Chat App Line Moves Towards Selling And Delivering Groceries In Southeast Asia

A month after introducing its own Uber-like service in Tokyo, Line — the Japanese messaging service known for its zany cartoon stickers — is taking a first step towards grocery sales and delivery in Southeast Asia, in the style of U.S. startup Instacart.

Beginning in Thailand this week, where it claims 36 million registered users, Line will offer up a range of perishable and non-perishable goods via its messaging app. It is initially testing the concept using a daily deals model, which will include three daily deals and two “heavily discounted” offers per week, but there are plans to do more over time.

The promotions will be publicized by three existing Line ‘brand’ accounts that have showcased promotions for consumer products since last year — in other words, Line users deliberately opt in for the grocery deals, it isn’t spam that is sent to all.

The longer-term plan here is for Line to build out a fuller channel for food (and general) shopping across Southeast Asia.

“This campaign is our first step towards moving into developing our channel exclusively for the emerging online groceries category. In the future, this platform would display all the region’s top food and FMCG brands in a digital food marketplace integrated with all the ease and convenience of mobile at the consumers’ fingertips,” said Sedong Nam, who is head of service at Line Plus — the corporation’s overseas organization — in a statement.

Nam conceded that Line may “need to educate” both consumers and retailers on the benefits of mobile, in-app, shopping, but this pilot is another step on that journey.

Thailand, where Line has two million more registered users than Facebook, is its second largest market behind Japan. This is the latest in a range of shopping-themed pilots there, but this test is more indicative of future plans.

Last year, Line released a shopping app in Thailand and it began offering ‘hot deals’ and promotions on consumer goods. Previously users could only complete purchases via the standalone Line Shop app, but now the company is allowing payment inside the core chat app via its global payment service which went live in December. Cash-on-delivery may be added in the future, we’re told.

Using Line Pay for this trial could boost adoption of the payment services, plus getting users to add their bank details removes a major barrier and unlocks the potential to sell them more goods and services in the future.

Finally, Line is promising free, next-day delivery for all purchases, although the company isn’t handling this side of the project. aCommerce — a Bangkok-based startup that raised $10.7 million from Docomo and others last summer, and works with Line on other commerce ventures — will provide the logistics and fulfillment backbone.

The launch of Snapchat ‘Discover’ has given the concept of messaging apps as platforms more credence in the U.S., but Line is one of a number of Asian companies that have long been plotting services for users. In addition to shopping and taxis, Line is hatching a global music service — having bought MixRadio from Microsoft — while it harbors food delivery and other online-to-offline commerce ambitions too.

Line claims 92 million active users across Japan, Thailand and Taiwan, and it seems feasible that a mobile commerce play could work in these markets. But its most recent financial report showed new user growth is slowing, and half of its 181 million active users worldwide is located in those three aforementioned countries. That makes the potential adoption of regional and global services somewhat uncertain at this point.