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Going eBay one better

Cyber flea markets are the next big e-marketplace, says the Thai entrepreneur behind ShopSpot.

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Frustrated with not knowing how to get rid of unused items at home? 

The six-member team of ShopSpot, is Thailand’s first smartphone app that makes selling things online as easy as sending a tweet.

Well, the coming of full commercial 3G service and its high-speed connection is about to bring the fastest and most efficient solution right to your doorstep _ simply sell them online through your smartphone app.

ShopSpot, the latest talk of the town, is Thailand's first smartphone app to use a high-speed internet connection, making selling things in the online marketplace as easy as sending a tweet.

With their smartphones, users simply snap a picture of what they want to sell, enter the price and place for delivery and post the data onto the ShopSpot virtual marketplace _ all of which can be done within less than a minute.

Data posted on ShopSpot's marketplace also gets posted in real time on Facebook and Twitter, enabling buyers to spot it easily. A buyer can send a notice to the seller, and they can then meet up to seal the deal.

Launched at the beginning of May in Singapore and Thailand, the app has been downloaded 15,000 times, with 3000 active users at present. Some 12,000 items have been posted for sale and 1,200 purchased.

Initially launched on the iOS platform, ShopSpot will be available for Android users this month.

Natsakon Kiatsuranon, the 27-year-old chief executive and founder of ShopSpot Pte Ltd, developer of the ShopSpot app, said the idea behind the app stemmed from the realisation there was no online marketplace that could make selling and buying items quick and easy.

``We wanted to make some money selling stuff we no longer used but found traditional social commerce websites too complicated and time-consuming. So we searched for an easier means but could not find one,'' he said.

Instead of developing social commerce websites, Mr Natsakon and his six-member team saw a brighter future making smartphone apps.

Shoot and sell: With their smartphones, users simply snap a picture of what they want to sell, enter the price and place for delivery and post the data onto the ShopSpot virtual marketplace — all of which can be done within less than a minute.

``We felt the number of smartphone users would definitely grow. There's a clear trend of people spending more and more time on their phones as they access the internet from smartphones instead of laptops or computers,'' he said.

Although ShopSpot can be used today under Edge or the existing patchy 3G coverage, the arrival of proper 3G coverage will enhance the user experience even more.

Under the current network coverage, pictures sometimes take awhile to download, requiring a bit of patience. But with proper 3G, the app will run much faster, and if needed, video clips of items for sales can also be posted, said Mr Natsakon.

Proper 3G will prompt people to spend even more time on their phones, as apps will become more interactive and fun, enabling faster downloads of larger amounts of data, particularly video clips that would otherwise not run smoothly.

ShopSpot has spent 2 million baht to develop the app. Funding was obtained from a Thai angel investor and Singapore Telecommunications, Asia's largest mobile network operator, after the team pitched their idea at a business accelerator event in Singapore early this year.

Known as the JFDI-Innov8 Bootcamp, the annual event selects a handful of entrepreneurs and gives them 100 days to transform their ideas into prototype digital businesses. At the end of that period, the start-ups are required to pitch their ideas to an audience that includes angel investors and venture capitalists.

In exchange for funding, investors gain shares in the company.

``Even though the investors become shareholders, we hold most of the shares as well as all the decision-making power in the company,'' said Mr Natsakon.

Such financial resource enables the team to focus entirely on developing features for the app that will enhance the user experience to the greatest extent possible so that ShopSpot can expand its user base with the goal of becoming Asia's top mobile social commerce player.

For now, users can download and post items for sale on the app for free.

``Similar to Silicon Valley's app developers, we view app development as a long-term process. First we must get as many users as possible and then maybe list on the stock market,'' said Mr Natsakon.

To become a top player in Asia, ShopSpot needs to average 500,000 users or 10% of smartphone users in a country, depending on the population.

If the app can muster 100,000 users apiece in Singapore and Thailand, then the company will proceed with launches in Indonesia and the Philippines in mid-2013.

Mr Natsakon said there are four or five online social commerce apps similar to ShopSpot but only in the US. In Asia, South Korea is the leader in app development.

Once the user base expands to a satisfactory number, the company will introduce additional features that will generate revenue.

Tentatively speaking, this could include advertising and additional functions such as stickers as well as quotas in which those wanting to post more than a set number of items for sale would be required to pay a fee.

There are 700,000 smartphone apps globally today, most of them originating in the US and more for iPhone users than for Android users.

Apps developed by Thais account for less than 1% of the total, said Mr Natsakon.

In Thailand, the No.1 and fastest-growing apps are games, followed by social or interactive apps such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, Mr Natsakon reckons the growth in apps used for chatting, communications and displaying photos will stabilise and be overtaken by apps related to mobile marketplaces or social commerce.

``Solomoco'', which stands for ``social, local, mobile and commerce'', will be the big word in the digital marketing world in the coming years, he said.

App development is relatively new to Asia and particularly Thailand, where people have started to pursue the activity seriously only in the last two or three years.

Once officially launched, 3G will enhance the eco-system for smartphone start-ups, especially those wanting to deal with large amounts of data such as video clips.

App development in Thailand has a long way to go, said Mr Natsakon.

Developing smartphone apps costs very little. Apart from salaries, developers need only pay for computers _ Macs if they work on the iOS platform. Once the app is launched, servers must be set up, but they cost less than 10,000 baht a month.

Most of the money invested in ShopSpot so far has gone into salaries.

Mr Natsakon said, a good app development firm should include a business arm tasked with marketing and consumer research, an engineering arm for coding and a design arm with expertise in easy and user-friendly interfaces.

Anyone can create an app that functions _ the bigger challenge is to make it as attractive and user-friendly as possible since this is what determines its popularity, he said.

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