southeast asia ecommerce landscape

Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the ecommerce landscapes in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines to see how the five largest markets in the region are faring. The region itself is a diverse and fragmented landscape having disparate infrastructure and fickle government regulations, making it hard for global brands to find a one-size-fits-all solution to conquer $238 billion in market potential.

However, despite the diversity of each country, there is a common theme apparent for ecommerce in the region. Here’s what we have discovered from the Southeast Asian ecommerce landscape in 2016.

1. The domination of Lazada – or soon, Alibaba

One player that has succeeded in making a name for itself in every country across the region is Lazada Group. The company, introduced by Samwer Brother’s Rocket Internet in 2012, has dominated monthly web traffic by millions in almost every country. Their recent acquisition by Alibaba has only cemented their position of power and plays a key role in Jack Ma’s big plan for Southeast Asia.

The only market with local players that puts up a decent fight with the giant is Indonesia. The country has several big players in the B2B2C sector – MatahariMall and Blibli to name a few – backed by big enterprises or conglomerates. But deep pockets is not the only thing that gives these players an upper hand, local knowledge of the market is also a big advantage.

southeast asia ecommerce landscape

With the looming news of Amazon’s expansion into Southeast Asia with Singapore next year, Lazada doesn’t seem to be worried as they have the advantage of years of consumer data and its latest acquisition of Redmart is seen as the latest effort to thwart Amazon at its own game.

2. M&A as a strategy to survive

Ecommerce is a long term game. Even with a good business model, companies need to be able to sustain themselves for the marathon before they even have a chance to make profit, let alone reap the other additional benefits of going online.

This year, the region has seen a lot of acquisitions as players attempt to expand market share or make an entrance. This includes the old news of ‘Alizada’, a $1 billion acquisition that left players in the industry trembling with excitement or the acquisition of Caarly by Carousell to accommodate the growing interest of people looking for cars on the mobile platform.

Some of the acquisitions were done by non-ecommerce players hoping to expand their reach. There is the latest move by K-Fit, a subscription fitness startup, acquiring Groupon in Indonesia and Malaysia; and the exit of Zalora in Thailand and Vietnam to Thailand’s conglomerate, Central Group, earlier this year.

With hundreds of players clamoring for a chunk of market share, it’s only time before natural selection leaves only the strongest and most committed players in the arena.

3. Payments sector is saturated, but no true problem-solver

Payments is still one of the largest hurdles for ecommerce in the region despite the financing boom for Southeast Asian fintech startups in 2016. Numerous startups are attempting to create a payments product for the sake of ‘doing fintech’ but aren’t addressing fundamental payment issues like a high unbanked population.

All across the region we see players in every market trying to address local financial challenges with little success. In Thailand, the government’s effort to create a cashless society with PromptPay has been halted indefinitely when Government Saving Banks (GSB) ATMs fell victim to the cyber criminal.  

Coins.ph in the Philippines is using bitcoin to increase financial inclusion in the country but is still at a nascent stage. In Indonesia, Telcos and even ride-sharing apps are fueling the high-profile race of mobile wallets – no doubt inspired by Alipay’s and WeChat early days strategy in China – but not a single e-payment option has become widespread.

southeast asia ecommerce landscape

Bank transfers and cash-on-delivery (COD) still remain the top two most preferred payment methods and continues to cripple ecommerce.

4. The key to C2C is through mobile

Consumer-to-consumer is estimated to make up at least 30% of ecommerce market share in the region but is tricky to measure because it happens on social channels like Facebook and Instagram and payment typically happens offline.

In Thailand, around 50% of online shoppers make purchases through a social network – making it the biggest social commerce market in the world. Consequently, it has attracted Facebook to make the country its first test base for social commerce payments and Facebook Shop.

This habit of preferring social commerce pushes players to focus on mobile to be able to capture the customer in an already familiar environment. In Singapore, 38% of online shoppers are making purchases through mobile, higher than the global average of 28%, and inspires home-grown companies like Imsold, Shopee and Duriana to focus on mobile platforms to appeal to more customers.

singapore ecommerce landscape

C2C players are also seen dominating Google Play Store in the Shopping category for every market, with Shopee being the most favored in almost all the countries. In the Philippines, the platform has become the answer to the high demand for popular international brands that only recently available in the country through official offline channels

5. Delivering ecommerce packages gets easier

The rise of ecommerce in the region has also boosted logistics infrastructure. The sector has reached an all time high of funding at $28.16 million in 2015 – led by aCommerce, the tech-logistics ecommerce solutions provider, with $20.2 million before its bridge series of $10 million earlier this July.

Meanwhile, JNE, the largest logistics company in Indonesia, stated that 70-80% of its revenue came from the retail sector dominated by ecommerce and hopes to maintain its annual growth of 30-40%. German-based DHL is also reportedly raising the stakes to grab market share, including the opening of a hub in Singapore.

The on-demand delivery service, led by ride-hailing apps like Gojek and Grab, is also thriving in markets where traffic congestion is distressing like in Indonesia and Thailand. Their motorbike fleets allow them to achieve same day delivery.

Where in the Philippines, cross-border package forwarding services like ShippingCart and POBox.ph are targeting the unique high volume of cross-border transactions in the country to fuel their businesses.

The many facets of Southeast Asia’s ecommerce landscape

Despite the warnings about the region’s diversity, the core ecommerce bottlenecks in Southeast Asia boil down to one – poor infrastructure. Lazada’s strong footprint in the region did not happen overnight, its early-adopter status enabled collection of customer data and the ability to build its own infrastructure – logistics (LEX) and payments solution (Hellopay) – in almost every market. But it almost cost them its business before getting swept off its feet by Alibaba.

southeast asia ecommerce landscape

It comes to show that regional players need to be able to adapt their strategies by keeping tabs on the dynamic trends and consumer behaviors. They need to prepare for a long-term investment before hoping to make their mark in the region and if not – better stick to just one market.

Find the ECOMScape series here: Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines.

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