Asia’s mobile phone penetration matched with the high popularity of social networks has paved the way for social commerce to flourish in Southeast Asia. More and more online shoppers are using social media channels like Facebook and Instagram to browse and to negotiate a purchase of beauty products, apparel and other goods instead of buying it on typical ecommerce websites.

Thailand is the world’s biggest social commerce market where 51% of online shoppers have purchased goods directly via a social media channel.

Social commerce has been practiced by every third online shopper in Malaysia and Indonesia, while globally around 16% of online buyers have shopped directly via social media.

Across the region, Facebook and Instagram are among the most popular networks and on average, internet users spend from 1.6 hours in Singapore to 3.7 hours in Philippines on social media every day. This, the fact that Southeast Asians are reluctant to share their financial information online and less than 20% of population (except Singapore) use either debit or credit card to make payments drive social commerce in Southeast Asia.

How Social Commerce Works in Thailand

Usually merchants set up ‘shops’ on Facebook or Instagram, or both, and post images and details of goods for sale. Potential shoppers can browse and inquire about product availability and arrange a method of payment, typically a bank transfer, through a popular chat app such as LINE.

In social commerce, the order is usually made online while the payment – offline.

Social media ‘shops’ offer nearly anything from food, beauty and health products of various brands to apparel and accessories, sometimes secondhand or with minor defects. 

How Big is Social Commerce in Thailand?

The consumer-to-consumer (C2C) market size in Thailand is significant. Page365, a startup that helps small retailers sell products via social media, estimated that social commerce is worth more than $500 million per year in the Land of Smiles alone. However, it is difficult to accurately measure the market size as majority of sales from social media are conducted via bank transfer and merchants refrain from disclosing their real revenues.

ecommerceIQ decided to test one of several popular forums where shoppers frequently discuss favored and reliable Instagram/Facebook stores for makeup. The team chose an Instagram makeup shop by user @lachompshop due to popular word of mouth and recommendations on Pantip forum.

Case Study: The Social Commerce Journey

The search for products takes place by scrolling through @lachompshop picture gallery on Instagram. ecommerceIQ decided to purchase a MAC lipstick, which surprisingly was selling for 550 Thai baht, 300 Thai baht cheaper than in MAC’s official online store.

social commerce

social commerce

On social commerce shops products usually are browsed by simply scrolling through the seller’s Instagram picture gallery.

social commerce

A lipstick on MAC’s official online store costs 850 Thai baht while @lachompshop offered to sell it for 550 Thai baht.

The seller indicated her LINE account in the Instagram ‘About Me’ section so she could be easily reached for further product inquiries. The seller replied on LINE within one minute of the team’s question and confirmed product availability with a screenshot of the product from her Instagram page. The exchange was short – the seller noted delivery would take 3 days and after the team negotiated for express delivery in 2 days at no additional charge, she outlined more details – payment had to be made before shipping of product.

The seller sent her bank details so that 600 Thai baht (included 50 baht delivery cost) could be transferred to her account. The entire purchase process was simple – a short exchange on the chat app with a following bank transfer compared to filling online forms, payment card details, when buying online.

social commerce

The exchange with the seller took place on March 29, 2016.

social commerce

MAC lipstick that was ordered by ecommerceIQ team

Once the transfer was made, the transaction could not be cancelled. After the payment was done, the seller followed up in LINE with a tracking number from Thai Post so delivery could be followed online.

The MAC lipstick arrived in a brown package, sealed with a protective clear tape, and actually even a day earlier than expected. The delivery time in the end was just 1 day compared to 2-5 days waiting for products bought online from brand.com store or marketplace.  The product was in perfect condition in terms of exterior, in the original MAC packaging and was the right color. However, the lipstick texture was slightly smudged, possibly due to the heat during delivery. There was no pre-delivery text or call as would be in a typical ecommerce purchase.

social commerce

The new lipstick was delivered before expected for a nice surprise after agreeing on the purchase via Instagram shop.

Once the seller was notified of the product arrival, she responded politely within 5 minutes adding an element of personalized contact to make the experience more positive.

The Good and the Bad of Social Commerce

Facebook and Instagram provides an inexpensive opportunity for upcoming, small brands to sell online at a lower cost compared to creating a full-fledged webstore. The direct communication with sellers also adds a personal touch, which Southeast Asian shoppers find important to gain trust in the seller, the brand or product.

However, the same trust with regards to product authenticity and payment is also a concern when buying from sellers who stock various products on C2C platforms. Data from Page365 shows that 74% of consumers are reluctant to shop online because they fear fraud and 33% of consumers have complained about product imperfections when ordering from Facebook stores. There have been cases reported when the customer transfers money to a seller via bank transfer prior to a product delivery just to find out later that the seller took their payment and cut off contact.

