The ecommerce world today is all about data. It’s not a nice-to-have but rather a must-have. Why? Because the richer the data, the better the decision brands make.

Collecting data is easy when brands have their own ecommerce website or what we call 1st party data. Some channel partners do share their data to a certain extent, that’s called 2nd party data. The 3rd party data, which is a set of data collected from sources by a company that isn’t directly involved in the transaction, will help brands drive successful action and increase their ecommerce sales.

Types of data in today’s ecommerce world; BrandIQ

Brands in Southeast Asia are accustomed to ‘surveyed data’, but have a limited amount of data from online marketplaces, so much so that it is insufficient for them to craft a successful online marketplace strategy.

BrandIQ is envisioned to provide brands in Southeast Asia with measurable data and actionable insights for their online commerce strategy. Using sophisticated ecommerce data collection and proprietary machine learning technologies, BrandIQ will empower brands to monitor online merchandise, analyze competitors, offer better promotions, understand consumer sentiments, and improve the overall ecommerce experience.

When 4Ps is not enough. BrandIQ Analytics will be able to provide brands the data and insights across 9Ps; BrandIQ

At Okura Prestige Bangkok, three brands – Beiersdorf, Kimberly Clark, and L’Oreal, were brought together by BrandIQ to discuss and share their experience about the growing influence of data usage and user-generated reviews.

From left: aCommerce’s Group Director of Product, Poonpat Wattanavinit as the moderator, and panelists: Praponsak Kumpolpun, Senior Ecommerce Manager, L’Oreal CPD Thailand, Aviroot Prasitnarit, Sales Director – Kimberly Clark Thailand, and Phunnapa, Limtansakul, Senior Ecommerce Manager SEA – Beiersdorf Thailand

This is what was discussed:

Keep your Friends Close, Your Enemy Closer

By having an understanding of your competitor’s movement, brands can gain a significant advantage to help guide its own pricing and marketing strategy.

Tracking your competitor can be easily done offline, especially the price. Brands can simply send an intern to take note of the price. In the country’s FMCG industry, prices change every two weeks. Online channels? Every minute.

“Unlike offline, monitoring our competitors’ online movement is extremely challenging. Promotions are constantly changing and without a proper tool, it is impossible for a human to keep up,” says Aviroot Prasitnarit, Sales, Kimberly Clark. “My team once woke up to a surprise that our competitor could perform really well overnight because of its flash sales at 10 PM. None of my team members was standing by to track that.”

Being in the competitive FMCG industry, Kimberly Clark aims for a double-digit growth. Therefore, taking up more market share from its competitor is very important to Aviroot. So when it comes to price, Aviroot suggests keeping friends close, enemies closer.

In addition to direct competitors, brands should also be aware that grey sellers on the online marketplace can be a threat. According to BrandIQ, 35% of e-marketplace sales happen through grey sellers. This should raise a concern among brands because not only can grey sellers take away your share on an online marketplace, brands will not be able to create a unified brand experience.

Because at the end of the day, consumers will not differentiate if the sellers are grey, authorized or official. They will perceive it as one brand.

The New Rising Star: Nano Influencer

Besides price, reviews and ratings are also important for L’Oreal Thailand where the cosmetic industry is a “Red Hot Ocean”, according to Praponsak Kumpolpun, Senior eCommerce Manager, L’Oreal CPD Thailand.

“Thailand has many strong local beauty brands that are 40-50% cheaper than L’Oreal with roughly the same quality. So monitoring 4Ps (Price, Product, People, Place) is not enough.”

BrandIQ also found that the FMCG category has almost 70,000 reviews with most comments regarding the quality and speed of delivery. This is because FMCG has a “need it now” characteristic, making consumers very sensitive to delivery lead-time.

The number of reviews versus % of reviews that are about delivery across the categories on Thailand’s leading online marketplace; BrandIQ

Aviroot also added that a survey conducted by his team revealed that commercials on televisions are not convincing for consumers today. 80% of respondents also say they’d rather listen to recommendations of their friends and family. This is where the concept of nano influencers comes in.

