The eCommerce sector has witnessed a seismic shift towards a more engaging and interactive form of online shopping known as “social commerce” in recent years. A key player in this revolution has been TikTok. This wildly popular video-sharing platform has seamlessly integrated shopping into its app, allowing users to discover and purchase products without leaving the platform. 

This novel approach to shopping has garnered immense attention, particularly as social commerce in Southeast Asia is in a rapid growth phase in this region known for its dynamic digital landscape. However, the platform’s foray into online shopping has hit a roadblock with the recent ban of the TikTok shop in Indonesia. The online marketplace industry in Asia Pacific looks likely to grow by 14.7% annually to reach USD 489 million in 2023.

The changing face of ecommerce in Southeast Asia and we take a closer look at TikTok and consumer behaviour

Why did Indonesia ban TikTok shops?

The prohibition of social commerce on popular video-sharing platforms in Indonesia has abruptly halted some eCommerce endeavours within the country. The local government’s motivation behind this decision is to shield offline businesses, marketplaces, and small enterprises. Its stance, rooted in concerns over predatory pricing and the undue influence of algorithms, underscores their belief that the realms of social media and commerce should remain distinct. 

This separation, they argue, not only safeguards innovation but also shields the livelihoods of SMEs striving to compete. In response, the platform operators contend that the fusion of social platforms and sales fosters innovation and supports millions of merchants and consumers, emphasising the platform’s critical role for some in sustaining their livelihoods. 

TikTok has seen impressive growth, capturing 5% of eCommerce’s gross merchandise value in Indonesia by the close of 2022. The embargo on online shopping transactions via social media platforms, which include TikTok Shop (almost 56% of social commerce sales) and Facebook (38% of sales), has effectively prevented users from conducting transactions involving goods and services. 

This situation not only invited scrutiny from Indonesian authorities but also from USA lawmakers, who are concerned about the ownership structure and affiliations of the Chinese tech giant ByteDance.

The impact of the ban on social commerce

The ban on eCommerce on social platforms, once a staple of Indonesia’s digital retail scene, has reverberated across a broad spectrum of stakeholders. Small businesses which had embraced these platforms to expand their market reach and boost sales were the most severely affected. The ban severely disrupted their daily operations, forcing them to scramble for alternative platforms. 

In some instances, SMEs had to downsize or even close their doors, further exacerbating job losses and negatively impacting the country’s economic landscape. The ban posed a considerable dilemma for established eCommerce platforms that had strategically incorporated online shopping into their operations. The transition came at a price, resulting in increased marketing and operational costs as they endeavoured to entice former eCommerce users on social media.

Consumers felt the brunt of the impact of the social media marketplace ban. Many had grown accustomed to the convenience and seamlessness of shopping directly through these platforms. However, with the ban in effect, consumers found themselves navigating multiple platforms to find their desired products, causing significant fragmentation and inconvenience.

The future of social commerce in Southeast Asia

In response to Indonesia’s recent ban on eCommerce transactions via the social media platform TikTok, Malaysia is examining these actions closely to determine appropriate measures for the country. The Communications and Digital Minister, Fahmi Fadzil, has received public complaints about the ban. This scrutiny comes as media organisations also voice complaints about the impact of social media on their operations. 

Malaysia’s potential regulation of sales using social media marketplaces may send a signal to other Southeast Asian countries, potentially triggering a cascade of stricter controls in the region. While designed to protect consumers, there is the risk that the measures could stifle innovation and hamper economic growth.

However, the social shopping landscape could also see adaptations in response to these regulatory challenges. Platforms like TikTok may implement more rigorous measures to verify sellers, authenticate products, and enhance transparency.

Furthermore, established eCommerce players will likely capitalise on the evolving online shopping environment. They might develop new features or forge partnerships with social media platforms to offer a more seamless shopping experience. 

The Indonesian ban has ignited a critical dialogue about the future of social commerce in Southeast Asia. The clash between the TikTok shop ban and the evolving digital commerce landscape has underscored the intricate relationship between selling online, regulatory measures, and economic growth. 

As the region grapples with the impact of such bans, it becomes evident that the future of social media-based eCommerce is on a precipice, and the fate of platforms like TikTok Shop remains uncertain, thanks to the potential for regulatory challenges.