When you think eCommerce in the region, you are most likely thinking about the big players like Lazada, Shopee, Amazon or even Zalora. If you’re obsessed with food, then maybe Redmart or Honestbee (or not).

However, operating successfully outside the radar of the behemoths of eCommerce are brands doing things differently and capturing market niches or carving out a strong local presence. There are a lot of interesting brands that are dominating their space online while not really competing with the big guys.

The competitiveness of the eCommerce landscape is well-known and the fact that there are companies able to carve out niches in the industry deserves some attention. We decided to take a look at this space and see which companies are making waves.

Niche eCommerce industries

Niche industries are a great way to grab a lot of the available market share as quickly as possible. While there isn’t the volume that goes with the more traditional fashion, food or tech products, there is also way less competition. So some brands in Southeast Asia have identified these key markets and jumped into it.

While motorbikes are not really niche in the region, they do not have the same level of competition as the rest of the vehicle industry. In comes iMotorbike, who have dominated the selling and reselling of motorbikes in Malaysia and Indonesia.

When questioned about competition, iMotorbike founder Gil Carmo shared:

Everyone has their place in the market and the market is massive enough to carry more players and serve different audiences. A great majority of people prefer to be served by specialists in a specific product. When you offer specialized support, you offer deeper knowledge and understanding about the product or message you are trying to exchange.

iMotorbike Founder and CEO Gil Carmo

On the other side of the spectrum, Lineae, which was started by Malaysian Stephanie Chew. Providing stationery lovers with a curated stock of high-quality notebooks, pens and other accessories, they are looking to carve a space of them in a small but potentially lucrative market.

Lineae Founder Stephanie Chew with one of her curated notebooks sold on Lineae

In the arts and maker’s space, there is SENIIKU. This eCommerce platform is tapping into the creator space, as this Singapore eCommerce brand is hoping to provide a platform for creators in Southeast Asia to gain an audience and monetise their talent. Started in August 2019, the platform was looking to be a creative marketplace for art, wearables and craft-based in Singapore.

Dominating high-end markets

The luxury market still remains relatively traditional with limited focus on the online retailers for industries such as watches, but there are a few brands in the region that have entered this space. With high margins, but a limited target audience, it can be a high-risk and capital intensive venture, with a very high upside.

BlinQ Founder and CEO Bob Chua

Malaysia’s BlinQ has built a strong luxury fashion brand in Southeast Asia, recently sealing a partnership with global luxury fashion conglomerate YOOX-Net-A-Porter. Though fashion is a saturated industry for eCommerce, the luxury fashion market is woefully under represented in the region. BlinQ is hoping to leverage on the growing wealth in the region and tap into the consumer’s evolving spending habits.

In a previous interview, Bob Chua, CEO and Founder of BlinQ had this to share about the reasons behind starting BlinQ.

We’ve chosen a niche which we believe is relatively untouched at the moment. I have a lot of respect for the other eCommerce players, however, we’re focused purely on the luxury segment and Southeast Asia for now. Our offering of being rather Tech-heavy with the AR and back-end logistics makes us rather unique. At the end of the day, the region is still at its infancy when it comes to retail eCommerce, with a mere 3%-5% of retail now conducted online. The upside is staggering, hence I believe we’re only at the beginning of this huge curve. There is room for several players, however scale, regional coverage customer experience are key.

Bob Chua, CEO and Founder of BlinQ

Online car retail Carro also launched a subscription model to leverage the sharing economy. According to this AsiaOne article, subscribers can even switch between luxury vehicles as well.

Also tapping into the subscription space is Singaporean startup Acquired Time, which is a luxury watch sharing platform that allows you to rent or try out luxury timepieces at affordable monthly rates. With brands such as Rolex, AP, Panerai and IWC in their collection, this watch-subscription service has also expanded to Hong Kong.

What does this mean for the eCommerce industry

Well, it seems likely that the big players are not going to be too worried by niche markets or the high-end space, at least in the short-term. If these industries experience a boom or consumer trends shift towards any of these niche or high-end industries, we can definitely see the likes of Lazada or Amazon start to put resources into the industry.

Until then, these startups are in a strong position to gain market share and dominate their industries.

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