Influencer marketing is not new in Southeast Asia. Around 40% of companies’ social media advertising spending has been allocated to influencer marketing in Thailand, up from 15% three years ago. Thailand, being the home to 57 million active Internet users, consumers are fairly familiar with social media. Seeing the success of established influencers and bloggers in the industry, many could not help but aspire to be one, in hope to enjoy the perks brands offer; overseas trips, free products, and a large amount of side income.

The trend to become influencers made the social web of today home to a millennial digital entrepreneurial society. Brands make a good use of it by handpicking matured ambassadors, ready to promote their values, from the army of new social influencers.

“Whether they are macro, micro, nano, influencers play a big part in convincing the digital consumers. Knowing that Nano influencer is new to the market, I think it is a big opportunity that brands should start considering.” – Phunnapa, Limtansakul, Senior Ecommerce Manager SEA – Beiersdorf Thailand.

What Can Brands Take Away from This?

Time and again, brands are constantly curious about two things: what is my competitor doing? How do my consumers feel? As ecommerce and social media become a bigger part of consumers’ daily lives, brands are looking for ways to gather data and gain insights from platforms such as Lazada and Shopee as a rich and dynamic data set.

The metrics that BrandIQ will be able to offer to brands.

And the metrics that brands should start paying more attention to, tools like BrandIQ will be able to track and analyze consumer behavior and sentiment on marketplaces, in addition to tracking their own performance as well as benchmarking against competitors selling similar products.

Interested in monitoring your competitor? Get BrandIQ’s free trial here.

The importance of Islamic financing

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation – out of the 260 million people living in the country, 87 percent identify as Muslim. But the country remains a laggard when it comes to developing a robust finance industry.

One of the factors contributing to the slow growth of inclusive economic development is lack of Islamic financing.

What is Islamic finance and how does it differ from conventional practices?

The main difference between Islamic and conventional finance is the treatment of risk, and how risk is shared. In a conventional loan, the financier has a contractual right to receive interest (and capital repayment) irrespective of the condition of the borrowers’ business.

The main principles of Islamic Finance is the avoidance of all haram (harmful) activities such as charging interest. Islamic financial institutions must ensure that ambiguity (gharar) or gambling/speculation (maysair) is minimised in transactions and contracts. Complying with Shariah law also means these Institutions are not permitted to invest in alcohol, pork, pornography or gambling. – Financial Times

Promoting risk-sharing instead of debt-financing, reduces poverty and inequalities, which are the necessary objectives that need to be addressed by economic development policy makers. – Journal of Business & Financial Affairs

Indonesia has long been a contestant to become a global hub for Islamic financing, and created a road map for its development since 2017. The government believes Islamic finance will be an engine of stability and drive financial inclusion. Both Muslims and non-Muslims can benefit from Islamic Finance as it aims, by principle, to be a more transparent system of finance.

The risk-sharing features in Islamic financings also help ensure the soundness of individual financial institutions and discourage the types of lending booms and real estate bubbles commonly seen as precursors to the global financial crisis.

By focusing on asset-backed and shared-risk principles, Islamic financing has the potential to persuade more financing by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to kick start their businesses. With so many beneficial qualities, it seems strange Islamic financing isn’t more widespread in the country, why is that? Without the right financial literacy, people are reluctant to shift from conventional financing.

Lack of Islamic finance in Indonesia

The establishment of Islamic banks in Indonesia 25 years ago is considered late compared to other Muslim-majority countries such as the Philippines (in 1973) and Malaysia (in 1983).

Indonesian authorities were reluctant to support it for a long time because the country was colonized by Dutch adopted Western-led financial institutions that dominated international finance since the end of World War II.
But after the global financial crisis in 1998, Indonesia was keen to find alternatives to broaden its financial base and better protect itself from global financial shock.

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) put together the National Committee for Sharia Finance (KNKS) in 2017 to boost Islamic finance and tackle the challenges surrounding Shariah banking in the country.

And while Shariah banking assets continued to increase in 2017, amounting to IDR 435 trillion (US$32.2 billion), or about 5.8 percent of total assets of Indonesian banks – up from 4.83 percent in 2015 – it was still small compared to Saudi Arabia’s 51.1 percent, Malaysia’s 23.8 percent, and the United Arab Emirates’ 19.6 percent.

The adoption of Islamic finance is also in line with government initiatives working to address barriers to SME growth, such as limited access to finance, which is frequently cited as a problem for smaller firms that lack sufficient collateral for loans.

