Shoppers’ angel

This article first appeared in Enterprise, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 31, 2018 - January 06, 2019.
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For an avid shopper, one of the greatest hurdles of shopping internationally online is figuring out the logistics of getting the products from one part of the world to another. The other is the exorbitant rates one has to pay to get them delivered.

Understanding the frustration, Vimal Kumar set up Yellow Porter Sdn Bhd, an e-commerce enabler that specialises in cross-border logistics and last-mile delivery. Founded just over two years ago, the service aims to address two issues — helping consumers shop in locations that do not directly ship to Malaysia and offering rates at a fraction of regular shipping prices.

How does the company keep its costs low? Its unique selling point is its local shipping address in the respective countries, which customers can use as their shipping address when shopping online.

Yellow Porter gets its porters — regular people who travel in and out of Malaysia — to cart purchased items within a prescribed period, for an affordable fee. The porters are thoroughly vetted by the company. It also leverages partnerships with established and reputable logistics players when dealing with bulky or more complex deliveries.

Vimal, who is co-founder and CEO, explains that Yellow Porter is able to do this simply because of the sheer number of Malaysians travelling overseas. He himself had to indulge the requests of family and friends. At the time, he was travelling quite a bit as he was working for long-haul budget carrier AirAsia X Bhd as head of operations and business development. It was this experience that motivated him to start Yellow Porter.

Vimal continued working for the airline while trying to figure out a tangible business plan. But it wasn’t until he moved on and worked for a year at BIG Loyalty Sdn Bhd (previously known as Think BIG Digital Sdn Bhd),  that he decided to get cracking on his idea.

A MasterCard survey found that an estimated 11.9 million international outbound trips from Malaysia were recorded in 2016 and this is forecast to increase to 14.2 million trips by 2021.

In addition, he realised that more people were shopping online. He figured that individuals could earn an income by serving as a bridge for these transactions. Data compiled by the International Post Corp showed that e-commerce sales accounted for one-tenth of total retail sales worldwide or US$2.3 trillion last year. By 2021, transactions are expected to reach US$4.5 trillion.

The global postal cooperative says e-commerce sales in China and the US amounted to US$1.6 trillion last year, representing almost 70% of global e-commerce. It notes that while e-commerce in the US grew 15%, the growth rate for Asia-Pacific was 30%.

Armed with this data, Vimal started Yellow Porter in August 2016, with three former colleagues and a childhood friend, on a bootstrap budget. Using the connections he amassed during his time at AirAsia, he was able to strategically spot potential partners and secure angel funds shortly after.

The innovative solution won the founders a RM150,000 grant under the Cradle Investment Programme, followed by more pre-seed funding. Fast forward to 2018, Yellow Porter has grown from operations in four countries to more than 12. Vimal says it now has access to six of the top 10 e-commerce markets in the world — China, the US, the UK, Japan, Germany and France.

“What started with a simple idea of using ‘porters’ to purchase and ship items from overseas has now evolved into a complete model that enables cross-

border e-commerce transactions to take place. We can now facilitate the purchase and shipping of items, regardless of the size and quantity, and send them to our customers using our network of warehouses at an affordable price,” he adds.

In terms of annual transactions and revenue, the company has grown more than fivefold. “I believe that we are on track to achieve a projected revenue of RM500,000 by end-2018,” says Vimal.

The service is easy enough to use. All one has to do is sign up for an account and log in to access the local shipping addresses in the respective countries. Then, the customer proceeds to purchase the item on verified online sites and have it shipped to the address.

Alternatively, the team at Yellow Porter can make the purchase on the customers’ behalf. The “shop4me” option allows customers to request Yellow Porter to shop on their behalf in the event transactions using international credit cards are not permitted. This is option comes in handy if shoppers want to purchase medicinal supplements, which can only be brought back personally by porters.

If you purchase the products on your own, you are given access to permanent residential addresses in the countries in which Yellow Porter has partners and you can have the products sent to the addresses. The portal is designed in such a way that once the item reaches the respective address, the customer is notified and can then choose the next course of action, such as having the porter transport the item back to Yellow Porter’s Kuala Lumpur headquarters or have it transported to another country that the company services. The porter earns close to 80% of the fee for carting the goods, says Vimal.

It is essential to note that all parcels bought via Yellow Porter are checked at their first destination, essentially to make sure that the items purchased are the right ones and that they arrive in good condition. In the event that the product is wrong, faulty or damaged, Yellow Porter will inform the consumer and, with his go-ahead, have it exchanged in the source country. The checks are also done to safeguard the interests of the porter, to ensure that nothing prohibited is being transported.

According to Vimal, Yellow Porter customers are bound to save up to 80% of shipping costs on the purchase of an item at its source by using its porter service.