Motorbikes, vegetables, iPhones, artwork, or even land on which to build a house – a quick browse through website 7Makara.com gives the impression of a Cambodian eBay or Amazon. The difference, however, is that you can’t complete the transaction from the convenience of your bedroom.
In a country where cash is king, online classified advertising websites like 7Makara stand in for e-commerce – the practice of buying goods over the internet through a middleman with credit or debit cards. E-commerce exists in Cambodia, but on a limited scale, hampered by sceptical consumers and a lack of secure processing options.
On 7Makara, customers register their contact details and list items for free, while buyers make contact and meet with sellers face-to-face to complete transactions, like US-based Craigslist.
Meaning “January 7” in English, the date that the government observes every year to mark the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, 7Makara receives about 20,000 hits and 150 to 200 listings per day.
According to co-founder Kim Meng, the greatest security concerns for 7Makara are fake listings from “foreign sources” that attempt to pass off new items well under the market price. Meng, a Royal Phnom Penh University computer science graduate and part-time lecturer, says his staff of eight manually checks for imposters.
“Before I launched 7Makara, my colleague was cheated like that – he lost around $2,000 for that kind of cheating,” Meng said.
7Makara is the first in an online portfolio for Meng’s IT company, Kalicee, which is positioning itself for the day when e-commerce evolves into a more mainstream practice in Cambodia.
“Young people, day by day, understand the convenience of making payments online,” he said.
According to Meng, mistrust of online credit card usage and a lack of third-party payment set-up options – including Paypal – are key challenges for e-commerce start-ups.
“It is difficult for us to sell the physical product online because the transaction from the credit card payment needs to be tracked – the percentage and the transaction” Meng said.
“It is not so easy in Cambodia to set up an e-commerce website. There is [only] one bank in Cambodia that accepts a payment gateway,” he said, referring to third-party transaction facilities.
7Makara continues to position itself on design aspects and user friendliness, but e-commerce is definitely on the horizon for the portfolio of Kalicee, with plans to launch a new online marketplace with credit card transaction facilities in 2014.
Data from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications showed that at the end of 2012, Cambodia had 27 internet service providers. Internet users in Cambodia numbered more than 2.7 million in 2012, an increase of 60 per cent compared with 2011, when there were 1.7 million users.