In the last five years, SMEs have played a large role in Indonesia’s economic structure. Last year, SMEs accounted for 60.3 percent of the total GDP from 57.84 percent in 2012.The Governor of Bank Indonesia Agus Martowardojo hopes the role of SMEs to GDP can increase to 70 percent by this year.

A new early stage fintech startup hopes to help the government achieve their ambitious goal. Ex-bankers and friends Bembi Juniar, Dima Djani, and Harza Sandityo created Alami to boost Shariah financing and focus on educating SMEs about its benefits.

“Alami is a technology company that aims to facilitate small businesses to obtain Islamic financing from banks. It will accommodate Shariah financing, filter and provide accurate ratings for prospective borrowers and facilitate communication between banks and prospective borrowers,” explains Dima.

“I hope through the technological advancement that we offer, we will speed up Shariah banking processes and increase efficiently by at least 50 percent.”

Popularising Islamic-based finance in an unbanked country

Alami was founded in December 2017 and was the runner-up start up in the INSEAD Venture Competition held in Singapore and Paris. The company has raised at least US$100,000 in pre-seed funding round from undisclosed angel investors.

Bembi Juniar, Dima Djani, and Harza Sandityo the founders of Alami Shariah

Dima Djani, one of the founders of Alami, shares with ecommerceIQ that the lack of infrastructure, lack of support from key opinion leaders, and lack of education on Shariah finance are main roadblocks to the country’s slow adoption of Islamic financing.

“People don’t learn about this at school, and we believe technology is needed to spread the benefits of Shariah finance,” says Dima.

“Me and two other founders are young professionals with banking backgrounds. We create technology to simplify the loan process for SMEs to get financing and for bankers to easily focus on SMEs,” says Dima.

“Fintech is a strategic opportunity for Shariah finances to expand their market segment,” Financial Service Authority chief Wimboh Santoso said as quoted on CNN Indonesia.

The startup positions itself as a strategic partner to the few existing Islamic banks, not as a direct competitor and has already partnered with three prominent Islamic financial institutions: BNI Syariah, Bank Mega Syariah and Jamkrindo Syariah, with a total transaction value of IDR 9 billion and IDR 50 billion.

“The most common deals SMEs need money for is working capital to expand, either through trade finance or plain working capital financing and they are coming from the chemical and construction industries,” shares Dima.

How does Alami services work?

There are two simple steps SMEs need to follow to use Alami’s service:

  1. .SMEs register and fill out a form on Alami’s website – data to be shared includes corporate and some historical financial information
  2. The system assigns a rating indicating the SMEs risk and matches the business to Alami’s bank partners

According to Dima, Alami is an abbreviation of Alif-Laam-Meem, the first sentence of the second Surah or chapter of the Al-Quran (the meaning which only God knows according to Muslims).

But philosophically for Dima and his two other founders, Alami means to motor Islamic finance 2.0 in Indonesia.

“We see Alami as the second chapter trying to improve the Islamic finance sector in Indonesia through technology, creating value for our partners and being a unique Islamic-based fintech startup,” Dima elaborates.

“It is thought that wealth should be created through legitimate trade in assets,” – Dima, co-founder of Alamai

In Indonesia, there are other Shariah-based financing platform such as Cermati and CekAja, but these platforms focus on individual loans, not on SME financing.

What’s next for Islamic financing in Indonesia?

The startup announced its collaboration with Kapital Boost, the Singapore-based Shariah-compliant crowdfunding platform for SMEs to address the lack of financing available to SMEs in Indonesia earlier this year.

Under the partnership, Alami will leverage its SME network in Indonesia to direct businesses to Kapital Boost, who will facilitate fundraising and financing from global investors.

“We believe SMEs are a huge economic contributor for Indonesia and by helping them to grow, we are impacting positively on Indonesia’s economy,” shares Dima. “That’s our aim.”

“Our plan is to be one stop solution for Shariah finance in Indonesia, we are committed to popularizing Islamic finance in Indonesia and work hard to create easy to use technology for both SMEs and our bank partners,” says Dima.

Talk to most experts in Southeast Asia about the potential of ecommerce in the region and they’ll find common ground: the real bottleneck towards growth lies primarily in logistics that can’t keep up.

