Looking at ASEAN’s current $15 billion online retail sales and 19% YOY growth, the region’s ecommerce potential will continue to rise for the years to come.

Source: aCommerce Data & Research

Aside from the ecommerce opportunity in ASEAN, there are some market characteristics that professionals should be aware of before setting up own ecommerce operations. Understanding these characteristics and obstacles will define the success of future business endeavors.

So how can companies get started and set up a successful ecommerce business? What are the areas to look into before entering ecommerce?

Following this checklist will hopefully help ask the right questions and trigger appropriate initiatives: Read more

In a recent study by McKinsey, Southeast Asia was identified as one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a combined Gross Domestic Product of $2.4 trillion. Southeast Asia is also home to a rapidly growing population of active internet users who are starting to use the internet to research products and shop online.

With an increasingly tech-savvy population used to conveniences offered by ecommerce in their everyday lives, it is only expected that this will influence ecommerce adoption for B2B sales. Decisions for companies are ultimately made by individuals.

And B2B sales are currently anything but convenient. A supplier selling electronics wholesale may have orders coming in from sales representatives by phone call, email, or even physical mail and fax. The difficulty of consolidating B2B orders from a variety of sources have been creating headache since 2001, as according to Richard Jacobson, ex-B2B Internet Research Manager of IDC Asia Pacific, “the biggest driver of B2B adoption is the lowering of administrative costs for buying and selling activities.”

In fact, the opportunities and benefits of B2B ecommerce in Southeast Asia have not gone unnoticed: Singapore Press Holdings is tying up with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to develop the region’s first bilingual B2B ecommerce platform to enhance cross-border trade between China and Southeast Asia. While UOB is reported to launch a B2B marketplace in the first quarter of 2017.

However, since these partnerships are still in the early stages, businesses won’t have an easy option for a while.

If you are running a B2B business in Southeast Asia and have been through the hassle of consolidating orders across a range of sources, it might be time to proactively move your wholesale business online.

On one hand, you could apply to sell on a B2B marketplace like Alibaba or Indonetwork or you could choose to set up an ecommerce portal on your own. Both marketplaces and private ecommerce portals have their benefits — it’s just a matter of choosing the B2B channel that best suits the size of your business.

1. For manufacturers and large scale distributors: Alibaba’s B2B marketplace

With US$1.49 billion in revenue coming from Alibaba international B2B marketplace and its portal for China-based buyers and suppliers, the wholesale behemoth is the product source for retailers shopping for everything from motorcycles to cashew nuts. For businesses looking to reach as many prospective buyers as possible, Alibaba may be your B2B channel of choice.

However, it is important to note that Alibaba is best suited for large-scale manufacturers who enjoy economies of scale and do not prioritize strong brand identity.

If you’re selling under a B2B marketplace like Alibaba, visitors will see Alibaba’s branding before they see your brand.

If Alibaba looks like the right fit for you, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Get a paid membership

Alibaba offers “free” memberships, although the “free” option does comes with a catch. Your items will be ranked last, which makes it difficult for prospective buyers to chance upon your products. You will also be limited to only listing 50 products, and without having the product showcases, verified icons, customization, or the ability to quote for buying requests


Compete on other things beside price

With products on Alibaba as cheap as they are, competing on price alone can be difficult for SMBs. After all, the cheaper your products are, the lower your profit margin becomes. Instead of falling into a price war, you can offer faster shipping, or faster response time when it comes to customer service.


Ensure your images and descriptions are optimized

Take clear, high-quality product photos to give your buyers a good idea of what they’re paying for. Similarly, providing accurate descriptions of your products that outline all necessary specifications — from material to measurements — to provide potential buyers with everything they need to make an informed purchase.

2. For independent designers and distributors: Private wholesale portals

For B2B sellers who run a distribution business, a marketplace like Alibaba may not be the ideal space for business. Some may have exclusive rights to sell certain products or brands in a specific region, or they are selling items unique to their brand.

If branding is an important part of your business, a private wholesale portal ensures that you can maintain control over how your products are presented to prospective buyers.

There’s a big catch when it comes to private portals. Unlike the added discoverability offered by public marketplaces, wholesaling through your private site means that you’ll have to find alternative ways of driving retailers to your site.

A private B2B portal is suitable for businesses that are either already running a wholesale business or looking for a scalable wholesale B2B option. According to the customer satisfaction survey by TradeGecko, a cloud-based inventory management software company, there are some important areas of consideration when choosing a private B2B portal:

Inventory management

As your business grows, there will be more inventory to manage and having more inventory means it will become increasingly difficult to manage visibility of inventory levels, especially if you decide to open a separate store for wholesale purposes. If this sounds like an area of concern, using a system such as TradeGecko B2B ecommerce ordering platform will give businesses the opportunity to sync the inventory levels of a B2B site with shopping cart platform.


Automated notifications

Moving to the cloud also lets you link up different business applications like accounting and fulfillment to deliver better customer experiences through automated notifications that update your customer on the status of their order. By sending updates to your customers every step of the way, you’ll save plenty of time on fielding inquiries.


Bulk data import

When new retailers start purchasing, you don’t have to manually enter in all the customer’s data into the system. Instead, you can set up online application forms that enables the bulk import of data — reducing man hours and transcription errors.

This means that next year, whether adding 600 new customers or 6 million new customers, the amount of time spent on data-entry won’t change.

Adopting ecommerce for the B2B side of your business will enable you to stay ahead of the curve as you’ll be making it easy for your buyers to purchase products when they need it. After all, buyers are expecting the immediacy, transparency and accuracy of retail ecommerce to carry over into the B2B world now that it’s well infiltrated the B2C world.

By Vera Lim, Inbound Marketing Manager at TradeGecko