In a post-COVID economy, eCommerce in Southeast Asia could see exponential growth by embracing and scaling equal opportunities for women. With the advancement of women-led businesses, the industry could accrue over $280 billion USD in revenue by 2030. 

Over the past few years, eCommerce has proven to be a viable source of income and work for women in Southeast Asia as it has solved issues stemming from the barriers to entry faced by many females. It has also opened up space for them to enter new sectors. According to a report from the International Finance Corporation, women share half of the active market space in the region, but they tend to lead smaller businesses, possess fewer resources, and compete in low-value segments. 


Report shows ecommerce sales in the Asia-Pacific region set to nearly double by 2025

For this sector to continue its ascent, unfavourable eCommerce trends such as the gender gap cannot remain. Without equality, women will continue to lose out on opportunities and sales, ultimately depleting the market success. Luckily, Southeast Asia has a high number of women in tech. With support from investors and online shopping firms, female entrepreneurs can find the essentials they need to thrive in this business.

Scaling a growing trend 

For years, the efforts of women entrepreneurs have contributed to the growing success of eCommerce in the region. Since 2015, the market has tripled in size and is likely to triple again by 2025. If female advancement continues to spike, the market can see even higher gains than ever before.

ASEAN countries boast higher numbers of women in eCommerce than their peers. For example, on Lazada, about a third of business owners in Indonesia and two-thirds of business owners in the Philippines are female. With the region in dire need of digital talent, more women entering the field shows a step in the right direction for the market. Female-led businesses tend to hire more women employees, further pushing the limits of gender parity and facilitating job creation. As the workforce and leadership become more balanced, the market will reap those benefits.

In fact, many eCommerce platforms have provided freedom and solutions for women to excel in this field. They provide flexibility for the work-life journey and access to an integrated ecosystem of services, like shipping and logistics. These platforms have allowed women to transform their informal business opportunities into full-scale, virtual properties.

However, basic eCommerce offerings have only solved a piece of the puzzle. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed underlying gender inequity and the gender-distinct challenges women face to succeed. In the last year, female-owned businesses have lost up to 39% of sales, compared to a 28% loss in sales for male sellers. If this gender-biased downfall remains, the sector can lose over $46 billion USD of gross merchandise value every year.

Common challenges faced by female entrepreneurs

The COVID-19 pandemic drove women-led businesses to the brink, with several closing their doors permanently. Sadly, the main reason behind these failures is a lack of emergency readiness and financial assistance. Although these online commerce platforms have given women new opportunities to build from the ground up, the companies behind them have yet to offer substantial support in helping female owners to establish steady roots. Women are also more likely to face discrimination when asking for loans or seeking legal counsel in their respective countries.

For female entrepreneurs to reach newer heights, eCommerce firms must take the lead to assist them in overcoming the challenges and level the playing field. Since many women lack digital skills, they can provide vital training for tech advancement,  opening entry to higher-value segments, such as electronics, for these owners. In return, this act of support can help these firms to access a wider-scale customer base. As online shopping skyrocketed during the pandemic, data from the Kantar Covid-19 Barometer Survey found that women were more likely to become loyal customers to a digital shop than men. The research also noted that female sellers could reach female customers easier than male owners could, especially if they leverage social commerce.

The gulf in financial inclusion is another factor that needs addressing. Males were more financially prepared for a potential crisis than females because they receive more assistance in loan offerings from banks. Discriminatory actions have caused women to reach into their savings or borrow money from family members to stay afloat. By directing female entrepreneurs to fintech services and microloan projects, eCommerce firms can help them to develop a more grounded business with contingency backups. They can also encourage and incentivise them to utilise paid platform features, like product advertisements to boost sales.

By closing gender gaps, online commerce in Southeast Asia will see a massive financial surge. But first, companies and investors need to team up with female entrepreneurs for this growth to occur. They must tackle and solve the disproportion in the current eCommerce industry that keeps women from developing secure business models. If women-owned companies excel, the market will also, raising its sales and value for the future.