ShopBack connects consumers and merchants, bringing direct benefits to both parties. It provides users with a one-stop rewards platform to earn cashback, while delivering performance-based marketing analytics to their merchants. ShopBack works with renowned e-commerce merchants and is leading the wave of smarter shopping in Asia Pacific with its dominant presence in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan and Australia.

Joel Leong, Co-Founder and Head of Merchant Development, ShopBack

What’s your story?

NUS had this overseas program, where we went to Shanghai for one year to simultaneously study and work at a startup. Through this experience, my eyes were opened to the start-up world. After returning back to Singapore, I initially worked in the government sector before joining Zalora thereafter. Zalora is a startup focused on becoming SEA’s answer to ASOS.

2 years later, my co-founders at ShopBack and I saw that the cashback model in the US (ebates) was doing well. It was a very successful business and got acquired by Japanese internet firm Rakuten for US $1billion dollars. There’s also a similar unicorn in China called Fanli. So we thought, “Why is nobody doing that in Southeast Asia?” We decided to adopt it, left our jobs, and that was how ShopBack was born.

What were some of the obstacles that your company faced during its initial years and how did your team overcome it?

User education was and still is the main challenge that we’re facing today. As the concept of cashback is pretty nascent in this part of the world, users don’t understand how a service can pay them just for shopping at their partner merchants. We’re always taught to be extra cautious when something is too good to be true. That’s exactly how ShopBack appeared to first-time users. So we had to educate users on how ShopBack works and where the money comes from before users were convinced to use us.

Name one most memorable learning experience of your entrepreneurial journey

During a Chinese New Year break, an angry customer wrote in to us with a complain, and we happened to respond almost immediately (this was also due to the lower volume of emails we received back then). He was so surprised by the speed of our response that we could sense a 180-degree change in his attitude from his subsequent email responses. It really goes to show the importance of quality customer service and how much that means to a customer.

ShopBack (Singapore)

What do you think should be the most important characteristic for a startup and its team to possess?

Never ending customer obsession. That’s one of our company values, too. Products need to be built with the needs of the customers at its core.

Congratulations on successfully raising $45 million during the recent fund round. What are some of your upcoming plans? Any expansion initiatives in the pipeline?

Vietnam will be the next country that we’re entering. We’ve already set up a tech hub there last year, so it’s only a matter of time before we establish a market presence there as well.

We’re continually trying to reduce the friction in a customer’s shopping journey as well, and we do that by trying to answer five questions:

  1. What products should customers buy?
  2. Who should they buy from?
  3. Should they buy online or offline?
  4. When should they buy?
  5. Why should they buy the product?

Any solutions that can help our customers resolve the above questions are possible. And the possibilities are endless.

Having already expanded into 7 countries around Asia and Australia, what are some noticeable differences in the e-commerce industry across the different regions?

There are noticeable differences even within Asia itself. But one distinct difference between Asia and Australia is the maturity of the ecommerce industry. Australia’s ecommerce landscape is a lot more advanced than Asia’s given the higher connectivity and naturally more tech-savvy users.

ShopBack (Australia)

Looking back, what advice would you tell your younger self?

Do what is right, not what is popular.