There is also risk of receiving fake products and C2C shops are usually less willing to accept returns, as in the case with @lachompshop who explicitly stated that unless the product was damaged or delivered in the wrong color, returns nor refunds would be accepted.

Yet, for many, especially in provinces where malls are not easily accessible, social commerce is an easier way to get products they want without having to shop online and without having a credit card. Although it does takeaway from ecommerce websites, the wave of social commerce allows consumers to adopt online shopping habits and eventually encourage them to trust e-transactions. 

What to Expect Next

Seeing the popularity of social commerce, other businesses are looking for ways to enter the market. This June, Facebook started testing social commerce payments in Thailand and later decided to launch the world’s first Facebook Shop in August. LINE, which is widely used to communicate with buyers of social media shops, launched its own ecommerce app LINE Shop already in July 2014.

C2C marketplace Shopee, which is among the most popular apps in Thailand, is trying to attract merchants currently selling on social networks, to its online marketplace by offering easy integration of their Instagram shops and reimbursing shipping, cash on delivery fees to sellers.

The positive experience ecommerceIQ had testing social commerce shows why for many it may be more convenient to shop via social networks than overcome concerns about the security of digital payments to shop online even if it means a few added small risks. 

As the ecommerce market size in Southeast Asia is expected to increase nearly 15 times to $88 billion by 2025, social commerce will likely grow as well thanks to a relatively low online presence of Western brands

 

BY AIJA KRUTAINE AND ANUTRA CHATIKAVANIJ

 

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Welcome back from the weekend, here are the ecommerce headlines you might have missed:

1. Payments startup Coins.ph raises $5M Series A from popular investors

They include Wavemaker Labs, Global Brain, BeeNext, Rebright Partners. The round is led by Accion Frontier Inclusion Fund. Coins has created an alternative banking system to serve people who don’t have access to traditional banking in Southeast Asia and other developing markets.

According to Coins, 5% of the region’s 610 million-strong population is unbanked. 

Read the rest of the story here

2. Alibaba’s share of the worldwide mobile ad market to increase. Why?

Alibaba will report earnings next week, will capture 4.6% of the $194.60 billion global digital ad market; that represents a decrease from 5% in 2015. However, Alibaba’s share of the $108.88 billion global mobile ad market is expected to increase to 10.9% in 2016, up from 8.7% in 2015.

Increased numbers of mobile shoppers using its affiliated Alipay payment app to buy goods and services both online and offline, rural market demand, and cross-border shopping via Tmall Global will also be key sales contributors

Read the rest of the story here

3. DHL opens $104M hub in Singapore

To accommodate the rapid growth of regional volumes fuelled in part by ecommerce, the world’s largest international express services provider launched its new €85 million DHL South Asia Hub in Singapore.

“The exciting thing about ecommerce is that it’s not just the big players, DHL Express CEO Allen said. It’s not just about to Amazon, Alibaba or eBay, because every retailer in the world can put a website up to a global audience. “Every brick and mortar retailer is also getting in on the act and a lot of our big customers our traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.”

Read the rest of the story here

ecommerceIQ shares the latest ecommerce news in Southeast Asia every morning and afternoon so you can find all the highlights in one place at one time. Sign up for our newsletter for more!

Here are the key headlines for this morning:

 

1. DHL poised to shake up Southeast Asia ecommerce

“We want to become a true enabler for the smallest companies to the very largest ecommerce players,” Charles Brewer, the CEO of DHL eCommerce. DHL’s rising focus on Southeast Asia will certainly light the fire under SingPost, its closest analogue in the region, as well as competitors big and small like Ta-Q-Bin, Go-Jek, and Ninja Van. Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. 2C2P expands APAC presence to south and central Asia

2C2P will process online and offline payment transactions for Himalayan Bank Limited (HBL), Nepal’s largest private bank, Nepal Airlines, the national flag carrier of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, and Air Astana, the principal airline and flag carrier of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

 

3. APAC consumers shop more on mobile

“Many markets in APAC are mobile-first, and consumers are now mature online buyers with more discerning tastes than the global average,” says Miranda Dimopoulos, CEO IAB Singapore. Read the rest of the story here.

A new fashion app, New Arrival, aims to introduce Chinese travellers to lesser-known boutiques abroad, reports Retail News Asia.

The New Arrival app serves as a platform and guide for brick-and-mortar stores Chinese shoppers might otherwise miss during their travels.

