Analysts agree that the digital economy in Southeast Asia is set to expand rapidly. Google and Temasek predict that online consumer spending across the top 6 economies will reach almost a quarter of a trillion dollars by 2023. Southeast Asian eCommerce trends diverge from global ones, in that we see growth in different eCommerce categories. The top players localise their retail sites and capture their slice of the market across the ASEAN big six: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Vietnam. Ecommerce is still very much an emerging market, particularly in Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam, with massive potential for expansion.
Global versus Southeast Asian eCommerce trends
The eCommerce market in Southeast Asia is still in its infancy, and the current expansion is fuelled by factors such as rising disposable incomes, improved logistical networks, increased internet/mobile usage and alternative payment methods. Category wise, travel is still in pole position globally, and in Southeast Asia accounts for 51% of eCommerce spending compared to 29% worldwide. We must bear in mind that average travel purchases are, by nature, higher than those of other goods or services. Thailand is Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing travel market, which in 2018 reached a value of more than $4 billion USD.
The online fashion and beauty sector is growing much faster than travel, with a 17% increase in spending from 2017 to 2018. In the ASEAN region, food and personal care had a 35% growth in total eCommerce spending in the same period. Malaysia and Indonesia, whose populations are majority Muslim (61.3% and 87.2% respectively), are massive untapped markets for Halal goods and services. In 2016 Indonesian Muslims spent $170 billion USD on food and beverages. The Muslim population in the region is young and is expected to rise by 14% from 2018-2030. With disposable incomes increasing within this demographic, the sky’s the limit for Halal eCommerce.
Who are the kingpins of ASEAN eCommerce?
When it comes to eCommerce in the region, several domestic brands are significant players. Sites such as Shopee, Lazada and Tokopedia dominate across the big six economies, adopting a successful business model in which they adapt their website, apps and marketing to match the consumer needs in each of their target countries.
Shopee, a Singaporean online retailer parented by SEA Group, was launched in 2015, and its mobile shopping app now has the highest number of monthly active users across the region. It is also the most visited Southeast Asian site. By early 2019 Shopee had gained 200 million visitors to the site and is particularly favoured in Malaysia, where it was the most downloaded shopping app in the country.
Lazada, which is part of the Alibaba group, holds the top spot for monthly active users in four of the Big Six (Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore). It has a similar product offering to Shopee; fashion, electronics, beauty products, food and other goods. Lazada has a strong emphasis on its mobile shopping app, which is crucial as Southeast Asians are twice as likely to make an online purchase from a phone than a computer.
Tokopedia and Bukalapak are two Indonesian-based eCommerce sites which are garnering market share in Indonesia and across the region. In ASEAN they rank within the top 5 for MAUs and most visited sites, due to Indonesia being the region’s most populous country.
Within fashion, Zalora, a Singaporean based retailer, has expansion plans to stave off competition from global brands such as ASOS, Amazon and Alibaba. Zalora, owned by German startup Rocket Internet, moved early in the market and aims to serve consumers where there is less access to traditional fashion outlets, namely Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. They hope to gain half the market share by remaining responsive to consumer needs, keeping delivery fast and building supply chains.
Love, Bonito, with its omnichannel strategy, has had success in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and is moving away from a more western-centric design. Founder Rachel Lim is responding to women’s needs in the region, by acknowledging different body shapes, skin tones and those who live in very different climates to western women. Maintaining a physical connection to the consumer is part of the brand’s dynamic and provides a different appeal to other fashion eCommerce retailers.
International players Samsung, Microsoft, Amazon, Aliexpress, Taobao and jd.com fared well across the region; however, there is an overarching sense that perhaps they are not getting it quite right locally. Taobao is only available in the Mandarin language, and Amazon has only recently launched in Singapore, initially misreading the market and creating an app which underperformed.
Southeast Asia holds a reservoir of potential for eCommerce; a largely untapped market in which more of the population are finding their way online when they cannot obtain goods and services in ‘bricks and mortar’ outlets. At the moment, only a tiny percentage of retail is happening online. If consumers can be persuaded to purchase digitally, the eCommerce market could be worth far more than its current value of over $23 billion USD. To claim their market share, retailers will have to be responsive as well as creative in finding new payment methods, maintaining user-friendly apps, localising their brand while literally, and figuratively delivering the goods.