Social commerce is showing no signs of slowing down and it’s easy to understand why. It makes a lot of sense for entrepreneurs, especially beginners, for at least two reasons. First, it’s free, so you don’t need to invest in an ecommerce site or join online marketplaces that take a cut in your profits. Second, it gives you wide reach particularly in a country like the Philippines, which is often touted as the social media capital of the world.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it – there are lot of social networks merchants can leverage in marketing and selling their products while boosting their overall online presence. But we can’t deny that, for those lacking human resources, it can be daunting and tedious. Posting one product on multiple social media accounts is time consuming, even more so when customer inquiries start pouring in on each of those accounts.
Managing payment gateways is another challenge. How do you get notified when a payment for your product has been made? Most small merchants do it the traditional way: manually. They coordinate with customers through various channels: text messaging, calls, or email. It can get unwieldy.
Philippine startup PocketMarket wants to simplify all that through its social commerce platform.
“We noticed that there were a lot of merchants selling through Facebook and Instagram, yet they use SMS and email to answer inquiries, get orders, and confirm payments. So it came to us to create an app that will help them promote on different social networks, and enable them to engage with buyers via instant messaging,” says Paulo del Puerto, one of PocketMarket’s founders.
A virtual store
PocketMarket has a free iOS app and a web version that merchants can use to set up their online storefronts.
Essentially, merchants can do five key things on PocketMarket: manage their social media posts, reply to inquiries, receive orders, send invoices, and accept payments.
Here’s how it all works: sign up, upload a photo of your product with details such as price, and choose where you want it posted – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or all three at the same time. Your post will contain a link generated by PocketMarket that will redirect your customers to the product page.
On the product page is a built-in chat box, which your buyers can use to inquire about the product and communicate with you. Buyers don’t need to use the app when transacting; any browser will do.
In terms of payments, accepting through Pocketmarket is just an option, not a requirement. If it’s through the app, buyers have different modes to choose from such as banks, department stores, convenience stores, or even Bitcoin. This is helpful in bringing merchants’ businesses nationwide given that the Philippines has one of the lowest credit card penetration rates in Asia-Pacific. PocketMarket charges a minimal fee of five percent of the transaction amount, versus up to 20 percent on ecommerce sites.
“The goal for PocketMarket is to make selling anywhere on the internet painless. Right now, we’re starting out with social networks. But there are some who also post on their blogs and forums. Our goal at PocketMarket is be a sort of ‘control center’ for merchants’ activities in different channels,” del Puerto explains.
PocketMarket is thus centered around the social aspect of selling and shopping. Del Puerto says they built the app as a way for merchants to connect with buyers and build a relationship with them, which is a crucial component of the buying process.
According to him, most ecommerce sites have made the process very automated – buyers just click on the products they’d like to purchase then check out – taking the merchant out of the picture. In other words, they miss out on the opportunity to engage with customers, which is a powerful tool in building a roster of happy, repeat clients.
So far, PocketMarket has signed up over 520 merchants, and half of them are active users.
Del Puerto expects to increase this figure tremendously as they beef up their marketing efforts, grow their development team, and optimize the app and site.
“We’re targeting 10,000 merchants this year. Our target is to get quality merchants, who really want to grow their brand and business, and not just online sellers.”
He says they will release the Android app soon, and introduce new features to improve the user experience.
For starters, PocketMarket has partnered with Bitcoin startup Coins.ph to allow merchants to accept Bitcoin as payment on the app and site. The Bitcoin payments are automatically converted into fiat money when deposited into merchants’ bank accounts.
In 2014, PocketMarket made it to Global Entrepreneurship Week’s Startup Opencompetition. It was among 50 finalists selected from a pool of 600 startups across 38 countries worldwide.