Shopee, founded in 2015—a unit of New York Stock Exchange-listed internet platform Sea—has dethroned Alibaba-backed Lazada, founded in 2012, both in downloads and MAUs. Between the two metrics though, MAU is more crucial since download numbers tend to plateau over time for older apps. App Annie’s more granular country data shows that Shopee nabbed the top spots in MAU in Indonesia and Vietnam, the region’s two fastest growing internet economies, in 2019, as per the Google-Temasek-Bain industry report.
Yes, you can argue the data doesn’t paint a full picture since it only covers apps. But according to year-end 2019 data from SimilarWeb—acquired by product comparison website iPrice—Shopee also holds the top spot for total regional traffic on desktop and mobile.
Shopee vs Lazada visits in 2019
Vincent Fernando, a financial analyst who writes for Smartkarma, attributes Shopee’s rise to its “aggressive” investments in subsidies. This follows parent Sea’s US$884 million initial public offering in October 2017 and its US$1.5 billion follow-on offer specifically for the shopping unit.
Shopee has been absorbing things like shipping and insurance fees to attract more merchants to its platform, says an executive of a logistics firm servicing both Shopee and Lazada in the Philippines. The executive requested anonymity for fear of upsetting the companies. Lazada also incurs expenses due to subsidies, but it has been charging sellers for logistics services such as shipping and fulfillment.
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Besides, Shopee’s monthly promotional events started in 2018—similar to the wildly popular 11.11 regional shopping festival, only much smaller—must’ve boosted its rankings, the executive suggests. Last year’s 11.11 shopping bonanza topped US$38 billion in sales.
“The theory being: when you peak, you never go back to your regular volume,” she says. “The more frequently you do the promo events, the higher and higher your base grows. Lazada doesn’t do the monthly thing.”
Shopee’s move to sign on regional brand ambassadors like Portugese football star Cristiano Ronaldo might have also shored up activity on its platform, according to M&C Saatchi’s Chaudhary.
Still, even as Shopee enjoys superior ranking in terms of traffic and usage, the subsidies it employs take a toll on its financials. In January-March 2019, Shopee’s sales and marketing expenses stood at US$254.7 million, a 38% year-on-year jump from US$184.5 million in the same period the previous year. As a result, its adjusted EBITDA loss widened to US$306.2 million compared to US$277.5 million the previous year.
In either case, Lazada is unfettered by the app and web rankings. Responding to us request for comment, a Lazada spokesperson said “the metric that we focus on is the consumer,” adding that the company has more than 60 million annual active consumers. Unlike MAU, which refers to the number of users who open the app, annual active consumers as a metric looks at actual purchases on the app and site. Lazada is yet to make its financials available.