The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumers’ shopping habits from offline to online, boosting the growth of e-commerce platforms especially in Asia such as China’s Tmall, Singapore’s Shopee and Indonesia’s Tokopedia. Delivering products in a timely and affordable manner becomes a crucial task, which in turns give rise to ‘last mile players’ — logistics companies.
Rising as the industry leaders in their hometown, both Hong Kong’s Lalamove and Singapore’s Ninja Van are said to be poised for IPO in the near future. Well-known VC firms are pooling their capital into new rounds of funding this year.
More competitors like J&T Express, GOGOVan or Flash Express are trying to get a scoop of the e-commerce craze. But the fall of Uber in southeast Asia and Ubereats’ recent retreat in Hong Kong implies that disruptive companies may still die young under rapid expansion and fierce competition.
The Hong-Kong-based logistics unicorn Lalamove is easily recognised for its sharp orange vans running across the cities. Its name Lalamove actually comes from a Hong Kong slang ‘la la sound’, which means ‘hurry up’.
In 2013, Lalamove first started as Easyvan in Hong Kong. At that time, the company aimed to revolutionise the city’s traditional, centralised, costly and inefficient van hiring call centres.
By utilising mobile app technology and a shared economy business model, the company successfully changed the logistic model in Hong Kong by offering instant order matching, real-time GPS vehicle tracking, 24/7 services and a driver rating system. It also optimises drivers fleet and route to maximise their earning potential.
In 2014, the company officially changed its name to Lalamove and expanded into mainland China. Now, Lalamove operates in more than 20 cities in Asia and Latin America, including Singapore, Bangkok and Taipei. It currently has over 7 million customers and 700,000 drivers.
The company also made its debut in the U.S. last year by starting from the major distribution and logistics hub Dallas-Fort Worth, but its expansion into India was halted as the government banned 43 apps for cybersecurity concerns, which included Lalamove.
Crunchbase data shows Lalamove has acquired USD 2.5 billion via 9 rounds of fundraising
US$1 billion with the help of 18 investors including Tiger Fund, Boyu Capital, Sequoia Capital, Hillhouse Capital Group, Shunwei Capital and more.
Lalamove is said to have filed confidentially for a U.S. IPO in June valued at USD 1 billion this year, but shifted its IPO plans to Hong Kong after China’s crackdown on Didi in July. Later, it was reported that Lalamove may submit its IPO application as soon as the end of October, but the company said there was no specific listing plan.
In 2019, the company’s head of international said Lalamove is profitable in “a significant amount” of cities and the blueprint is to reach profitability within two years of opening a new location.
Similarly, Singapore’s Ninja Van picked a bright red colour and a ninja icon for their brand image. The name Ninja is said to reflect the idea of working quietly to get things done.
Established in 2014, Ninja Van is now one of the biggest startups in Southeast Asia. It was also the first logistics company in Singapore to provide real-time tracking.
It currently employs over 60,000 staff to support the delivery of around 2 million parcels a day. Its network spans 6 countries in Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The company specifically targets small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Southeast Asia, which appears to be a smart strategy as Southeast Asia is recognized as a huge potential market for e-commerce by Internet giants, analysts and investors. Its client portfolio looks promising with the inclusion of dominating e-commerce firms like Lazada, Shopee, Zalora, Bukalapak and Tokopedia.
Crunchbase’s data shows Ninja Van has raised a total of USD 974.5 million in 6 rounds of funding. Its 13 investors include Alibaba Group, Bangkok Bank, Monk’s Hill Ventures, B Capital Group, Zamrud and more. The USD 578 million from its latest funding round lifted the company’s valuation to surpass the USD 1 billion milestone.
Ninja Van’s co-founder and CEO Lai Chang Wen said in a recent interview that the company’s revenue has been growing at 40% to 50% annually thanks to the e-commerce boom.
Earlier in October, Ninja Van reportedly planned to hire 200 engineers to level up its technology for a potential U.S. IPO within two years. Financial Times reported the company is almost ‘break-even’ and targeting profitability in 2022.
One of the differences between Lalamove and Ninja Van is that Lalamove specialises in work with independent contractors and point-to-point deliveries, which is similar to Grab’s model.
Lalamove offers B2B, B2C, and C2C services. This means that not onlybusinesses can use their services but also personal users. It offers fast delivery services for fragile utensils, valuable goods, and bulky goods to ensure that the original packaging is in good condition.
For instance, they provide office and house moving services with loading and unloading. Previously, large and bulky furniture transportation services were used to be offered by cyclo and tricycle drivers, but it could be time consuming and troublesome when faced with adverse weather conditions. Now lalamove can offer different types of vehicles and different time slots for customers to choose.
Compared with Ninja Van, Lalamove’s service network not only covers southeast Asia but China and America. In China, it has already secured a leading position in the domestic logistics industry. Its transaction volume on online car-hailing platforms reportedly accounted for 54.7% in 2020, surpassing its competitor Kuaigou Dache.
