Sister Secrets: E-commerce by Filipinas for Filipinas
It’s harder to think of a more diverse executive team than the one behind female-focused e-commerce site, Sister Secrets.
Karen Bordador is a celebrity radio deejay of RX93.1, TV host, and model; Charisse Abalos is the first councilor of Mandaluyong; and Kristen Morados, who hails from the beauty industry and now the corporate world of FMCG, is an expert in branding and marketing.
The trio, who grew up as friends, is united in their vision of what they want Sisters Secrets to be. In addition to creating an e-commerce site that caters to women’s products, they also want to build a community around it. Kristen said that they are trying to create this community through relevant articles, inspiring features, and even via the particular products that they recommend.
Their goal is one of empowerment. “More than Sister Secrets being the go-to destination for when you need fashion, beauty, and life hacks, an inspiring and supportive community can boost esteem, confidence, and encourage a go-getter attitude toward leading a life of substance while being chic and stylish.” Morados said.
As an example, the team is building community forums, so that – in Bordador’s words – they’ll “be able to keep the sisters constantly talking as well as share their personal experiences to others.”
Still, Sister Secrets is, at its foundation, an e-commerce site, and therein lies one of their biggest challenges. “A major roadblock for us is not to be written off as a mere shopping portal. This first impression is easily corrected however once they visit the website.” Morados shared.
Of course, building an online community in a country where e-commerce still has a long way to go can be challenge. Abalos singled out a lack of funding as one of their main challenges. As a result, she says they have to make good connections and maximize every resource they can find. “A creative mind can take you to places that funding won’t be able to,” Abalos said.
Your personal product testers
Despite their ambitions, the site – as it is – is notable for several key features, such as the fact that each product on the site has been personally used by either Abalos, Bordador, or Morados for a minimum of 1 to 3 weeks.
Why do they do this? Bordador cited her experience with another local e-commerce site. After the product was shipped to her, it immediately fell apart. Since she subsequently lost trust in that site, she wants to ensure that all the products offered through Sister Secrets are of high quality. “I’d like to make sure our sisters get good value for what they paid for,” she said.
Personally testing all products also allows the trio to better connect with their customers, so it plays into their broader goal of community building. For instance, sometimes girls would ask about certain effects of a product and the team would be able to reassure them and provide personal feedback because they’ve already used them.
Abalos summed it up nicely: “It boils down to our philosophy for good branding – quality.”
E-commerce in an emerging market
Even though Sister Secrets has nice, personal touches like these, the site still has to contend with all the issues that other e-commerce platforms in the Philippines do. Abalos thinks that one of the biggest potential concerns from a consumer is a lack of trust from e-customers, especially when giving away credit card information.
As a result, the team invests heavily into good customer relations. “We respond to their queries fast, and we are always friendly and accommodating,” Abalos said. “Transparency and good communication are key.”
Of course, not everyone in the Philippines has a credit card, and this presents yet another challenge. According to Bordador, when a site has too many instructions or processes in place related to payment, customers tend to get overwhelmed and end up leaving. That’s why it’s important to have simple, convenient payment gateways.
For e-commerce in the Philippines, the solution is most often over-the-counter bank payments, but Bordador feels this is too restrictive. “Having bank deposits as part of your payment scheme can lessen your actual payments because not everyone has time to go to banks,” she said, adding that Sister Secrets includes 7/11 as a payment option so that customers can pay at their convenience, 24 hours a day.
To would-be e-commerce entrepreneurs, Bordador offered a simple formula: “The more convenient your payment gateways are, the more closed sales you’ll get.”
Still, despite the team’s best efforts, the Sister Secrets team simply has to accept that not all shoppers will follow through on an order. “While we trust that they will keep their commitment to pay once they submit the order form, you have to be prepared to have a fall out,” Morados said. To minimize such incidents, they are continually looking for new ways to address any barriers to payment.
Inspiring female, Filipina entrepreneurship
The trio also wants to inspire more Filipina entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship means having your own time, making your own decisions, and having the freedom to do what you want with your assets,” Abalos said. “It is synonymous with 'empowerment'. And that's what we strive for.”
Yet Abalos thinks that many Filipino women are reluctant to pursue entrepreneurship because it means taking risks and making hard calls.
She feels we need to take a good, long hard look at our culture to make it easier for Pinays to "fail" by lessening the risk factor and encouraging experimentation. “I believe that encouraging entrepreneurship will pave the way to a lot of innovation and new ideas,” she said. “It may seem hard at this point, but it's not impossible.”
Morados also thinks we should address our culture first and foremost. She enjoys entrepreneurship because it gives her a sense of limitlessness, and she thinks more Filipinas need to see this as well.
“The beauty of it is your success is defined by the heart and hard work you pour into it,” she said. “Filipinas must realize that it is a mindset. In fact, the entrepreneurial perspective is something I use both in my day job and in this business.”
Despite these challenges, Bordador is pleased with the fact that she is seeing more and more Filipina entrepreneurs. She thinks Filipina entrepreneurs can compete globally and have what it takes to steward a company to the top.
“So for the girls out there… believe in yourself and you won't need a man by your side to lead,” she said. “You can do it on your own and know that the many woman in the country have been doing that for a while now and they are successful with it." – Rappler.com
Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz is also the chief content officer at ZipMatch, a tech company backed by Ideaspace Foundation, Hatchd Digital, IMJ Investment Partners, and 500 Startups. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz