Meet Startup @TW

Sam Tsai: The Pivotal Figure Behind Taiwanese e-Commerce Giant PChome’s Entry into Thailand’s E-commerce Market

PChome Online Group

Southeast Asia will be the world’s 5th largest economy by 2020, according to the World Economic Forum.

Many companies in fields ranging from food to e-commerce are expanding their online businesses there.

That includes Taiwan’s PChome Online Shopping, the e-commerce platform of 20-year-old PChome Online Group.

"We have been researching the Southeast Asian market since 2000," said Sam Tsai, CEO of PChome Thai.

“Over the last decade Southeast Asia has been changing rapidly."

The ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are home to more than 630 million people who produce GDP of US$2.8 trillion. It’s also the fastest-growing internet economy in Asia with booming smartphone usage.

PChome Online Group is not the only one to explore this market. Online shopping websites Lazada, which is majority-owned by China’s Alibaba Group, and Shopee, which is based in Singapore, have also made prominent efforts to enter this region.

PChome Online Shopping, which has been selling more than 5 million items that range from consumer electronics to cosmetics, decided to partner with Cal Comp Thailand in 2015 with a joint venture known as “PChome Thai." The joint venture primarily provides a platform for consumers to trade with each other.

PChome Online Group targets Thailand as a base for global expansion

“The key is smartphone usage and the internet fueling the region’s growth," Tsai noted.

After deciding to move into Southeast Asia, "we started to do some research with statistics regarding the country that needed to be the top choice for PChome Online Group to expand in,” Tsai said during the interview.

Tsai pointed out the three vital elements needed in a nation by e-commerce players. They are: the stability and popularity of internet usage, the degree of urbanization and the proportion of middle-class consumers.

The CEO explained that the stability of a nation’s internet connections means whether or not multiple online transactions can be possible, while the proportion of middle-class people is directly related to a nation’s consumption power.

After researching and visiting these Southeast Asian regions, PChome Online Group teamed up with Cal Comp Thailand four years ago.

“Regional differences are great. Therefore having a business partner who is already rooted in that region is of great help to us, “ Tsai said, adding that it helped his company understand the cultural differences between Taiwan and Thailand.

Cal Comp Thailand, founded in 1989, was eager to join forces with PChome as it was looking for new business opportunities, Tsai said.

PChome Thai’s challenges and opportunities

Thailand’s location is at the center of Southeast Asia with over 68 million people.

According to the Electronics Transaction Development Agency,Thai people spend an average of 3.5 hours per day on social media and the top three social media platforms are YouTube, Facebook and LINE.

The growing popularity of social media has created opportunities for businesses of all sizes, including for PChome Thai.

PChomePay, an e-payment system launched by PChome Online Group, supports various payment methods that include bill payments, ATM transactions, i-Banking and mobile banking. It also provides debit and credit card payment collection services.

The company recently obtained a license from Thailand’s ministry of finance to enhance payment systems for social commerce or so-called S-commerce.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are widely-used by Thai people, according to Tsai. Therefore, PChome Thai will launch a S-commerce payment system in the first quarter of this year aimed at Thailand’s increasing number of social media users.

PChome Thai also sets up a “Taiwan Pavilion” on its e-commerce website, which provides Taiwanese products to Thailand.

“ We are eager to differentiate ourselves from our competitors,’ Tsai said.

Tsai noted that besides his company’s payment system, the high-end, high-quality products from Korea, Japan and Taiwan sold on his platform also helped PChome Thai stand out in the market.

ASEAN’s positive attitude to e-commerce

Tsai noted that the ASEAN nations signed a landmark agreement to create a more conducive environment for e-commerce in the region on Nov. 12 last year in Singapore.

They pledged to facilitate cross-border e-commerce transactions and create an environment of trust and confidence in the use of e-commerce as well as deepen regional cooperation to drive economic growth.

“The key message of the ASEAN meeting last year was pretty positive, which is a good signal from this fastest growing market,” Tsai said.

“ E-commerce is a new market for ASEAN region therefore, the region can copy other matured (economy’s) e-commerce markets.

“From the deal, and also based on our past experiences, trust is a major concern for all the users,, either the sellers or the buyers. This is why PChome Online Group provides PChomePay and PChome Protection services here.

“We noticed these major concerns and then solved the problems,” Tsai noted.

Tsai’s abundant experience

Tsai was born in Taiwan . He graduated from Fu Jen Catholic University, a well-known privately-owned university Taiwan.

Tsai is building on rich work experience of over 19 years at PChome Online Group, which was founded by Jan Hung-tze and ships to 105 countries.

Tsai has been CEO of PChome Thai since 2017. Before taking this position, Tsai was responsible for the group’s cooperation with Lingvist,an AI-powered language learning tool available in 13 languages ranging from English to Portuguese.

The internet-based language platform Lingvist has already accumulated more than 2 million international users.

Feliciana Hsu
English journalist and PR for Global Affairs

Feliciana gained her MSc of Media Power and Public Affairs from Royal Holloway, University of London.

After graduating from London, she started her career of being journalist at Business Next Media and Meet Startup @TW Website, and specializes in interviewing about innovation and technology.

Within her career, she has interviewed various experts in their field, including Mr.Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia; Fleur Pellerin, former French Minister of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises and Sir Christopher Pissarides, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economic in 2010.

Startup to Watch