When Lalamove was building its Asia network, it adopted a localisation strategy by teaming up with local stores, such as Google in Hong Kong, IKEA in Singapore and Lineman in Thailand. Other than the competitive e-commerce and retail landscape, Lalamove is also eager to partner with restaurants so as to explore new channels and increase their infiltration rate.
In November 2019, Lalamove partnered with Burger King in China as a trial case to sell its services to different local and international brands. During the pandemic, it even offered food delivery service in Hong Kong by teaming up with Klook.
Comparatively, Ninja Van’s value proposition has been clearly set on the B2C space, notably SMEs in southeast Asia, right from the beginning, but now it is also supporting multi-channel and social media sellers.
Unlike Lalamove, Ninja Van is not planning to branch out to food delivery and ride-hailing services, but rather work on providing additional supply chain services to help SMEs with cross-border and micro supply chain solutions.
Ninja Van CEO Chang Wen Lai told TechCrunch in an interview that there is a ‘last mile companies’ market gap in southeast Asia, “The likes of SingPost, Malaysia Post and Kerry are only present in their own countries. So when [e-commerce] giants want a single logistics player that can provide a seamless experience across the region, there is nobody to turn to.”
Compared with Lalamove, Ninja Van’s CEO claimed that the company runs a “hub-and-spoke business” and considers FedEx and DHL as their competitors. For example, the company works with convenience stores in Singapore and Malaysia, and with cellphone shops in Indonesia.
It also employs full-time drivers instead of utilising the sharing economy model so that drivers can be familiar with the network and optimise the delivery efficiency.
To tackle the unique geography with varying terrain in the region, Ninja Van went as far as utilising buffaloes for delivery services, eventually making it the “only last-mile courier with almost 100% service coverage in Southeast Asia’’ from tier 1 cities to remote villages.
Deloitte’s data shows that 4 Asian countries recorded top 10 e-commerce growth rates which are Philippines, Malaysia and India and South Korea in 2020. Driven by Southeast
Asia’s increasing number of Internet users, the firm forecasted that e-commerce sales in Asia will exceed USD 4 trillion and occupy 65.9% of the global market by 2024.
According to Bain & Company, Southeast Asia’s internet economy is anticipating a USD 1 trillion gross merchandise value by 2030 driven primarily by e-commerce, food delivery and digital financial services.
While the bolstering e-commerce sector seems to favour retail-oriented last mile players like Ninja Van, this also means the e-commerce giants have more capital and resources to develop their own logistics business, like ‘Shopee Xpress’ backed by Shopee and Lazada’s own global shipping services. But when more competitors are offering similar services, customers and businesses will gradually shift their focus to the service quality, instead of just speed and cost.
In faced with traditional logistics companies’ expansion and e-commerce giants’ participation, value-added services can become a determining factor to stand out in the competitive logistics industry, such as warehouse and fulfilment, sourcing, express delivery, international shipping and managing e-commerce channels.
In Ninja van’s case, it mines its data to find hidden efficiencies. For example, when numerous merchants are buying the same item, Ninja Van can broker a deal to buy in bulk for a lower price on behalf of several customers.
In line with their value proposition, Ninja Van provides aid to SMEs and expands their market. In September, it introduced the programme Ninja Academy in Indonesia, which teaches SME owners about social marketing, inventory management, procurement and sales strategy.
For businesses that ship over 300 orders monthly, it provides a market intelligence tool called Ninja Insider to them which helps analyse their logistics operations and performance.
Recently, the company has launched a new business called Ninja direct, which helps online sellers to buy products mainly from China along with customs clearance, supply chain financing and delivery.
Another challenge comes from human resource management, which is directly related to service quality. How these last-mile companies maintain profit making with reasonable human resources management can affect their reliability and brand image.
In 2018, Lalamove’s drivers staged protests in at least five cities in China over pay cuts that were announced unilaterally without prior notice. This year, some Lalamove motorcycle drivers in the Philippines also called for the company to reduce the commission rate and adopt a standard base rate.
In February, a Chinese netizen complained that Lalamove had requested RMB 5400 for moving an item less than 2 kg, which reflects the lack of supervision and management of its employees.
Moreover, Lalamove was previously known for its lenient management style in China. To become a driver, you only needed to provide simple certificates and pass a training course within one hour. But this may have contributed to its controversial crisis earlier in China this year. In March, a passenger passed away after reportedly jumping off from Lalamove’s moving vehicle.
Lalamove later said it would introduce in-vehicle recording, better safety functions for passengers and enhanced background checks on drivers, but the incident revealed that the vehicle-hailing industry is still not mature and lacks supervisions.
In May this year, China regulators ordered the logistics industry to immediately fix a series of problems including unfair price mechanism, loose supervision on operations, lack of clarification on responsibilities and more.
Although the disruptive last mile industry has been developed rapidly over the past few years, it appears to be disordered and immature for now. Investors should wait and see as leading companies like Ninja Van and Lalamove have just started to fumble in new markets and try out new business models.
One thing for sure is that, to survive in the long run, unconventional last mile players need to provide more standardized and transparent services, review customer satisfaction and focus on new customer requirements.