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How GlowRoad Is Taking Its India Playbook To Tap Southeast Asia’s Social Commerce Opportunity


Since 2017, GlowRoad has created a strong presence across Bharat, claiming more than 2 Mn resellers on its platform

The company plans to launch its operations in Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia to make GlowRoad a social commerce powerhouse

GlowRoad has announced that it will acquire companies in AI/ML domain to help it scale overseas and is also planning to launch an IPO in the near future

A close look at the emerging ecommerce trends shows that small-town India (read Bharat) is ready to take on the mantle of digital economy growth driver. Bharat is the new hotspot for online retail as it accounts for nearly 66% of all ecommerce sales in the country. And this spurt in online shopping in Tier 2 cities and beyond has been driven mainly by rapid internet penetration, falling data prices and a rise in vernacular applications.

India’s growing appetite for video commerce, a video-first way of product discovery and interactive shopping  (a subset of the fast-growing social commerce segment), has further popularised online shopping across Indian non-metros. Also known as ecommerce live streaming, video commerce is expected to reach 216 Mn users by the end of 2022, successfully blending entertainment with ecommerce. Globally, too, social commerce is on a roll. With TikTok and Shopify striking a deal to enable in-app purchases on the former’s platform, this trend is clearly gaining significance in the scheme of traditional ecommerce.     

The Indian market for social commerce is pegged to reach $70 Bn by 2030, and companies such as Bengaluru-based GlowRoad, Flipkart’s Shopsy and their ilk remain at the forefront, thanks to their innovative business model. 

The model thrives on an ecosystem of resellers who use their networks to drive sales. Resellers can add commissions to product pricing as they deem fit, thus determining their own profit margins. It also provides a lucrative earning opportunity for resellers, especially homemakers, who account for a major chunk of the reseller community on women-focussed platforms like GlowRoad.

Although the company has created a strong presence across Bharat, claiming more than 2 Mn resellers on its platform, cofounder Shekhar Sahu believes that the potential of the social commerce industry is more than what meets the eye. 

GlowRoad is committed to creating more ‘homepreneurs’ and bringing many unique and unbranded suppliers to the platform. Even after four years, we have just scratched the surface, and there’s so much more to do,” said Sahu.

Since its inception in 2017, the platform has raised capital in four funding rounds and counts Accel, IND Fund and Singapore-based Vertex Ventures as some of its investors. “We have efficiently utilised our capital to scale operations. In the coming years, we plan to launch an IPO (initial public offering) as a part of our growth journey,” Sahu announced. 

“GlowRoad has the potential to grow 50-100x over the next five years. We are ready to tap into overseas markets to make it a social commerce powerhouse,” he added.

While GlowRoad plans to foray into several Southeast Asian (SEA) countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore, this initiative could not have come at a better time. A 2021 Bain & Company report shows that social commerce accounts for close to 44% of the SEA countries’ $109 Bn ecommerce market.

Moreover, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, these countries added 40 Mn internet users, with non-metros accounting for most new users. Further, the widespread use of the internet pushed live sales in Thailand and Singapore from 13% to 67% in 2020 alone.

“The scope of social commerce in these countries is quite similar to India as these are developing economies. So, women there are very keen to earn extra, given a self-serve business opportunity like reselling,” said Sahu.

But with big aspirations come bigger challenges. To tap into these countries’ social commerce markets, GlowRoad needs to make consumers aware of its offerings and convince them to come on board. More importantly, why would people opt for an overseas platform if homegrown companies offer similar models? 

Add to that “tough business conditions” similar to what has been faced by Singapore-based ecommerce major Shopee, and it may not turn out to be a cakewalk for GlowRoad out there. (Shopee shut down its India operations within six months of its launch in the country post India’s ban on its parent company Sea’s multiplayer game Free Fire which led to a multi-billion market value dip in February.)

Keeping such hurdles in mind, Sahu said that right now, the company would not launch overseas operations on its own but would be looking for suitable partners or acquiring synergistic businesses. 

According to Sahu, GlowRoad is looking for target companies that specialise in AI/ML and offer smart videotech capabilities, image recognition and intelligent product recommendations. “We want to make shopping easy for the not-so-tech-savvy audiences. Once these companies are part of the GlowRoad ecosystem, their tech and tools will be used to make social commerce easy for first-time resellers and end customers,” he added.

In addition, the company is looking for the right local ecommerce partners abroad with established suppliers and logistics networks, payment gateway integrations and a willingness to venture into social commerce. “If such partnerships do not materialise, we will explore the possibility of launching a stand-alone version of our India platform,” said Sahu.  

GlowRoad’s overseas initiative is well past the planning stage, though. It has been in the works for the past year. “In 2021, we ran a few pilot tests as well as a limited-time social media campaign to check the viability of our offerings in several Southeast Asian countries,” Sahu said. The company claims that the pilot quickly gained traction, especially among women users.

As digital commerce flourishes at home and abroad, it creates a plethora of opportunities for homegrown startups. A recent survey by TurningIdeas says that 42% of Indian startups plan to go global by 2022. For instance, startups such as plant-based air purifier UBreathe and healthtech platform BlueSemi are keen to expand and scale abroad. Although GlowRoad is committed to strengthening its operations across Bharat, its global plans are proof of India’s startup potential and the promise to grow from a local context to a global institution.

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