Decrepit infrastructure, outdated customs processes, and the sprawling landscape all add up to a scenario notoriously murky to navigate. Indonesia, for example, is the largest internet market in Southeast Asia and it’s expected to drive the bulk of growth in ecommerce. Economic indicators are rosy and consumers have higher disposable incomes.

The problem? It’s a massive archipelago consisting of 17,000 islands. Ecommerce deliveries can take up to a week if delivery is even offered at all, leaving customers frustrated and uncertain whether they’d engage in a purchase again.

It’s a similar story in the Philippines, which has over 7,000 islands. Countries like Thailand may be geographically easier to navigate but it’s not without its own set of challenges: the Kingdom witnesses the second-highest road accidents in the world, just marginally behind Libya.

But simply adding more delivery vehicles and hiring people to drive them won’t instantly solve the problem. Within the logistics industry, there are issues such as fuel pilferage, lack of adherence to safety rules and regulations, and rash driving. These problems entail an inherent cost for fleet operators ordinarily passed on to end consumers in the form of delivery fees. And that’s a cost which can be avoided.

Thai company Drvr is trying to tackle these challenges head-on. It uses telematics, which allows devices to send and receive information across large distances, to track vehicle performance, driver behavior, unscheduled stops, and so on. Drvr installs an array of sensors inside vehicles to help managers keep track of the fleet and also provides a SaaS platform that displays an overall dashboard. It can be modified and tweaked according to client requirements, of which Mercedes Benz is one.

CEO and co-founder David Henderson, who hails from Seychelles, first moved to Thailand in 2014 following a stint at a telematics firm in Australia. The challenges of solving mammoth problems in Asia was the primary motive – he had originally pitched the idea to his previous employer but they were far too risk-averse for his liking. So he decided to quit and branch out on his own.

“The product we had two years ago was simply a GPS tracking product,” David tells ecommerceIQ. “We’ve matured significantly as a company since, and it’s fair to say that we have one of the most advanced fleet management and IOT platforms in the world now.”

The Drvr analytics dashboard

Why start in Thailand?

David explains that his target market isn’t just the logistics sector, but any business that owns and operates a large fleet of vehicles. This could entail players in transportation as well as construction. Such businesses need to keep a keen eye on the health of their vehicles to make sure that drivers and support staff aren’t running amok.

“Thailand is a natural market for us because there are over 3 million vehicles manufactured here annually with commercial vehicles accounting for half that number. That’s the primary reason we’re based here,” he explains.

Drvr’s core solution aims to make fleet operators operate efficiently. It achieves this via a number of ways – the first, as mentioned earlier, is via the predictive analytics platform it offers. The driver version of its app also combines gamification elements to help coax drivers into following the rules. There are rewards every time they adhere to a certain standard such as the maintenance of an average speed or keeping unscheduled stops to a minimum – these could be in the form of cash bonuses or enhanced performance reviews, but is agreed mutually between the fleet manager and driver. The company says this helps reduce the element of confrontation between them and HR.

“One of our immediate use cases that we can prove to our customers is in the case of fuel theft. Fuel theft is a major issue, not just in Thailand but right across the world in fact. It takes on different forms in different areas – [in Thailand] it tends to be siphoning but in Australia and other places […] people tend to fraudulently buy fuel or fill up their own car with the company credit card. We can detect these scenarios and prevent them from happening,” says David.

Before Drvr came along, the common solution to this issue was that companies would simply pay their drivers lower. These would lead to distorted economic incentives – drivers would simply shrug their shoulders and pilfer more fuel from the vehicle in order to sell it for cash. And the cycle would worsen.

David doesn’t disclose how many customers he has but does say that the startup turned a profit last month. While they’re based in Thailand, the largest market is currently Myanmar in terms of volume. However, both Indonesia and the Philippines are high on his list of priorities.

“We see Indonesia as the critical market in Southeast Asia – volume-wise, it’s just one with huge potential. Margins are a bit lower, admittedly, but there are big opportunities there,” he adds.

“At the same time it’s very tricky to get a foothold – we’ve failed a couple of times because of the difficulty of finding a reliable local partner. If you’re successful in Indonesia, it’s a massive tick on your profile.”

What trends does he notice?

