can accommodate your customers and know your product,” said Proyrungtong, “so it’s not just having the channels to sell but also people to take care of it.”
The pandemic has led global brands such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton as well as Thai brick-and-mortar retailers to register for accounts on Line, spurring a 25% annual growth in official accounts in 2020, said Norasit Sitivechvichit, chief commercial officer of Thailand’s most-used messaging platform, which charges retailers based on their messaging activity and number of followers.
“Chat commerce has become a disruptor,” he said. “Not just small and medium-size enterprises are conducting chat commerce on Line, but also global and local corporate brands.”