How Pinay turned joy of shopping into a business

by Armando Bartolome

Posted at Nov 08 2014 11:02 AM | Updated as of Nov 10 2014 05:18 PM

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MANILA, Philippines - Charmaine "Ishka" Villacisneros may look like just any ordinary young woman.

The eldest of 3 children, she graduated from De La Salle University Manila with a degree in BS Information and Communications Technology Management.

Charmaine was already passionate about her chosen field even at early age. She was computer-savvy, creating graphic designs for some companies when she was 11. She even became a part-time payroll manager for a call center in Ortigas when she was 14.

When she turned 18, her parents migrated to Los Angeles to seek greener pastures. She immediately saw an opportunity which turned into a flourishing business.

How It All Started

Charmaine was fortunate enough to experience the exciting world of American shopping for most of her life. Moving to the state of California, she had access to the latest gadgets, novelty items, and other unique products that folks back in Manila could only dream of having.

Having that opportunity, she would send items that are worthy of sharing to her friends and relatives in the Philippines by means of balikbayan boxes. It wasn't long before others took this as an opportunity to obtain commodities from American retailers, with her as their middle man.

As the number of orders grew, Charmaine realized she and her balikbayan boxes allowed Filipino consumers to experience the shopping privilege that she had. She provided them with a faster, more convenient, and a more affordable way to shop for products from the U.S, without needing to wait for their relatives to bring it to them as pasalubong.

And in this realization was the inception of Californila, easily explained as, “Your Personal Shopper from California to Manila.”

A Product of the Filipino Demand

Californila first started under the name of “Stuff2Shop” on social media site Multiply in 2007. It took “customized orders” from both acquaintances and random online shoppers – meaning buyers can request for any goods, even if it’s not found in the Stuff2Shop Multiply page.

Then, it started to share the in-demand products it recently received requests on -- such as speaker pillows, liquor games and hoodies.

Realizing its potential to grow, Stuff2Shop rebranded into Californila; continuing to accept customized orders.

However, the service is not limited to individual product orders. By observing what regular customers purchase, as well as current consumer trends in the U.S., Californila gains an idea of what’s hip and in, and uses this to the site’s advantage.

“Whatever the demand is, and when we see a unique product that we like to show Filipinos, we buy it,” Charmaine explained.

A diverse range of exciting merchandise now appears in their online store – from hot fashion pieces to mouth-watering snacks to brand new gadgets.

Over the years, Californila has tickled the fancy of many Filipinos by featuring food crazes like Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter collection or beloved personal care items from Bath and Body Works. They currently offer the brand new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which proves that they keep up with the times.

Another factor that sets Californila apart from similar services is that they are able to introduce new products that can’t be found in local stores in Manila, such as the ageLOC TR90 anti-aging personal care products, Hostess’ Twinkies (an American favorite), Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter Biscotti (a limited commodity in the States).

Cost-effective solution

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Online shopping is currently growing in the Philippines; however, it has a couple of limitations: one was the international shipping costs. Although consumers were willing to spend for merchandise from abroad, the added fees on top of the initial product price sometimes turn out to be too expensive. Two, not many Internet merchants had flexible shipping policies, and could only ship to areas within their country.

To address these issues, Californila offers a cost-effective solution by consolidating orders in one box. They also provide several box sizes which can be sent by either sea or air cargo. Once the package arrives in Manila, buyers can have their item sent directly to them or opt to pick it up themselves at specific Californila meet-up points. Since orders are placed together in one package, customers pay less.

Regular clients of Californila have attested its many merits. Many customers expressed their satisfaction by applauding the site’s efficient transaction, quick deliveries, and prompt feedback system.

“Thanks for the prompt feedback and fast delivery. I was glad that you did not decline my request as other online shops did. The quotation was reasonable as well as the other charges. Keep it up!” said one customer.

“Very efficient in processing transactions and answers all inquiries right away. I also got lucky for being upgraded from sea freight to air freight with no additional charge! Will surely do business with Californila again!!!” expressed another.

Today, Charmaine helps to give individuals an opportunity to get an extra income by reselling our products. This is very helpful especially for students now that the holiday season is fast approaching.

Believe it or not, the person managing their Instagram account is her grandmother who is 82 years old. She's very passionate about the concept of Californila that she wanted to work with us. She learned how to use Instagram using a tablet device.

Future plans

According to Charmaine, Californila’s overall operations will soon go beyond its online platform.

"We’re planning to open kiosks at popular malls in Manila so customers can have a glimpse of our new products, as well as pick up their orders at a mall close to them," she said.

Thus, Californila has slowly followed this step by participating in several bazaars in Manila this Christmas Season (November and December), offering exclusive goods from the US.

With the growing demand for imported products, the growth opportunities for Californila are limitless. It has already displayed great success from its humble beginnings in 2007, and surely, it has more to offer in the coming years.

Until then, you could just sit back, online shop, and ship it to Californila, or you can have Californila become your own Personal Shopper.To discover more about their products and services, visit today.

For questions and more information, you may contact Armando "Butz" Bartolome by email: or on Twitter. His website is