Fleet analytics companies aren’t exactly mindblowing tech and there’s a few of them around already such as Cartrack and Coolasia. For David, however, they’re trying to set themselves apart in terms of the sophistication of their platform and the clients.

Mercedes Benz trucks, one of their key clients, actually ships all vehicles in Myanmar with Drvr sensors pre-installed. This provides a certain degree of validation when pitching to other companies. Drvr is also helping facilitate the growth of a subscription vehicle model – whereby fleet owners ‘rent’ vehicles from manufacturers as opposed to simply buying it outright and then allowing it to depreciate over its lifecycle.

This scenario – which David claims is already happening in markets like Australia – necessitates razor-sharp analytics so manufacturers know how to charge on an hourly or monthly basis. Analysts need to understand costs specifically and it’s simply not possible to do that without carefully monitoring existing vehicles to figure out when it’s liable to break down, what the fuel costs are, and other predictive analytics.

He claims Drvr is working with manufacturers interested in this model – the sensors and analytics will help them build a financial model – but doesn’t name names.

Will IOT engulf Asia?

Some people might scoff at the idea of high-tech commercial vehicles plying the backwaters of Asia given how cheap labor costs are, but David doesn’t believe it’s so far-fetched. He agrees on the fact that the economic imperative, for now, is missing but says the costs of devices and provisioning the service is “much lower than what it was in the past.”

“If you’re in ecommerce or logistics, the reality is that customers expect goods to be delivered the same day or as quickly as possible. In order to facilitate that you can’t have drivers sleeping on the side of the road or stealing fuel. It damages your brand and the perception of your service. Even the most old-fashioned Thai companies are beginning to realize that,” he explains.

You might recognize a signature Burberry trench coat because of its distinctive check pattern.

When Burberry first came to life in London in 1856, CEO & founder Thomas Burberry was, at the time, only 21 years of age. The brand focused solely on outdoor attire in its early days but quickly established a reputation for quality and longevity.

In 1879, Burberry received a patent for its ‘gabardine’ fabric – a water-resistant, breathable material that it would use for trench coats. The company went from strength to strength, opening a store in the upscale Haymarket area of London in 1891, designing its signature equestrian knight logo in 1901, and supplying outdoor attire to South Pole expeditioners in 1911.

Burberry’s popularity skyrocketed after its trench coats were used by British infantry forces during the First World War. An outpour of patriotism boosted its brand identity with members of the public clamoring to buy the products after the end of the war.

Further validation came in the form of high profile celebrity endorsements by movie stars such as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Peter Sellers in Pink Panther.

The UK luxury brand is best known for its sharp coats and jackets but has also ventured out in designing shoes, scarves, bags, & other accessories. By the mid-1980s as a result of spreading itself too thin and chasing short-term profitability goals, the brand started to stagnate. What happened?

The makings of a crisis

The 70s and 80s were rewarding for Burberry in terms of its bottom line. It signed licensing agreements with many global manufacturers to design suits, trousers, shirts, and accessories and distributed them via independent retailers as well as its own stores. The effect of this expansion i.e. higher operating profits was felt well into the 1990s.

But the licensing partnerships also had an unintended effect: counterfeit products flooded markets across the world, particularly in Asia, causing price disparities that existed even in original products.

Western countries were subjected to higher rates and items were often rerouted back to markets; for example, cheaper bags in Asia were exported back to Europe resulting in a blow to its image.

Burberry had severely diluted the power of its brand by adopting a mass-market route. Once associated with list-A celebrities and daring thrill seekers, Burberry had rapidly lost its aura of glitz and glam.

Shockingly, the elitist brand was now equated with thuggery, chicanery, and hooliganism; adopted en-masse by ‘Chavs’ – a pejorative British term used to describe degenerates and lowlifes. Bouncers would turn away people wearing Burberry outfits as it was assumed they would cause trouble once inside.

Shudder.

Turnaround

“Burberry was not able to identify its target group of consumers because of its uneven distribution and licensing policies in different countries of operation,” says Arittra Basu, business development manager at Westin Hotels.

The long road to redemption started in the late 1990s after Burberry hired Rosie Marie Bravo to steer the ship. She immediately tried to stem the decline by reducing the company’s footprint in Asia, ending price disparities, and appointing a new creative head to reestablish the brand’s core values.

