Multiply shifts gears, focuses on 'social shopping'

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at May 18 2010 04:00 PM | Updated as of May 19 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The popularity of virtual storefronts in online social network Multiply is turning the company on its head as it focuses more on making the site the first truly social shopping network on the Web.

Claudio Pinkus, executive chairman of Multiply Inc., said the evolution of Multiply came after more and more users started using the site as a virtual store instead of just a repository of family photos.

"It is definitely a shift. It starts with an acknowledgement. We first came to this country as a social media company. We grew very big here and in the region before we noticed that Filipinos were using their Multiply pages as online stores. People loved the features. They loved the high-res photos and the privacy controls. And they loved how they could communicate with their customers," he told reporters.

Pinkus said that of the approximately 5 million Filipinos using Multiply, 26,000 are registered sellers. Company officials estimate that the number could exceed 35,000. Multiply stores sell everything: cupcakes, jewelry and clothing -- the latter two being the hottest sellers on the site.

Globally, he said the volume of Multiply transactions could reach as much as $124 million (P5 billion) annually.

Pinkus said the discussion among Multiply executives to focus more on the e-commerce side of Multiply started in early 2009 as the number of online sellers continued to grow in the Philippines and in Indonesia. He said 42% of Multiply traffic in the Philippines was to the online storefronts.

An online survey of Multiply users earlier this year also showed that 65% of users have bought an item from a Multiply store. 

Virtual storefronts

Pinkus noted that the Multiply Marketplace is now the largest aggregator of virtual storefronts in the region.

"We always knew when we started Multiply that we would go where the users would take us. In the region, we are still the number 2 social media platform. Everything that we are supporting to date will continue but now we are focusing more on e-commerce. We are giving tools to make transactions easier because we already have the buyers," he said.

He said among the online tools being set up in the Multiply Marketplace is an online shopping cart, wish lists, a sellers directory, product searches and shop category searches, an expanded set of payment methods including offline payments, a seller rating system and a trusted seller program to enhance security and transaction.

In a separate interview, Multiply vice-president for business development David Hersh said the enhanced Multiply Marketplace is more focused on actual products instead of just shops. From the main Marketplace page (http://multiply.com/marketplace) you can click on a category or subcategory name and see the products listed there.

Self-contained e-commerce

Hersh said Multiply provides a combination of online auction sites such as eBay and Sulit.ph. He said eBay allows sellers to put up individual listings or an online store while Sulit is a classifieds site. On the other hand, he noted that many of Multiply's online sellers actually use Sulit to promote products they are selling in their Multiply shops.

"Multiply really represents a fully self-contained e-commerce ecosystem, and the fact that this was layered on top of an already successful social network site makes it one of the best examples of social shopping on the Internet today. When you think about who influences your decisions about what to buy and where, it's your friends and family. Those are the people you're connected to on Multiply," he said.

Pinkus said Multiply generates revenue through advertising on the site, as well as through the Premium service, which is very popular among the online sellers. Subscription to the premium service is $20 a year and allows the seller to go to the top of the sellers and product listings.

He also said the social aspect of the Multiply Marketplace will remain to allow buyers and sellers to interact with each other, without sacrificing privacy.

"Even the reviews of stores will be social. In the trusted seller program, they will have to comply with some requirements including recommendations of the buyers. We want to make sure that transacting on Multiply is safer, more compelling and more fun," he said.