7-month-old Simsim secures $16M for its social commerce in India

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Simsim, a social commerce startup in India, said on Friday it has raised $16 million in seven months of its existence as it attempts to replicate the offline retail experience in the digital world with help from influencers.

The Gurgaon-based startup said it raised $16 million across seed, Series A and Series B financing rounds from Accel Partners, Shunwei Capital and Good Capital. (The most recent round, Series B, was of $8 million in size.)

“Despite e-commerce players bandying out major discounts, most of the sales in India are still happening in brick-and-mortar stores. There is a simple reason for that: Trust,” explained Amit Bagaria, co-founder of Simsim, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The vast majority of Indians are still not comfortable with reading descriptions — and that too in English, he said.

Simsim is taking a different approach to tackle this opportunity. On its app, users watch short-videos produced in local languages by influencers who apply beauty products or try out dresses and explain the ins-and-outs of the products. Below the video, the items appear as they are being discussed and users can tap on them to proceed with the purchase.

“Videos help in educating users about the category. So many of them may not have used face masks, for instance. But it becomes easier when the community influencer is able to show them how to apply it,” said Rohan Malhotra, managing partner at Good Capital, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Influencers typically sell a range of items and users can follow them to browse through the past catalog and stay on top of future sales, said Bagaria, who previously worked at the e-commerce venture of financial services firm Paytm .

“This interactiveness is enabling Simsim to mimic the offline stores experience,” said Malhotra, who is one of the earliest investors in Meesho, also a social commerce startup that last year received backing from Facebook and Prosus Ventures.

“The beauty to me of social commerce is that you’re not changing consumer behavior. People are used to consuming on WhatsApp — and it’s working for Meesho. Over here, you are getting the touch and feel experience and are able to mentally picture the items much clearer,” he said.

Simsim handles the inventories, which it sources from manufacturers and brands, and it works with a number of logistics players to deliver the products.

“Several Indian cities and towns are some of the biggest production hubs of various high-quality items. But these people have not been able to efficiently sell online or grow their network in the offline world. On Simsim, they are able to work with influencers and market their products,” said Bagaria.

The platform today works with more than 1,200 influencers, who get a commission for each item they sell, said Bagaria, who plans to grow this figure to 100,000 in the coming years.

Even as Simsim, which has been open to users for six months, is still in its nascent stage, it is beginning to show some growth. It has amassed over a million users, most of whom live in small cities and towns, and it is selling thousands of items each day, said Bagaria.

He said the platform, which currently supports Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and English, will add more than a dozen additional languages by the end of the year. In about a month, Simsim also plans to start showing live videos, where influencers will be able to answer queries from users.

A handful of startups have emerged in India in recent years that are attempting to rethink the e-commerce market in the nation. Amazon and Walmart, both of which have poured billions of dollars in India, have taken a notice too. Both of them have added support for Hindi in the last two years and have made several more tweaks to their platforms to expand their reach.