As the leading ecommerce platform in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, Sea Group-owned Shopee offers an easy, secure, and fast online shopping experience enjoyed by millions of consumers daily. For business owners, marketers, content creators and anyone looking to learn from successful business stories, the history of Shopee is one of growth and innovation.

At Business2Community, we’ve consulted a wide range of sources to provide a comprehensive account of Shopee’s journey from a C2C shopping app to the largest ecommerce platform in the region. Read on to discover key milestones, controversies, and more.

A History of Shopee – Key Dates

  • Shopee was launched in Singapore in 2015 as a mobile-first, C2C ecommerce company.
  • In its first year, Shopee hit 25 million app downloads and had over 65 million product listings across seven markets.
  • By 2020, Shopee had 280 million annual users and a revenue of $1.77 billion.
  • Prior to 2022, Shopee had logistics and marketing expenses amounting to over $810 million.
  • Turning its losses around, Shopee achieved its first quarterly profit ever in Q4 2022.

Who Owns Shopee?

Shopee is owned by Sea Limited, a global digital entertainment, ecommerce, and digital financial services company. Sea Limited is based in Singapore and was founded as the gaming company Garena in 2009. Shopee was launched in 2015, with a mobile-first C2C business model, the leading ecommerce platform was formed to help brands and sellers succeed in ecommerce.

Identifying the need for reliable payment and logistics solutions for buyers and sellers in Souteast Asia, Shopee leveraged the financial backing of its parent company, Sea, to establish itself. Shopee’s aggressive growth was facilitated by cash flow from its sister company, Garena, and access to affordable external funding.

However, in 2022, Garena’s declining revenue and the tightening of external funds forced Shopee to chart its own course in an increasingly competitive Southeast Asian ecommerce landscape.

Rising to the challenge, Shopee delivered its first-ever profitable year in 2023. Revenue grew by 5% to $13.1 billion, while net income was $163 million, compared to a net loss of $1.7 billion in 2022.

Who is the Shopee CEO?

The CEO of Shopee is Forrest Li, who has held the position since 2022 when he took over from Chris Feng. Li is the founder of Sea Group, Shopee’s parent company, and has served as the Group’s chairman and CEO since its inception in May 2009.

Shopee CEO

After his appointment as Shopee CEO, Li has focused on steering the company towards profitability and self-sufficiency. He has prioritized positive cash flow by reducing operating costs and establishing a more cost-sensitive culture.

Some of the strict measures he put in place included:

  • Laying off employees
  • Tightening expense policies
  • Cutting cash compensation for the leadership team
Period CEO Name
2015-2022 Chris Feng
2022-Present Forrest Li

Growth and Development of Shopee

With integrated payment, logistics, fulfillment, and other value-added services, Shopee provides users with a convenient, safe, and trusted shopping environment. Over the years, Shopee has evolved from a consumer-to-consumer (C2C) mobile-centric marketplace into a leading C2C and B2C ecommerce marketplace. Below, we track Shopee’s growth and development through the years.

Where is Shopee From?

Shopee was started in Singapore in 2015. Its main headquarters is in Singapore and the company has corporate offices in 12 other countries to support its operations.

Shopee locations

Country HQ Location
Brazil São Paulo
China Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen
Indonesia Bandung, Bekasi, Jakarta, Medan, Solo, Yogyakarta
Japan Tokyo
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur
Mexico Mexico City
Philippines Manila
Singapore Singapore
South Korea Seoul
Taiwan Taipei
Thailand Bangkok
Vietnam Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City

2015-2016: Shopee Launches in Multiple Locations

In 2015, Shopee Pte Ltd was launched in Singapore as well as in:

  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Thailand
  • Taiwan
  • Vietnam
  • Philippines

It was initially a mobile-first consumer-to-consumer (C2C) ecommerce company.

Backed by its parent company Sea, Shopee was free of typical startup limitations during its early stages. This allowed it to launch in multiple countries and hire one of the world’s biggest public relations firms at the outset.

To differentiate itself from other marketplaces in the region, Shopee employed several strategies. First, Shopee partnered with Singaporean-based logistics startup Ninja Van and other delivery partners like Pos Malaysia and Pos Indonesia to provide integrated logistics solutions for sellers.

Shopee

Then, to reduce friction and barriers to entry, Shopee empowered sellers to open a shop in 30 seconds with its Power Seller tool.

Shopee introduced the Shopee Guarantee, an escrow service for payments, giving buyers peace of mind by withholding payments from sellers pending successful delivery. The ecommerce company also focused on the social aspect of shopping, enabling features such as feeds, sharing items, trending hashtags, and chat functionality.

These strategies paid off and by December 2015, Shopee had three million items listed, four million installs, and was among the top 3 ecommerce companies in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. Shopee also won Singapore Startup Of The Year in the 2015 Vulcan Awards.

Shopee 1

To stay ahead of the competition, Shopee launched Shopee University in May 2016. This free program was designed to help local entrepreneurs sell products better and faster.

That same month, the ecommerce company recorded 10 million downloads of its app across the region. It also had over 12 million product listings and was now processing over five orders per second on its marketplace.