In 2006, Angela Ahrendts was appointed the new CEO and began a journey leading the company to reemerge as a force to be reckoned with.

Initially, there were subtle design changes. The check pattern was scaled back and started to appear less and less on merchandise. Stringent measures were adopted to crackdown on counterfeit items and the licensing agreements were gradually rescinded to centralize design and operations under one roof.

But the most important decision made by Ahrendts, along with Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey was the declaration of their vision to see Burberry as the world’s first fully digital luxury company.

The brand had, in their opinion, appealed to an older clientele for far too long. It was time to catch the attention of suave and fashionable millennials.

Digital would be central to the brand’s way of thinking and customers would be treated to the same experience whether online or in-store.

One of the most popular campaigns Burberry launched was the ‘Art of the Trench’, a unique play on user-generated content to bring consumers at the forefront.

Art of the Trench. Photo credit: Creativity Online

This was a standalone website where customers were encouraged to upload photos of themselves wearing their trench coats. They were featured on the main page for 15 minutes and customers could share these photos on social media feeds. There was also an option to click on a product and be redirected to Burberry’s main site to purchase it.

The campaign was a resounding success. In 2015, it was reported to have gained almost 25 million pageviews since launch.

Another hugely popular campaign was initiated to promote Burberry Kisses, a lipstick brand launched by the company. For this, it partnered with Google to enable users to send personal messages, sealed with a virtual kiss.

Users from 13,000 cities sent these virtual kisses within the first 10 days of launch.

In 2012, Burberry tried to bridge the gap between the online and offline shopping experience via its Regent Street London store. The store featured huge screens where catwalk shows around the world could be viewed live and the individual products were available for instant purchase.

“Burberry Regent Street brings our digital world to life in a physical space for the first time, where customers can experience every facet of the brand through immersive multimedia content exactly as they do online,” said Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. “Walking through the doors is just like walking into our website.”

Not only can shoppers buy online from Burberry’s digital properties, they can also choose to pick up in-store or have a sales associate order from the website for them while visiting an outlet. Burberry’s also experimented with flash commerce features via Twitter as well as allowing users in China to order via WeChat.

In China Burberry took the unusual route of opening a store on Tmall; a strategy consistently avoided by upscale brands. The move was meant to counter the growing grey market for its goods as well as embrace the Chinese penchant for online shopping.

Its savvy use of social media has also engendered the growth of a loyal community. The brand has embraced Snapchat to provide peeks into upcoming lines and fashion shows. Burberry’s YouTube channel has over 300,000 subscribers and hundreds of videos that not only showcase trench coats, but also includes makeup tutorials, music jams, and other engaging content.

And the result of all of this? In 2011 Business Insider placed Burberry in the top 10 brands of the world with a growth percentage of 86% as judged by an estimate of its brand value. That far outstripped any other company on the list.

Burberry shares, which languished in the $200 range in 2002 now trade at $1,539.

Of course, challenges persist. Weakening demand for luxury brands hurt Burberry’s profitability last year with the CEO saying that the product range “needs to be refreshed”.

But if it continues with its sharp focus on digital and out-of-the-box thinking, it should be able to weather the relative storm.

“Burberry’s digital strategy […] has so far not only put it at the top of the fashion luxury category but among top players across industries,” wrote Digiday.

Singaporean netizens rank at 4th place globally for sessions per year on Amazon, when judged in proportion to the number of internet users. That puts them just marginally behind Canada.

Source: SimilarWeb/World Bank

It’s probably one of the reasons why the company chose to enter Southeast Asia via Singapore; not only is there is an internet-savvy population with a high credit card penetration, consumers already have a stated preference to transact with the platform.

Amazon wasn’t physically present in Singapore until last year but the company’s white-label electronic products such as the Echo Dot and Kindle have been stocked and fulfilled by Lazada Singapore through grey market sellers as far back as March 2015, according to analytics platform BrandIQ.

Demand for Amazon in Singapore

BrandIQ mapped the number of reviews on Amazon products on Lazada SG over a three-year time period. When compared against Google Web Search data from Google Trends, there was a direct correlation between the volume of reviews on Lazada and Google search interest for Amazon from Singapore – until the marketplace’s official launch in July 2017.

