SME Tech

Want to shop abroad? A local can do it for you

Mr Tai Xin-lung and his wife, Ms Rebecca Chia, co-founded ShopandBox, together with his high-school friend, Mr Louis Tan, in 2013. The service promises to let users "shop like a local" and has over 80 personal shoppers in 21 countries.
Mr Tai Xin-lung and his wife, Ms Rebecca Chia, co-founded ShopandBox, together with his high-school friend, Mr Louis Tan, in 2013. The service promises to let users "shop like a local" and has over 80 personal shoppers in 21 countries.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SHOPANDBOX

S'pore start-up ShopandBox has over 80 personal shoppers in 21 countries and plans to expand its reach

If you desperately want the latest limited-edition sneakers from Japan, or if you are craving food that can be purchased only from a farm in Europe, there is no need to bother a friend on holiday.

ShopandBox can help you get the items by pairing you up with a personal shopper who is in your target country. The local start-up raised $1 million in funding last month from seed-stage venture capital firm 500 Startups and a group of angel investors, and is now aiming to expand its reach beyond the current 21 countries.

Co-founder Tai Xin-lung, 31, said: "If someone is travelling, people often ask 'Hey, do you have space in your luggage?' and hand them a shopping list.

"But there is only so much that you want to inconvenience somebody, especially if he is on holiday with a packed schedule."

Mr Tai co-founded ShopandBox in 2013 with his wife, Ms Rebecca Chia, 30, and high-school friend Louis Tan, 31. The service promises to let users "shop like a local" and now has over 80 personal shoppers in 21 countries.

While freight-forwarding services, such as vPost and comGateway, have been around for years, proxy shopping services are relatively new, and ShopandBox is the first Singapore company to offer such a service.

When users place an order, they are paired with a personal shopper in their target country, called a Boxer. The Boxer can help them buy goods offline at places such as factory outlet stores, and use their local credit cards and discount cards for perks.

Once they have the items, Boxers will repackage them into the most cost-efficient packages for shipping, and may advise the shopper to split up his purchases in order to avoid tax. Boxers can even queue up for hot items, such as limited-edition fashion releases or newly released gadgets.

On top of the cost of the items and shipping, users pay a ShopandBox fee, which amounts to between 10 and 14 per cent of the total order. For more time-consuming tasks, such as queueing or travelling far out, an additional fee may be negotiated.

Ms Chia said: "It is almost like having a pen pal in another country, but, instead, he's a shopping pal."

To become a Boxer, individuals have to pass a video interview and complete an online training course. He receives 60 per cent of the ShopandBox fee, while the firm takes the other 40 per cent.

Mr Tai added: "When we recruit our Boxers, we also ask about their speciality product categories. They can use this knowledge to recommend products. Let's say, if a shopper is looking for cosmetics in France, the Boxer may ask, 'Have you tried Bioderma?' "

The majority of orders are placed for the US, followed by South Korea and Japan. The company has shipped over 95,000 items to shoppers from 146 countries.

Many shoppers have also been thinking of creative ways to use the service.

"One shopper who was going to Korea in a few months' time bought K-pop concert tickets, and had the Boxer send to the Airbnb address there," said Ms Chia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Want to shop abroad? A local can do it for you'. Print Edition | Subscribe