Line is not just a messaging app. At the same time as it confirmed that it is applying for a long-rumored IPO, that could value it at $10 billion, an app called Line Shop has surfaced in Thailand which speaks of its e-commerce ambitions.
The company’s previous commerce-led pilots have included flash sales — it has rolled out efforts in Thailand and Taiwan, its two strongest overseas markets — and a consumer-to-consumer marketplace app in Japan. Now, with Line Shop, it is offering a brand-to-consumer experience that is initially only available in Thailand.
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Line Shop is a standalone Android and iOS app that connects users with a range of brands, including brick and mortar retailers and online companies such as Rocket Internet’s Zalora brand. Users can hook the app in to their Line account to enable chat rooms and direct conversations, while it uses a Twitter style following/follower model to let users keep up with their favorite brands and their latest offers.
The app has not been announced officially by Line, but its mere existence shows that the company is dabbling in new areas of commerce as it seeks to grow its revenues and make its platform more engaging for users. Already it allows brands to push messages to users who opt-in to follow them — while this communication often includes deals, users are forced to leave the Line app to complete any transaction. Line Shop simplifies the process by putting all the elements of e-commerce in a single app.
It’s no coincidence that Line is pushing these initiatives in the aforementioned three countries, since they are the countries where it is the dominant messaging app. Line claims 50 million registered users in Japan, 25 million in Thailand, and 20 million in Taiwan, which make these places fertile test beds for future products and, most importantly, provide a ready audience that will in turn attract retailers to jump on board new experiments.
While Facebook-owned WhatsApp makes money its money by charging users $1 per year, more innovative models have been embraced in Asia.
Korea’s Kakao Talk has used games to turn in profit and is preparing a money transfer service in its homeland this year; China’s WeChat bundles a range of services including payments, e-commerce stores and games into its messaging app.
News of Line’s first toward a much-rumored IPO may have gotten little attention in Silicon Valley, but the Japanese company and its Asian peers are leading the way for messaging apps worldwide. It will be interesting to watch Line’s increasing focus on commerce as it draws closer towards a public listing.
Line did not disclose its revenue from commerce-related activities when it announced its most recent set of business figures in May. We reached out to the company for comment on its commerce plans but did not receive a reply before publishing this story.