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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.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Malaysia may be the second smallest Southeast Asian nation but it doesn’t lack ambition to develop itself into a powerhouse. Prime Minister Najib Razak recently out-hustled neighbour Indonesia to appoint China’s ecommerce tycoon Jack Ma to advise the country’s government on its route to develop a strong digital economy.

These ambitions don’t come out of thin air. In 2015, Malaysia’s ecommerce market was estimated at $1 billion, which constitutes 1.1% of country’s total retail sales (though these numbers may be skewed). Malaysia’s ecommerce market is on a par with Singapore not only in market size, but also in terms of the well-developed infrastructure within the country compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. This might explain why Malaysia is the origin for some of the biggest tech companies in the region such as the taxi hailing app Grab and Catcha’s iProperty Group.

In the next ten years, Malaysia is predicted to increase the online shopping market size eight-fold to $8 billion, but where does the country’s ecommerce stand now? ecommerceIQ shares ECOMScape: Malaysia to provide a quick overview.

1. Surprise, surprise, Lazada emerges as the leading mainstream platform

Lazada, Southeast Asia’s clone of Amazon, has emerged as the leading business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace in Malaysia with around 20 million visitors per month while closest rival 11street.my, a South Korean marketplace, grew to become the second biggest online marketplace with more than 7 million visitors per month only a year and a half after launching.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Locally-run Lelong.my, which started as an electronics auction site but now turning itself into a B2C marketplace, gets around 6 million visitors per month.
While these companies are still competitors to Lazada, none of them pose a real threat to Lazada’s leading position, especially after its acquisition by Alibaba earlier this year (deep pockets)

2. Service providers are early online adopters

Malaysia’s online space is filled with service providers who choose to sell services through ecommerce to happy users. A smart move considering 50% of Malaysians in a recent PwC Survey said they shopped online because of convenience.

These early adopters include:

  • KFIT: started its fitness business in Malaysia offering a subscription model for unlimited access to various gyms, and has now expanded to other categories such as selling online spa and beauty procedures.
  • GoCar: car rental by the hour or day through mobile app that offers an alternative to car rental and car ownership in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
  • ServisHero: a mobile marketplace that allows search and booking of home service providers such as a plumber or repairman.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

3. Mobile shopping platforms on the rise

66% of consumers surveyed in the PwC report have used their phones to make purchases. It implies that the majority of 50% of respondents who have started shopping online in Malaysia within the last three years are heading straight to mobile marketplaces.

Among Malaysia’s most popular shopping apps are companies such as local imSOLD, Singapore-based Shopee and Carousell, Japan’s Qoo10 and global players like Taobao and eBay.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

As Malaysians on average spend 3 hours per day on social media, social commerce becomes quite popular – 31% of online shoppers in Malaysia have purchased directly via a social media channel. The most common being Facebook and Instagram, which is preferred by 41% and 22% of Malaysians, respectively.

4. Good banking system means one less problem for ecommerce

Malaysia has well-developed banking infrastructure and as a result, its residents are more accustomed to digital payments than most Southeast Asian nations. 37% of Malaysia’s population uses mobile banking, while nearly 20% made digital payments and used banking cards in 2014.

According to the global payments solution provider Adyen, the preferred payment method of 42% online shoppers is online banking where shoppers are redirected to their online banking environment to complete purchases.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Source: The Global Ecommerce Payments Guide by Adyen

As a result, there are plenty of payment gateway solution providers in Malaysia, yet few companies offer mobile wallet solutions as they would struggle to change Malaysian habits regarding using online banking.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

5. Newcomers fight to grab a share of logistics

Successful ecommerce in Malaysia has contributed to increased competition among logistics service providers. The country does not have major infrastructure issues such as islands or bad roads like in the Philippines and Indonesia, posing less obstacles for startups to offer straightforward parcel delivery.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Traditional last mile delivery companies such as POSMalaysia, Nationwide Express and SkyNet have been somewhat lagging behind adopting new technology and are now being challenged by newcomers like Ninja Van, who proudly states it’s “powered by proprietary cloud-based technology”.

And it’s not only rookies in logistics fighting for their share. In Malaysia, the competition is quite tough among fulfillment service providers who focus on serving the needs of online merchants.

Companies such as DHL, SP Ecommerce, aCommerce, theLorry.com and others are battling for clients not only among themselves, but also with the biggest client – Lazada.

Malaysia Ecommerce Landscape

Lazada already pushed its own logistics service, Fulfillment by Lazada (FBL) in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. The online marketplace offers end-to-end fulfillment solution at a fixed cost per item delivered. As the biggest player in the market and scaled operations, Lazada’s price may be hard to beat.

“Increasingly, having an online shopping functionality is becoming the norm, rather than the exception and it is only going to be more widespread,” said Jon-Paul Best, Head of Financial Services for Nielsen Malaysia.

Click here to download the full, high resolution version of ECOMScape: Malaysia and join the ecommerceIQ network to not miss out on ecommerce market trends and insights.

For more information on other ecommerce landscapes, take a look at:

ECOMScape: Indonesia

ECOMScape: Thailand

ECOMScape: Singapore

ECOMScape: Philippines

Why We’re Heading Towards a Bloodbath and 4 Strategies to Avoid it

Being the new kid on the block means that ecommerce ventures in Southeast Asia have the luxury to learn from the mistakes of others from mature ecommerce markets like the US and China. It has been over 20 years since Amazon (1994) and eBay (1995) were founded, Jack Ma started Alibaba in his Hangzhou apartment in 1999, right before the Internet 1.0 bubble burst.