In September, the company launched its signature 9.9 Super Shopping Day in 2016 to reach mobile-first shoppers across Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

Shopee’s no-commission, no-listing fee, mobile-first business model allowed the company to expand rapidly and achieve a $1.8 billion gross merchandise value (GMV) and a 43% growth rate by its first anniversary. Shopee also reported a milestone of 25 million app downloads and over 65 million product listings across seven markets.

2017-2018: Shopee Expands into B2C

The launch of Shopee Mall in July 2017 signified a major step in Shopee’s plans to become an industry leader. Scaling up its B2C operations, Shopee launched Shopee Mall, a dedicated in-app space for B2C sellers.

Along with the existing offerings available on Shopee’s marketplace, Shopee Mall gave customers access to thousands of products from over 200 top sellers and leading brands such as 3M, L’Oreal, Philips, and Reckitt Benckiser.

All products on the Shopee Mall came with a 100% guarantee of authenticity, free shipping, and a 15-day return policy. In addition to standard safety measures, all brands had to undergo a verification process to eliminate the risk of fake items and counterfeit products on the platform. This helps it differentiate itself from other ecommerce platforms like AliExpress, which often have problems with counterfeit and deceiving products.

In March 2018, Shopee launched the China Marketplace, a portal offering buyers easy access to products from Chinese merchants (minus shipping costs and agent fees) in Singapore and the Philippines.

Leveraging gamification, Shopee launched Lucky Prize, its first in-app game in 2018. Throughout the year more games, such as Shopee Farm and Shopee Candy, were launched to make shopping more social and rewarding.

Shopee Games

That year, Shopee’s 9.9 Super Shopping Day set a new record with the best sales performance in Shopee history. The event recorded over 5.8 million transactions within 24 hours, amounting to 3 times more than an average day.

In November 2018, ShopeePay, Shopee’s mobile wallet was launched in Indonesia, with plans to expand into other markets.

The company made BlackPink, a world-famous South Korean girl group, its first regional brand ambassador as part of its partnership with YG Group in Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

@jewel_sheng

Blackpink Commercial Shopee🛒 #blackpink #shopee #jisoo #jennie #lisa #rosé

♬ 뚜두뚜두 DDU-DU DDU-DU – BLACKPINK

To promote Shopee’s upcoming 12.12 birthday sale, BlackPink released a Shopee commercial. While the commercial attracted over 30 million YouTube views, it received a warning from the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission for failing to adhere to decency norms as stated in its Broadcasting Code of Conduct and Program Standards.

2019-2020: Shopee Leverages Partnerships

Having successfully trained over 5,000 sellers, Shopee University partnered with FPX in March 2019 to provide online tutorials to encourage more Malaysians to join Shopee and kick-start their ecommerce journeys.

In a pilot initiative, Shopee entered Brazil in 2019. By 2023, the company was doing business with over three million local merchants in the country.

To drive up customer engagement, Shopee launched Shopee LIVE, its live-streaming feature in May 2019. The feature enabled buyers to connect with sellers in real-time and purchase items online without leaving the live stream.

Shopee live

The next month, Shopee faced an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in the Philippines over a controversial BlackPink promotional campaign. The company was accused of changing contest guidelines and mechanics midway, leading to the trending hashtag #SHOPEESCAM on Twitter. Shopee Philippines responded with a public apology and compensated all affected shoppers.

Shopee appointed soccer player celebrity Cristiano Ronaldo as its regional brand ambassador in August 2019. Ronaldo was tasked with promoting various initiatives including its annual 9.9 Super Shopping Day. The deal played a crucial role in doubling Shopee’s gross orders to $321 million and tripling its ecommerce sales to $230 million.

Shopee ad

In September 2019, Shopee opened its regional headquarters in Singapore. The new building, spanning 244,000 square feet, was six times larger than Shopee’s previous offices. This marked a significant milestone in the company’s journey, allowing it to nurture tech talent, develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and create more job opportunities.

Shopee Launched the Shopee Code League in June 2020, a massive online coding league designed to cultivate and connect global tech talent.

In July 2020, Shopee partnered with Google to launch Google Ads with Shopee, a first-of-its-kind marketing solution offering brands access to specialized marketing tools to boost their online presence and drive sales.

Shopee code league

As part of its hyper-local marketing strategy, Shopee named Singaporean cultural icon Phua Chu Kang (PCK), played by Gurmit Singh, as its first Singaporean brand ambassador in August 2020.

With a portfolio of more than 18,000 brands across multiple categories, Shopee launched Shopee Premium in September that year to promote exclusive premium brands.

Shopee’s rapid expansion was boosted by the pandemic, increasing annual users to 280 million, GMV to $35.4 billion, and the platform’s revenue by 160% to $1.77 billion in 2020.

2021-2022: Shopee Suffers Growing Pains

In February 2021, Shopee once again landed in hot water over an online ad in Indonesia. The ad, which portrayed predatory male behavior, sparked a public outcry on social media for mocking victims of sexual harassment and abuse. On Twitter, users called for a boycott of Shopee with the hashtag #UninstallShopee. Shopee promptly issued a public apology and removed the ad.