One part of the app focuses on “new arrivals” from on-ground stores, letting users browse products with a swiping feature. Shoppers swipe right to like a product and see more like it, swipe left to “pass” on the product, and swipe down to add it to their shopping cart. This essentially makes ‘New Arrival’ the tinder for boutique shopping.

From that point, users can either access more information about the store or make a purchase directly on the app via Alipay. Users can also navigate the app to shop by category.

The other section of the New Arrival app lets users tour shops by city. A “nearby” option lets shoppers find stores on the go, or they can search by destinations including Beijing, Shanghai, New York, Paris and Hong Kong.

Currently, ‘New Arrival’ has formed partnerships with 200 stores, all of them are either multi-brand stores or individual designers. The app allows returns within one week, and the stores themselves handle the shipping and logistics of getting the clothes delivered to customers.

‘New Arrival’ is currently available for iPhone users, with an android launch set for next month. Currently, it is too soon to tell whether small-scale retailers will be investing in this app the same way that big name brands are collaborating with the likes of WeChat.

A version of this appeared in Retail News Asia on August 25. Read the full version here

personal touch in Ecommerce Thailand

Source: Dario Pignatelli — Bloomberg/Getty Images

A global survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers revealed that more than 51% of Thai online shoppers made their purchase via social media. In second place is India with 32%, followed by Malaysia and China at 31% and 27% respectively. This trend is driven by the key consumer trend, which is based on trust.

The importance of personal touch in Thailand ecommerce 

The “personal touch” that shopping via social media offers has been highlighted as a reason behind this environment of trust, which the larger ecommerce companies selling products via websites are unable to muster. LINE or Instagram accounts allow people to communicate directly with sellers, unlike the impersonal experience with web administrators of an ecommerce website, says Pavida Pananond, associate professor of international business at Bangkok’s Thammasat University.

Thailand’s B2C Stats

  • Products $14- $42  per order, accounted for  approximately $13.4 million of Thailand’s $59.7 billion of ecommerce sales in 2015
  • B2C sales in 2014 came to $11.6 million, out of $57.4 billion in total ecommerce sales

However, social commerce has also had its share of bad eggs. The mainstream media and online chats are occasionally peppered with reports of unscrupulous sellers trying to rip off unsuspecting buyers in this predominantly cash-based market, where cash still accounts for 90% of payments nationwide.

However, such setbacks barely dented the direction the online market is taking. The subsequent spread of ecommerce is reflected in the online trade countrywide, with once-dominant Bangkok now accounting for just 30% of the market, with the majority of ecommerce transactions now taking place in the provinces.

“In the provinces, it is not about the online experience but an easier way to get stuff you want,” says Santit Jirawongkraisorn, co-founder of Lalamove, a Bangkok-based logistics company.

A version of this appeared in Nikkei Asian Review on June 26. Read the full article here.

India’s newest tech unicorn, messaging app Hike, announced that it has closed $175 million in funding increasing valuation to $1.4 billion, reports Tech Crunch.

The funding round was led by new investors, Chinese tech giant Tencent and manufacturing firm Foxconn. Tencent is the company that pioneered messaging with Chinese favorite, WeChat.

How does Hike work?

Born out of a joint venture between Bharti and SoftBank, Hike includes standard messaging app features, as well as free voice calling. The app emphasizes features such as privacy options to hide messages, and a function that allows users to send messages to non Hike users. The company heavily focuses its marketing on young people.

“Hike understands India, a highly diverse market with many nuances,” says Martin Lau, Tencent President.

Hike has stated that it has over 100 million registered users, 90% of whom are under 30 and send approximately 40 billion messages per month. 

Less like WhatsApp, more like Line

According to Hike’s founder, Kavin Bharti Mittal, every country has two messaging apps that do well, “there’s one that replaces SMS and one that does a lot more than that. Hike doesn’t even compete with WhatsApp, it is used very actively in addition to other apps.”

Hike has been focused on building differentiation from WhatsApp, which has largely retained a bare-basics approach to chat. It has left an option for a more integrated messaging app, in which Mittal has filled the gap with coupons and localized stickers within the app. Games attract over 100 million play sessions per month, and the news feature has 50 million plus users, and sees 1.5 billion stories viewed a month.

These added functions make Hike very similar to Asia’s favorite chat app, Line.

With Tencent’s involvement, Hike is likely to evolve into a ‘services’ app, reflecting Tencent owned WeChat’s numerous services which includes food delivery, ecommerce and much more.

According to Mittal, Hike is likely to introduce a payment solution within the next six to twelve months, among other new service offerings.

Hike is the only billion dollar social company in India, as of now.

 A version of this appeared in Tech Crunch on August 16. Read the full version here.