Back in the mid-2000s, not a lot of Filipinos would have considered buying electronic gadgets online. People typically bought their phones, cameras, and laptops in stores located inside malls to make sure what they’re getting is legit and in excellent shape.
Right around that time—in 2006, to be a little more specific—18-year-old Kim Lato was starting to sell gadgets via the now-defunct social networking site Multiply.com. She thought of putting up an online gadgets store because when she wanted to buy a particular lens on Amazon for her blogging needs, she was crushed to find out the online shopping giant can not ship to the Philippines.
With angpao money she got from her grandparents, Kim decided to put up an online tech store. She christened it, simply, Kimstore. She dove into the business knowing fully well she took on the challenge of selling not just one but two things—first, the tech devices; and two, the e-commerce idea itself.
“During the early years of e-commerce, [our team] had to continuously educate our customers—that e-commerce is all about convenience,” Kim shared recently at the 15th anniversary press conference she hosted for Kimstore.
Kim shared her recollections from those early years. She worked from the family house in Tondo, Manila. Not having a physical store was a challenge, she said. It meant having to personally meet up with customers at the McDonald’s beside De La Salle University on Taft Avenue, Manila, where she was a sophomore Marketing student. She would explain the features of the products and close the deals on the spot. “Morning, I take all the classes, but in the afternoon, I was a business owner,” she recalled fondly.
It was quite risky, yes—and scary—as she had no idea about the people she was going to meet. There was still no Instagram then, and Facebook was a new thing. There were times she or her team would have to carry a big amount of cash going around the city. There was a time they were no longer allowed inside malls to do the meet-ups, which created uncertainty among the customers. “Sinisita ng security yung team namin noon,” said Kim.
To earn the trust and confidence of their customers, she had to come up with a marketing strategy unique to her business. Since buyers are worried about fakes and counterfeits, she offered a 15-day money-back guarantee. Aside from offering their products at lower price points, she also made sure their team practiced transparency and delivered seamless customer service.
When the La Salle student was starting out, she would only have one gadget sold in a month. “I just banked on the idea that this is going to be big in the future,” she said. Her vision seemed lofty at that time: to become the Amazon of the Philippines. She was admittedly “very ambitious” but she was also very passionate with her work.
It has been 15 years since Kimstore launched in the World Wide Web. When Multiply.com ceased operations in 2013, Kimstore continued to stay ahead of the game by moving to Facebook. This eventually led to the building of kimstore.com.
“When I was starting, I was happy to have 10 customers a week,” she said. “As we grow, we’d have 10 customers in a day. Then as we grow faster, we’d serve at least 10 customers in a minute. That’s how exponential the growth is in e-commerce.”
Times have, of course, changed since. And the pandemic has accelerated digital transformations by leaps and bounds. How does Kimstore stay relevant? “[My team and I] make sure that we are the early adaptors to new technology,” says Kim. “We read a lot of books and magazines, attend a lot of expos, frequently check the latest products in the market. We always have to be 10 steps ahead. We remain competitive by responding to the needs of the market.”
Being on top of their game also means investing in digital tools such as CRM, accounting software, analytics, web infrastructure, and most importantly a good logistics partner. When the pandemic hit last year, Kimstore has created its own inhouse logistics team. It manages the company’s on-demand gadget delivery. “It’s in the testing phase now,” Kim shared. “Hopefully next year, we could do a dry run to offer it to other partners and other e-commerce businesses.”
Whereas before Kim’s goal is only to offer affordable gadgets to Filipinos, now her vision is to inspire others. “We will be creating the Kimstore E-commerce Academy, a center of excellence in e-commerce and digital marketing for aspiring entrepreneurs and MSME owners,” she shared. “It’s time for me to pay it forward by being an educator, a visionary, a supporter, and a mentor.”