Sea’s E-commerce Platform Shopee Cuts Staff in China

Shopee, an e-commerce platform owned by Singapore’s Sea Limited, told employees on September 19 that it would start a new round of team changes and cut some jobs around the world, Bloomberg reported. According to one Shopee employee in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, posting on Chinese job information sharing platform Maimai, the company has reduced at least one business line to a third of what it was.

According to Bloomberg’s report, Shopee will cut about 3 percent of its employees in Indonesia as part of the restructuring, which involves marketing, operations and technology teams. According to people familiar with the matter, the main purpose of this adjustment is to slim down the organization and improve its efficiency. The group intends to cut its headcount at Shopee Indonesia by “a low-single-digit percentage,” while business operations in each market will not be affected.

The job cuts in Indonesia come shortly after Shopee’s parent company said last week that its management will forgo their salary and restrict company expense policies until it attains self-sufficiency. CEO, Co-founder and Chairman Forrest Li also told employees in a memo that although the company has solid cash reserves, it needs to be prepared for a challenging financing environment, with a primary goal of achieving positive cash flow over the next 12 to 18 months.

In order to control costs and optimize operations, Shopee recently made a lot of changes. A few weeks ago Shopee closed its local operations in Chile, Colombia and Mexico (keeping only cross-border e-commerce) and pulled out of Argentina altogether. Garena, its gaming unit, is set to cut hundreds of jobs in Shanghai.

Founded by Chinese entrepreneur Forrest Li in 2015, Sea has followed the typical path of Chinese Internet companies in terms of founder background, business model and financing process, and was once called “Little Tencent in Southeast Asia” because of Tencent‘s investment. Its e-commerce arm, Shopee, is also outperforming Lazada, which is owned by Alibaba, in several markets.

Over the past year, however, Sea’s shares have plunged more than 81% as major shareholder Tencent has reduced its stake in the company and the Indian market has banned Shopee and Sea’s game product Free Fire over data security concerns.

Still yet greater turmoil has happened inside the company. A number of Shopee employees in Singapore confirmed to Chinese media outlet PingWest that since March 2021, Shopee’s Singapore team handed over power to the Chinese team, and most of the technical project’s focus migrated to Shenzhen. Singapore’s management team was subsequently taken over mainly by Chinese executives, with many of the Singapore team transferring or resigning.

Shopee’s recruitment boom in China in 2021 is obvious, with major domestic recruitment platforms filled with job postings to work for the company. The discussion about the company’s interview and comparison with other similar platforms has also emerged in forums in China.

A person familiar with the matter said that in addition to the usual executive recruitment, Shopee has also poached R&D talent from China’s Internet giants by offering higher salaries. Alibaba‘s experienced technical personnel normally have an annual salary of between 600,000 yuan ($855,48) to 1.5 million yuan, but in Shopee, they often receive 2.2 million yuan.

A number of Shopee employees said that after the large-scale core business team transfer, Shopee has about 4000 employees remaining in Shenzhen and about 1000 employees in Singapore. However, the number of employees of Shopee in Singapore and Shenzhen were the same back in March 2021. In addition, in the first few years of Shopee’s establishment, the Shenzhen R&D center had few staff, while the technical construction, iteration and maintenance of the platform in the early stages were all completed by the Singapore team.

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“The size of the China team continues to grow. The decision makers are also looking to build another base in Beijing, which is expected to be as big as the base in Shenzhen,” said one person close to Shopee’s decision-making team, speaking to PingWest.

Amid these tremendous changes, Shopee has since become a Chinese company in the eyes of many employees.