Source: BrandIQ/Google Trends

Amazon products on Lazada witnessed a spike of product reviews towards the end of 2015, coinciding with the September 2015 announcement of the Fire Tablet and Fire TV product lines.

Google Trends data shows a very similar spike to that of product reviews on Lazada in December 2015, which can be attributed to the holiday season and popularity of the new Fire product lines.

A very similar trend was also witnessed in 2016; product reviews rose following the September 2016 announcement of the new Echo Dot product, with corresponding spikes in both Google Web Search and Lazada product reviews in December 2016.

Web search interest in Amazon reached a crescendo in July 2017 following the Prime Now launch in Singapore. This event also marked the first inverse trend between web searches for Amazon and product reviews on Lazada. While the number of product reviews grew approaching the December 2017 holiday season, it never recovered to 2016 or 2015 levels, suggesting decreased interest across Lazada following Amazon’s entry.

There’s a correlation between Amazon product launches and their popularity in Singapore based on reviews by certified users, but what does it mean?

Rival on Lazada’s marketplace

Despite Amazon’s belated entry into Southeast Asia, its products are still ranking high on Lazada.

The interesting part is that the products in question; Amazon Fire TV, Kindle, and Echo are simply unavailable on Prime Now and can’t be shipped to Singapore from AmazonGlobal, it’s international shipping site.

Instead, these products are sold and fulfilled by a multitude of grey sellers on Lazada such as GeekBite, that has been active on the platform for 3+ years.

Despite its Amazon Prime Now offerings for free international shipping, some of Amazon’s best selling items can’t be shipped to Singapore

There’s clear demand and interest for Amazon products, which leads us to the question: why is a customer-obsessed Amazon content with grey market sellers fulfilling this need?

Standard industry practices indicate that well-known brands often find a crowded grey market for their products to be a cause for concern. Leaving grey sellers to fulfill local demand for foreign products results in brands losing control of their brand image, as delivery, packaging, and warranties from grey sellers usually don’t correspond to the same brand guidelines adhered to by the company.

The answer here is likely linked to the outdated industry distribution rights for television/movie content on the Fire platform and e-book rights for the Kindle. Content distribution rights are negotiated geographically, and local distributors commonly have long term contracts with content producers. Amazon either hasn’t prioritized, or is still in the process of securing distribution rights for Southeast Asia, and thus can’t make these products available to purchase.

What Amazon is falling short of, grey market sellers are picking up admirably. In the electronics categories including “Tablets” and “Video” on Lazada, Amazon products rank in the Top 10 when sorting by “Popularity”. The Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Kindle stand out within their own respective categories.

The prices of items like the Kindle are also marked up by almost 23% (US$79.99 on Amazon US vs US$103 on Lazada SG) and the Echo Dot is marked up by 15% (US$49.99 on Amazon US vs US$59 on Lazada SG).

Singaporean consumers itching for the new Amazon items are stuck with purchasing through grey sellers on Lazada, like local reseller SGKindleShop, who offers the Kindle for US$155, or like forwarder shipping service like comGateway, which can set you back another US$15 for the US$79 Kindle, only slightly cheaper than the US$103 price tag on Lazada.

Cost of shipping a 1kg package using a forwarder shipping service from the US to Singapore.
Prices in SGD

Amazon is missing out on a large potential revenue source by foregoing some of its best selling products on Prime Now. It’s also unable to cross-sell by offering enhanced product warranties, which are an important addition to overall product revenue streams.

Unless Jeff Bezos makes a conscious decision to include Amazon’s products on Prime Now SG, it’s going to continue to cede the market to grey sellers on its largest regional competitor.

Osman Husain of ecommerceIQ contributed to this report.


HOW IS YOUR BRAND PERFORMING ON SOUTHEAST ASIA’s TOP MARKETPLACE

Millennials are shaking up the travel industry with their penchant for authentic, unique experiences and Muslims are no exception to this rule. The size of the Halal travel industry is expected to skyrocket with more millennials entering the workforce and pocketing greater disposable incomes.

That’s one of the key takeaways of “Halal Travel Frontier 2018”, an industry report published by Crescent Rating in conjunction with MasterCard.

