Singapore e-commerce giant Shopee cuts jobs in China as lay-offs spread from Indonesia, Latin America

Shopee, operator of Southeast Asia’s largest e-commerce platform, laid off a number of employees in China on Monday, as its New York-listed and Singapore-based parent company Sea Limited continues to trim its global payroll following steep losses.

In a statement released on Monday, Shopee said the job cuts were part of its ongoing efforts to “optimise operating efficiency with the goal of achieving self-sufficiency across our business”.

“We are extending support to our affected colleagues during this transition,” Shopee said, without specifying the size of the latest round of lay-offs.

A person with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media, said less than 10 per cent of employees in each team were affected.

A Shopee advertisement at a Bangkok skytrain station. Photo: Chua Kong Ho
A Shopee advertisement at a Bangkok skytrain station. Photo: Chua Kong Ho

Shopee’s latest job cuts became a hot topic on Maimai, a professional networking site in China akin to LinkedIn. One user claiming to be a Shopee employee wrote, “Just ended a team meeting with my boss. Seven minutes. The lay-off was announced.”

The post drew more than 400 comments and was reposted more than 500 times. That user later wrote in the comment thread that one business unit laid off more than two-thirds of its employees.

While mainland Chinese companies often label major job cuts as business restructuring or optimisation to avoid government intervention under the country’s labour laws, recent financial reports by technology giants have revealed the scale of lay-offs in the industry.

During the second quarter, Tencent Holdings, an investor in Shopee, downsized its workforce for the first time since 2014, trimming nearly 5,500 employees from its payroll. In that same period, smartphone maker Xiaomi cut more than 900 jobs – nearly 3 per cent of its workforce.

The payroll size of Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post, dropped by more than 9,200 during that quarter.

Shopee gained attention in China last month when a worker said his job offer was rescinded at the last minute after he arrived in Singapore.

“I landed with my wife and dog and was told my offer [from Shopee] was cancelled while I was still at the airport,” a user going by “Lin Ge goes to Nanyang” wrote on his WeChat account.

“Due to adjustments to hiring plans on some tech teams, a number of roles at Shopee are no longer available,” Sea said at the time. “We are working closely to support those affected.”

Forrest Li, CEO of Sea Limited. Photo: Bloomberg
Forrest Li, CEO of Sea Limited. Photo: Bloomberg

Shopee is also set to cut 3 per cent of its staff in Indonesia, exit Argentina, and shut local operations in Chile, Colombia and Mexico, according to reports by Bloomberg and Reuters.

Sea CEO Forrest Li announced in an internal memo last week that the firm would reduce company expenses, while the top management team would stop taking cash compensation “until the company reaches self-sufficiency”, Bloomberg reported.

Sea, the largest video gaming and e-commerce business operator in Southeast Asia, reported widening losses in the second quarter amid market challenges. Net losses more than doubled to US$931.2 million, 42 per cent higher than consensus estimates of US$655 million, according to Refinitiv data.

The company’s market value has shrunk US$170 billion since its peak last October.