Despite a rocky start to the year, Shopee ventured into food delivery service with the launch of a new vertical, ShopeeFood in April. The move involved the rebranding of NowFood – a food delivery platform acquired by the Sea Group for $64 million in 2017. The ShopeeFood driver app, available on the Google Play store was installed over 50,000 times that year.

Shopee food

The next month, Shopee appointed Mark Lee as its next regional ambassador. BtoB, a South Korean boy band, was also appointed as the official ambassador for Shopee’s K-Collection, a Korean brand exhibition featuring 50 domestic small and medium-sized enterprises.

In November 2021, Shopee faced allegations of toxic workplace practices and a “996 culture” (excessive work hours, referring to working from 9AM to 9PM for six days every week) after an Instagram post compiled negative reviews from employees. Shopee Singapore responded with a statement promising a thorough investigation.

Shopee expanded aggressively in 2021, entering new markets such as France, Mexico, India, Colombia and Chile. However, this proved unsustainable, resulting in Shopee announcing its exit from France, followed by exits from Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia throughout the year.

Due to Sea’s declining revenue and tough economic conditions, Shopee shifted its strategy from hyper-growth to self-sufficiency, profitability, and cost efficiency.

Shopee ad

To cut costs, Shopee carried out three waves of layoffs, affecting more than 7,000 employees across all its locations. However, the abrupt and callous way in which Shopee handled these layoffs resulted in significant negative publicity.

In September 2022, Shopee faced more backlash. This time, for hiring controversial actress and singer Toni Gonzaga as a brand ambassador amidst mass layoffs. As a result, #BoycottShopee, #ByeShopee, and #HelloLazada trended on social media, with many users vowing to switch over to competitor Lazada.

Facing significant losses of around $810 million from logistics and marketing expenses, Shopee strategically increased its commissions and advertising fees while slashing costs.

By Q4 2022, the ecommerce company had turned the tide, achieving its first quarterly profit ever with a 54% revenue surge to $1.1 billion.

2023- Present: Shopee Becomes Profitable

Marking a complete exit from the European market, Shopee shut down its operations in Poland in January 2023, leaving Brazil as its sole market in Latin America.

In July, Shopee introduced next-day delivery, supporting sellers in meeting buyers’ urgent purchases.

During its yearly 9.9 event, Shopee orders surged 29x. The platform experienced a boost in engagement and shopping activity, with 4.8 billion views recorded on Shopee Live across the region.

Shopee 5

Shopee had 295 million users in 2023, making it one of the most popular ecommerce apps worldwide.

Despite growing competition from other ecommerce companies like TikTok Shop, Temu, and Shein, Shopee maintained a strong lead in Southeast Asia. In terms of page visits, it pulled close to 520 million mobile and desktop visitors, more than three times that of rival Lazada.

Overall, the year’s financial performance was equally impressive, with Shopee generating $78.5 billion in GMV from a total of 8.2 billion gross orders. Q1 2024 shattered records, delivering the company’s highest-ever quarterly figures for orders, GMV, and revenue.

To compete with other marketplaces, Shopee enhanced its user experience with the launch of the 15 Days Free Returns program in March. This gave customers the freedom to return eligible items across all product categories. Shopee ramped up its efforts in May by launching its On-Time Guarantee program, promising on-time delivery and compensation for any delays.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s antitrust agency, KPPU, has accused Shopee of violating anti-competition rules by limiting customer choices for delivery services. KPPU investigators found that Shopee had removed several delivery providers, leaving only two options, one of which had a Shopee executive, on its board.

Shopee’s logo has remained largely unchanged, reinforcing its distinct brand identity in the competitive ecommerce landscape.

2015-2019: The Signature Shopping Bag

Shopee’s first logo was a vibrant orange wordmark paired with a shopping bag bearing a white letter ‘S’.

Shopee logo

While the inspiration behind the logo is unknown, the color orange aptly conveys Shopee’s three key attributes – “Simple, Happy, and Together”.

2019-Present: A Subtle Update

In 2019, the logo was updated to a darker, more intense shade of orange. The wordmark was repositioned from the left side to below the shopping bag emblem.

Shopee logo

The Future of Shopee

Shopee and its meteoric rise to dominance highlights the power of a robust international marketing strategy. By leveraging low prices, social engagement, gamification, and other innovative promotional tactics, Shopee has captured a significant market share.

By addressing the region’s need for ecommerce and localizing its offerings, Shopee was able to provide an easy, secure, and fast online shopping experience for each country. Along with strong payment support and logistics networks, Shopee also guaranteed high levels of customer engagement through its Live features and gamification tactics.

Through partnering with influential public figures, Shopee was able to establish major brand share in the minds of consumers and differentiate itself from other ecommerce platforms in the region. While successful in capturing market share, Shopee’s focus on rapid growth proved to be costly and unsustainable.

With the ecommerce giant only recently achieving profitability, it will need to navigate intense competition and changing market dynamics prudently.

Looking ahead, Shopee aims to enhance its platform and strengthen its position as the region’s ecommerce destination of choice. Considering its history of innovation and adaptability, Shopee is well-positioned to meet the evolving needs of buyers and sellers in Southeast Asia.

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