The best part of travel, for many Singaporeans, has to be the shopping. Singapore is the land of imports, and with hundreds of overseas brands residing here, there is but one drawback: prices can be unreasonably high. Imported brands can cost up to double their original prices at times, so it’s hard to blame local travellers for making shopping their priority whenever they travel. Most Singaporeans would know what to look out for: Europe for branded goods, Korea and Japan for beauty products and snacks, the US for the latest tech products — the shopping list is endless.
Now, imagine having a friend who always travels to the places where you want to get things from, and is willing to buy those things for you — that is the friend that Airfrov is trying to be.
The concept of Airfrov is simple: it is a platform that pairs up frequent travellers who have a little extra luggage space to spare, with shoppers who want to buy specific products but don’t have the luxury to travel for it. Through Airfrov, shoppers get to enjoy their favourite products more frequently, while buyers get to make a little profit in exchange for filling the empty spaces in their luggage.
We spoke to the founder of Airfrov, Cai Li, on the inspiration behind the website. According to him, Airfrov came about from personal experience: his girlfriend would pass him lists of products to buy from the countries he travelled to, while colleagues based out of Singapore often needed products that were more affordable locally. He began offering to help them buy medicines and local snacks whenever he left the country.
“Even during national service, my colleagues would ‘tompang’ me to buy lunch from the canteen since I worked in a civilian site and returned to HQ every afternoon,” he joked. “I just might be born to do this.”
Working with his partner Robi — who has a background in computing and has had 4 years of experience as a system consultant in NCS — they created Airfrov, and they now have about 1,000 active users on the system. The platform boasts a 70% fulfilment rate for purchase requests within 2 weeks. It’s easy to see why Airfrov is so successful: travellers on the platform are able to earn about SGD40-50 per trip, and frequent users have already earned a good few hundred from several business trips.
The record for the highest amount earned in one trip? $90, and just for boxes of Tokyo Banana, one of their most requested products.
The platform is also powered by reviews, so that good “buyers” can be sorted out from the bad ones. Travellers who have completed requests and gotten 5 star reviews will also be invited to become ‘Verified Travellers’, a title that lends the community a level of reliability and trust.
Users can also browse ongoing requests, and if something catches their eye, they can use the “copy” function to request the same product. In short, Airfrov is an online marketplace tailored specifically to travellers, empowering them and aligning people with the same goals.
This isn’t an altogether new and unique idea. Melbourne-based ShopandBox shares the same concept, where keen and well-informed shoppers can buy products from other countries with the help of ‘Boxers’ — locals who know their country well enough to get the best prices possible for their foreign friends. Products bought via ShopandBox are then boxed up and shipped.
What’s different, of course, is that Airfrov users won’t have to worry about shipping costs — a big price pain for many bargain-hunters. That said, nothing really beats the expertise of locals when it comes to getting the best bargains, and this might be something that serious shoppers will be considering before deciding whether or not to make use of Airfrov’s services.
Tackling price differences between countries is a move that holds much potential, especially since Singaporeans are turning out to be quite the well-travelled bunch. And according to Cai Li, Airfrov will soon be rolling out a new feature allowing travellers to suggest items to purchase from the city they are travelling to — a step which could well grow the Airfrov community into something much bigger.