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Breaking down Shopee’s financials. Is Toni Gonzaga worth it?

Ralf Rivas
Breaking down Shopee’s financials. Is Toni Gonzaga worth it?
Job cuts, financial losses, and low office morale. This is a test of Toni Gonzaga's star power.

After shutting down offices in Latin America and rescinding job offers in Singapore, Shopee’s layoffs have reached Philippine shores.

Reports of retrenchment will always be terrible news, and companies usually craft carefully-worded statements during these delicate times.

Person, Human, Hand

But Shopee Philippines went ahead with business as usual, launching celebrity and staunch Marcos supporter Toni Gonzaga as its newest endorser just days after the Inquirer reported the company’s downsizing.

Customers are deleting their Shopee apps, while some sellers have pulled out of the platform. The winner so far? Lazada, Shopee’s nemesis.

The publicity nightmare is adding more pressure on Shopee whose top executives are seeking ways to improve the balance sheet for the remaining quarters of the year.

Financials

Sea Ltd, Shopee’s parent, shut its operations in Chile, Colombia, and Mexico early September. A report by Reuters noted that this was due to the “current elevated macro uncertainty” and Sea’s need to “focus resources on core operations.”

Shopee even went as far as rescinding job offers just days before some people were about to start work.

Sea, which is listed in New York, reported a net loss of $931 million in the second quarter, more than double the $433 million a year ago. It posted losses even as revenues from Shopee and other units posted stronger revenues. Sea’s e-commerce revenues grew 51% in the second quarter at $1.7 billion. Its best-performing markets were Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, its financial services unit grew 200% to $279 million, partly driven by synergy with Shopee. SeaMoney, its digital payments company, noted that 40% of Shopee users used its financial services.

But Sea’s gaming unit Garena saw its revenues fall to $900 million during the second quarter from $1 billion a year ago. The gaming unit saw a 39% drop in quarterly paying users, while active users fell by 15%. Garena is a mobile games developer, some of its popular games include League of Legends.

Overall, the Singapore-based conglomerate attributed the losses to impairment related to prior acquisitions and share-based compensation. Sea’s operating losses tripled to $836.7 million.

Year-to-date, Sea’s stock price has plummeted by 76%.

Was Gonzaga worth the money?

After the pandemic boom of e-commerce, the industry faces uncertainties as mobility and travel restrictions have eased globally.

The market is so uncertain that Sea suspended its e-commerce revenue guidance for 2022. Analysts said this was a clear sign that there are gloomier days ahead for the conglomerate.

“We believe such efforts will further strengthen our ability to better capture the long-term growth opportunities in our markets, which we remain highly positive about,” Sea said.

To trim losses, Sea noted in its financial statement that it would tightly manage operating expenses such as marketing and logistics costs due to economic uncertainties.

Sea’s total sales and marketing expenses in the second quarter totaled $1 billion, 5.7% more than a year ago.

Shopee, for its part, spent a total of $674.1 million for media spending and additional staff.

Sea did not indicate if they would cut advertising spend, but competing with Alibaba’s Lazada would definitely need cash to prop up the brand. Simply put, every peso spent on Gonzaga by Shopee Philippines has to count.

Rappler is unable to independently confirm estimates of Gonzaga’s supposed talent fee for the endorsement. But the 38-year-old actress was among the top 500 celebrity taxpayers in 2013.

Shopee told the Inquirer that it chose Gonzaga for “mass appeal” and not for her political leanings. 

Sources’ lips are sealed as to just how much Shopee Philippines paid Gonzaga. But from what former and current employees told Rappler, Gonzaga’s endorsement is costing the company much-needed morale.

Low morale

Rappler was able to talk to two employees who were let go by Shopee. Both of them denied the narrative floating on social media that jobs were cut because the company had to pay for Gonzaga’s talent fee.

A former analyst said that Shopee is extending financial help as well. Some managers are also helping affected workers find jobs by endorsing them to other companies.

“We were really bracing for retrenchment, since it’s a global thing. But it still sucks that Shopee had to get a Marcos apologist. Morale is very low, then this happens,” another former analyst said.

Even some current employees are disappointed. 

“Some of my friends are deleting the Shopee app. I think I want to join too (laughs),” an employee said.

After endorsing President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during the 2022 elections, Gonzaga has become a polarizing figure. Her husband, director Paul Soriano, is a known Marcos loyalist. Marcos Jr., who won by a landslide, garnering nearly 59% of the votes in the last elections, attended their wedding in 2015.

With a tight budget and a tall order from the mother company based in Singapore, will Shopee Philippines’ bet on Gonzaga pay off?

We’ll have to wait for Sea’s next financial statements to get hints. – Rappler.com

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author

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.