Southeast Asia is undeniably mobile first and home to 854 million mobile subscriptions – the number of active mobile connections actually exceeds total population by a third.

And this is where Rebonics comes in. The holdings company based in Singapore owns second hand mobile marketplaces in Thailand (Mekaaa) and Indonesia (Laku6) to capture the growing demand for smartphones.

To understand more about Southeast Asia’s obsession with mobile, eIQ catches up with Mekaaa’s Head of New Market Expansion, You Teck Lam and Adirut Nithilerdviwat, GM of Thailand Operations.

Why used mobile phones?

“The idea for Mekaaa and Laku6 was born from the realization that Southeast Asians are very driven by the status of a mobile phone as it improves their quality of life,” comments You Teck. “Everyone has a mobile phone, but the emerging middle class cannot necessarily afford every upgrade.” is a month old price comparison website that allows users to check the average asking price for a second hand Samsung or iPhone being sold on the marketplace. Browsers can then “buy” through the company’s Facebook page or LINE account.

Source: Mekaaa Facebook page

“For used products, it’s difficult to have a proper price comparison. Everyone knows how much the new iPhone 7 costs, but when it’s an older model, the lines become a bit more blurry,” says You Teck. “Our in-house algorithm calculates the average market price on C2C websites from a thousand sellers that are selling that day so they know they are getting the best deal.”

The website also allows users to trade in their old mobile phones to the Mekaaa office in Bangkok to obtain a discount for another product on the platform.

Launched in 2015, Mekaaa’s Indonesian counterpart Laku6 shares the same browsing functions, but allows users to buy directly through the website. 

It’s no surprise that price-sensitive Southeast Asian consumers would want access to a faster phone with more features.

Tackling a secondhand gray market

The duo noticed that many secondhand electronics purchases were happening offline at Bangkok’s MBK department store, well known for its wide selection of cheap electronic gadgets, games and underground DVDs.

But in an unregulated market, it’s often difficult to know how much a used item should cost.

“A lot of sellers increase their prices so the entire secondhand market has inconsistent price points. Not only do we bring the entire exchange online, we introduce dependable pricing as a form of regulation,” says You Teck.

Approximately 70% of Mekaaa’s products are sourced from MBK. The remaining 30% is from consumers themselves.

“Does the value proposition that we offer resonate with consumers?” says You Teck. “This is what we ask ourselves when observing each market. It’s important to any business, and a question that has led Mekaaa to a better understanding of Thailand’s consumer market.”

In Indonesia, Laku6 operates under the same principle, but currently, Indonesia is a larger consumer market for the company. According to You Teck, the Thailand team is currently trying to reach the same level of penetration here with Mekaaa.

Same concept, different strategy

“The idea from Singapore was that each country and team should have full localized control because who better else understands the market?,” says You Teck. “This is why we chose to have two separate names, because they are ultimately two different products.”

Localized knowledge means that Mekaaa knows where to source the products from such as stores in MBK.

To You Teck, this is one of the most interesting things about Thailand’s markets – making the secondhand mobile phone network transparent to help offline sellers offload their inventory to a new audience.

Although the concept is the same, the strategy varies in Indonesia to attract more potential buyers.

“Laku6 has an offline partnership with Samsung, so if a buyer is looking to buy a newly released model but can’t afford it, they contact us and we pick up their phone, then they pay a bit more to upgrade to a newer model,” says You Teck.

For example, a Samsung S6 Edge user can trade in their phone and top-up $376 (4,999,000 IDR) to get a brand new S7 Edge, where full price is $790 (10,499,000 IDR).

Majority of online sales and trades for used-items in Thailand are happening on C2C platforms like Kaidee or Shopee where Mekaaa also has a presence to reach customers beyond Bangkok.

“Currently, our sales are split 50/50 between Kaidee and LINE as people tend to come check the price on Mekaaa, then contact us directly via LINE,” says You Teck.

It seems that so far, Thai consumers value good deals much more than the two step process of buying a phone.

“Probably because Thais are used to the same process as buying from an Instagram shop,” comments Adirut. “Thailand ranks first globally for most online shoppers who have purchased a product directly via a social media channel.”

Currently, a significant portion of sales come from food stall sellers and factory workers who are searching for affordable phones. When asked where they may have heard about the platform, You Teck says Mekaaa routinely advertises on tech blogs, and posts on their Facebook page – a popular channel for bargain hunters.

While the company is not shipping out brand new phones, You Teck and Adirut wholly understand the importance of a good last mile experience for ecommerce.

“We work with a packaging supplier to create our own Mekaaa branded boxes. If they’ve spent money online, the package should feel like a gift,” says Adirut. “It’s not rare for one of us to accompany the delivery man to ensure the whole process goes well.”

This level of personalized service is not easy to find, especially when dealing with non-premium, secondhand products.

What’s next for Rebonics?

The plan is for Mekaaa to eventually become a fully shoppable ecommerce platform like Laku6 in Indonesia and market expansion into neighboring countries is also in the blueprint, but You Teck vows to fully succeed in Thailand first through better understanding of the market.

“A piece of advice I would give startups that want to expand beyond their home market, is finding local partners. This has been said before, but it’s so important. Find someone you are able to work with, a distributor you can trust, and most importantly, one who knows the ins and outs of your demographic, it cuts down a lot of time,” says You Teck.