The B2C Battle: Thailand’s Ookbee Mall to Humbly Close Down, What Happened?

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Thailand startup known for selling digital content and eBooks Ookbee has enjoyed pioneer status since the platform’s launch in 2010. As one of the country’s early entrepreneurs and the face of Ookbee, founder Natavudh “Moo” Pungcharoenpong has first handedly seen the benefits of ecommerce that led to the launch of Ookbee Mall in 2015, a B2C marketplace focused on Japanese products.

Today, Natavudh took to his personal Facebook account to announce the closure of Ookbee Mall, to be effective on 31st March, 2017.

Source: Natavudh Pungcharoenpong’s Facebook page

In his status, Natavudh writes:

I’d like to thank everyone for their support of Ookbee Mall in the past. After much consideration and performance evaluation, myself and the managing team at Ookbee Mall have decided that it is time to end the ecommerce vertical of our business. We have been unable to scale and grow according to plan.

The competitiveness of the landscape is very different now to what it was when we launched in 2015.

For the other aspects of the Ookbee business, we will be operating as normal and working to expand our digital content platform. Thank you very much.

Ookbee Mall in numbers 

The marketplace launched with a injection of 150 million THB from Transcosmos, a business process outsourcing provider.

“It’s a strategic move for us to try to use physical products to support our existing Ookbee members. We try to propose physical products to support our existing customers who consume digital contents or eBooks,” commented by Natavudh in an article in The Nation 2015.

A look at Ookbee Mall’s web traffic now shows it has been on a decline for the past 6 months, down 29.98%.

Source: SimilarWeb Pro

In January this year, the site received 55,000 views compared to 200,000 from August 2016. If web analytics are anything to go by, it would suggest that Ookbee Mall has been struggling to capture the attention of its user base.

There are three possible reasons the company reached its fate:

1.  Lack of appeal 

When Ookbee Mall first launched, it tried to leverage its more niche services such as delivery of fresh Japanese fruit to customers living in Bangkok. The entrance of Happyfresh and honestbee into the scene made it more difficult for Ookbee Mall to bank on food deliveries as a selling point to bring more users to the platform.

How could they compete with bigger players with bigger war chests? What did Ookbee offer that marketplaces such as Lazada or 11street couldn’t?

2. Lack of experience

The founder and team were content professionals who created an extremely successful business selling digital media but not equipped to deal with problems that arise when selling physical products. Although ambitious, the company wasn’t able to scale quickly enough.

3. Lack of the right branding 

Ookbee made a name for itself by selling eBooks and it has stuck. When people think of Lazada, they think of online shopping. The product associated with the brand is extremely important.

During its initial launch, Ookbee Mall expected that within three months, it would reach about 10% of the 3 million active Ookbee members from about 7 million Ookbee users. The brand’s original user base were mainly high school students who enjoyed reading manga online – not the ripe and avid ecommerce users with money to spend.

For reasons like this is why many parent companies choose to launch new ventures under an entirely separate standalone brand. An example would be Ascend Group and its ecommerce branded marketplace, WeMall.

Thailand’s hyper competitive B2C space has made it significantly more difficult for players to remain in the landscape without constant innovation and the right offerings.

Ookbee Mall’s decline also highlights the difficulty for media companies to pivot into ecommerce than vice versa. And simply going online doesn’t mean instant success, the business also needs the right marketing, fulfillment partners and a product market fit.

Ookbee Mall’s humble closure may be the realistic future for many B2C business models in the country. What’s your take?