Crescent Rating, which first started analyzing the Muslim travel market in 2008, says that there were an estimated 126 million Muslim travelers in 2016. The number is expected to grow by nearly 30% in the next four years, settling on 156 million travelers in 2020.

In 2015, Crescent Rating estimated total purchases by Muslim travelers to be roughly US$145 billion. This factors in expenditure on Halal food, hotels, excursions & experiences, and shopping. The number is expected to rise to a colossal US$300 billion by 2026 – more than doubling in volume in a little over a decade.

A large chunk of this growth is fueled by millennial Muslim travelers in the fast-growing economies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and Gulf countries. 60% of the population in Muslim majority countries is currently under the age of 30 – a stark contrast to the global average, which is 11%.

It’s a demographic that players in the travel & tourism space simply cannot afford to ignore anymore.

“Brands would also need to increase their level of empathy and find new ways to better connect with Muslim travelers,” explains Fazal Behardeen, CEO of Crescent Rating. “This will be key in order to both appeal and empower their Muslim travelers.”

What are Muslim millennials looking for?

One of the seminal insights proffered by Crescent Rating is the emergence of the Muslim female travel segment. This particular demographic is gradually becoming a force in its own right with females opting to travel with their friends & family in small to medium-sized groups.

The key purchasing factors for such consumers are “specialized travel products and lifestyle services.” Destinations looking to attract female Muslim travelers are advised to engender a safe and accessible environment that respects the cultural and religious sensitivities at play.

South Africa and Indonesia are tipped to be major travel destinations for Muslims, but Asia as a whole is expected to eat up the largest chunk. The Indonesian government itself has set up an ambitious target of attracting 5 million Halal travelers in 2019, more than double the 2 million that visited in 2016. Other popular destinations are Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.

Sporting events in Asia such as the Winter Olympics in South Korea this year as well as the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020 are also expected to court significant numbers of travelers from Muslim-majority countries.

Outbound travel markets. Photo credit: Crescent Rating

The potential is undeniable. How can brands cash in?

Muslim travelers tend to weigh in specific factors before reaching a firm decision on a travel destination, according to Crescent Rating. There should be facilities that allow for accessible prayer areas, restaurants & cafes serving certified Halal food, and toilets with provision for ablution. Most travelers will flock to social media or do extensive research on the web prior to embarking on their journey.

At the same time, governments also have an opportunity to help local businesses by offering prayer facilities and Halal food in public locations like airports, railway stations, and places of interest. Taiwan is cited as an example of a country actively working to meet this demand.

Like millennials around the world, Muslim travelers will likely start their buyer’s journey on the web by searching for travel content but most mainstream sites – Booking.com and Agoda, for example – don’t have dedicated listings for Halal-friendly establishments or significant insights on where Muslims might feel comfortable.

“We find that Muslim millennial travelers are like most millennial travelers apart from their uncompromising faith-based needs,” explains Raudha Zaini, marketing manager at Halal Trip, a B2C travel portal for Muslims. “They seek what we call the 3As when they travel – Authentic Experience, Affordable Facilities and Accessible Network – all within the radius of their faith requirements.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the Muslim demographic around the world is expected to grow twice as fast as the overall world population between 2015 to 2060, reaching a projected 3 billion individuals. In terms of consumer spending alone, the global Islamic economy generated US$1.9 trillion in food and lifestyle expenditure in 2015 with projections that it’ll grow significantly to US$3 trillion by 2021.

For brands looking to appeal to a gargantuan demographic hiding in plain sight, they’ll have to focus on crafting their message and developing empathy. That’s key if they’re looking to connect with young Muslims on a personal level. One thing for sure is that the market will continue to expand at a ferocious rate.

So far the rate of adoption has been slow, at best. UK-based retailer Marks & Spencer launched a burkini swimwear collection in 2016 to a spurt of criticism. Despite dissenting voices, the line completely sold out showing there’s real demand.

Other examples are the 2017 launch of the four-star Al-Meroz hotel in Bangkok, the first Halal hotel in Thailand as well as Expedia’s US$350 million in Indonesian online travel platform Traveloka the same year.

But these are tepid responses to a market valued at hundreds of billions. Larger brands can, and should step up to match smaller incumbents like Indonesian halal cosmetics company Wardah, India’s IbaHalalCare, and California-based AmaraCosmetics.