South Korea’s Coupang, the ecommerce group backed by SoftBank, reported widening quarterly losses even as the Covid-19 pandemic boosted its sales to a record.
The company said late on Wednesday that its first-quarter net loss jumped 180 per cent year on year to $295m, despite revenues rising 74 per cent to $4.2bn. The loss was slightly worse than analysts’ forecasts.
Coupang’s disappointing results were its first following the online retailer’s high-profile stock market debut in New York in March, which valued it at more than $80bn.
The initial public offering, which was the biggest foreign listing in the US since Chinese ecommerce company Alibaba in 2014, helped buoy SoftBank’s net profit to a record $46bn in the Japanese technology group’s most recent financial year.
However, the situation for Coupang has soured since its glitzy IPO.
The group’s valuation, which at one point reached $118bn, has tumbled to $62bn and it has been rocked by a series of deaths of its couriers and warehouse employees.
Coupang blamed the loss on stock compensation that cost $87m and an increase in hiring and investment. The company has spent heavily on building a logistics network of 100 fulfilment centres across 30 cities with a fleet of more than 15,000 delivery drivers. Coupang boasts that almost 100 per cent of its orders are delivered either on the same or the next day.
The company said its active customers, or those who bought goods through Coupang at least once during the quarter, rose 21 per cent to 16m. Spending per active customer increased 44 per cent year on year to $262, the group said.
Coupang, which was founded in 2010, is the largest player in South Korea’s highly competitive ecommerce market.
The company projected the market to grow to $206bn by 2024. According to research firm Euromonitor, South Korea’s ecommerce sector will probably grow by 11 per cent this year, to $116bn.
But the company’s growth has been clouded by the deaths of eight employees, including two subcontractors, which labour unions and politicians attributed to overwork.
Coupang, whose other investors include venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and US asset manager BlackRock, denies responsibility for the deaths. The company said only one death has officially been acknowledged as work-related.
Coupang’s New York-listed shares fell 2.5 per cent on Wednesday prior to its results announcement.
SoftBank’s stock tumbled more than 7 per cent in Tokyo on Thursday after investors were left disappointed by the group’s decision not to announce new share buybacks.
“The company is putting top priority on pursuing faster growth and expanding its market share by offering products at lower prices and cutting delivery fees,” said Chun Myung-hoon, an analyst at Nice Investors Service, a local credit rating agency. “It will be difficult for the company to turn profitable in the near future as long as it maintains this policy.”