February 28, 2016 7:00 am JST
Online shopping

Vietnamese turn Facebook into giant bazaar

ATSUSHI TOMIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer

HANOI -- Facebook is quickly gaining momentum as an online marketplace in Vietnam, with some using the social networking service to sell such big-ticket items as automobiles and even homes.

     Vietnamese are generally wary of online shopping. But with Facebook, user comments and reviews let shoppers purchase with confidence.

Buy my car

In just a few days, nearly 300 people "liked" a Feb. 18 posting on a Facebook page of two-seater electric vehicles selling for 32 million dong to 50 million dong ($1,433 to $2,240). Some people left comments saying they wanted to buy them. Earlier, such commercial postings were mainly for food and cosmetics. But postings for much pricier items like cars, homes, jewelry, appliances and furniture have increased from around last year. Some sellers are individuals, while others are company employees posting on personal pages.

     At least 300,000 people are estimated to sell merchandise on Facebook. The activity is allowed but is less common in other countries, including Japan.

     A 34-year-old office worker sells cosmetics and apparel purchased from abroad, moving 200 million dong of items a month on average. She communicates with customers via the messaging function. She rents warehouse space to store inventories and ships merchandise via trusted couriers. "Thanks to comments from friends, many customers buy with a sense of assurance," she said. "I can't slack off, because I will get negative comments if I'm slow to ship."

     Facebook has 32 million users in Vietnam, according to Japan's Cereja Technology. This equals 35.7% of the population -- nearly double the 19% figure for Japan. Users frequently have 1,000-plus Facebook friends, with more social ones boasting more than 5,000. Heavy users who check even at work are common. Word of mouth spreads in a flash.

     With moonlighting culturally accepted in Vietnam, many full-time workers and civil servants sell merchandise on Facebook.

     Another factor is the absence of international e-commerce giants like Amazon, owing to logistics challenges and payment issues. Vietnamese online shops are increasing but lack the momentum of Facebook amid worries over receiving defective goods or none at all.

I'm the taxman

The Vietnamese government decided last year to tax those who sell items on the service, requiring them to register. But "if I don't tell, they won't know. So no one is foolish enough to register to pay taxes," an individual seller in Ho Chi Minh City said. The sentiment appears to be shared by many.

     The Vietnamese e-commerce market reached $4 billion in 2015, according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Still only one-twenty-eighth the size of the Japanese market, the tally is expected to expand to $10 billion by 2020. High-speed 4G data service to be introduced this year will likely create a tailwind as well.

     But whether these individuals selling via Facebook will continue to dominate the market remains unclear. The likes of e-commerce giants Amazon, Rakuten and Alibaba Group Holding could set up shop and steal market share.

Rakuten, Inc.

Japan

Market(Ticker): TKS(4755)
Sector:
Industry:
Consumer Services
Other Consumer Services
Market cap(USD): 15,643.81M
Shares: 1,434.12M
Asia300

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

China

Market(Ticker): NYS(BABA)
Sector:
Industry:
Retail Trade
Internet Retail
Market cap(USD): 448,507M
Shares: 2,529.36M

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