A lot has happened in global ecommerce since then, including the slow but steady march of Amazon, the quick rise and fall of daily deals and flash sale sites, and Alibaba’s blockbuster IPO in 2015. What’s next? This historical review creates the two frameworks, the Ecommerce Lifecycle and Ecommerce 1.0/2.0, to help predict the future opportunity of ecommerce in Southeast Asia.

1. The Ecommerce Lifecycle – How Ecommerce Models Evolve Over Time

There is a distinct pattern that has emerged from the more mature ecommerce markets’ evolution that offers a degree of prescience for ecommerce in Southeast Asia. This follows the trajectory of Classifieds and C2C to B2C to eventually Brand.com. The US went from Craigslist, eBay and Amazon to brand sites like Nike, J.Crew and Gap. China went from Taobao, Tmall and JD to the many standalone and marketplace brand sites, like Estée Lauder, Burberry and Coach.

Today’s Southeast Asia is following a similar pattern but at a much faster pace due to “1 to n,” horizontal progress and the resulting leapfrogging behavior. In our region, we have Classifieds (OLX), C2C (Tarad, Tokopedia, Shopee), B2C (Lazada, Zalora, MatahariMall) and Brand.com (L’Oreal, Estée Lauder, Adidas) all happening at once within a very short time frame.

The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

Figure 1: Ecommerce Lifecycle Model

LIMITATIONS TO THE MODEL

Local nuances give rise to unique ecommerce business models

eBay could only have been invented in the US because of its auction-driven model in a consumerist culture characterized by excess goods and plenty of hobbyists (think baseball cards and Pez dispensers). eBay didn’t work in China for many reasons, one being the auction model was not appealing to Chinese users who preferred to buy first-hand goods and to negotiate person-to-person via chat.

Tmall’s B2B2C model originated in China because of the bazaar-like, hustle and bustle shopping environments that many Chinese were used to in their offline world.

HOW SOUTHEAST ASIA ECOMMERCE IS DIFFERENT

Southeast Asia is a hybrid between the US and China

Lazada, the dominant ecommerce platform in Southeast Asia, is both an Amazon and a Tmall. Founded in 2011 by Rocket Internet as the “Amazon of Southeast Asia”, Lazada today gets 70% of its GMV from third-party, marketplace transactions, with the remaining 30% generated through “traditional” Amazon-style direct retail. Post-Alibaba acquisition, it’s likely that Lazada will follow the Tmall model and move towards a 100% marketplace with all the model’s inherent scaling benefits.

Compare this to Amazon, which traditionally used to be 100% direct retail but has been moving towards a marketplace model. Today, Amazon gets 59% of its GMV from B2B2C.

B2C, B2B2C and Brand.com all happening at the same time

In China, brands progressed from selling via Tmall as a stepping stone towards operating their own brand.com site. A case in point is Uniqlo, which started selling through a Tmall flagship store and then later added their own brand.com webstore.

In Southeast Asia, we see brands doing both at the same time, selling via Lazada as well as their brand.com stores, in addition through distributing through e-tailors like Central Online and MAP. This is driven by technology making it much easier to sell through different channels but also necessitated by the high degree of fragmentation in the ecommerce market. Consolidation is expected to happen soon.

Southeast Asia is mobile-first, C2C ecommerce is jumping straight into mobile marketplaces

Whereas in mature ecommerce markets desktop C2C still plays a pivotal role, in Southeast Asia the leapfrogging towards mobile is disrupting traditional, desktop-first marketplaces. Mobile-only C2C marketplaces like Carousell and Garena-backed Shopee are making aggressive moves against their older desktop counterparts like Tarad in Thailand and Tokopedia in Indonesia. With an estimated 85% and 79% of online shopping outside of the major metro areas in Thailand and Indonesia happening on mobile, it’s not surprising that companies like Facebook are also betting on mobile C2C. The ad giant recently launching mobile payments in Thailand where an estimated 50% of C2C transactions are happening on social networks.

2. Ecommerce 1.0 to Ecommerce 2.0: 4 Strategies to Avoid the Imminent Ecommerce Bloodbath in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is the next ecommerce gold rush. For this very reason, it’s also quickly becoming the next ecommerce bloodbath. We’ve already seen many casualties, especially in the B2C space of selling third-party brands. As we previously predicted, Rocket Internet’s Zalora had to sell their Thailand and Vietnam businesses for chump change to local retailer Central Group. This same year, Cdiscount Thailand, part of French retail conglomerate Groupe Casino, was sold for $31.5 million (28 million EUR) to TCC, a local Thai company that also owns the popular Chang beer brand. 

Ecommerce 1.0: Selling other people’s stuff to the masses at low margins

Ecommerce guru Andy Dunn adopted a strategy that allowed his business to stand a fighting chance in the Amazon bloodbath of the US.

“If you’re selling other people’s brands, you are competing not via a local group of competitors but with everyone. In this type of market, you might imagine having one large national winner. You might imagine that winner is ruthless about scale and cost, and is run by a visionary leader who with an extreme long-term focus. Such a company might not make real money for a long time — but when it does — it will be incredibly powerful.”

With Alibaba coming into the region through the $1 billion Lazada acquisition, it increasingly looks like ‘Alizada’ is becoming the big threat for other retailers in the market, both in the pure-play and omni-channel space. Expect the bloodbath to intensify and more consolidation to happen over the next few years.

Today, none of the B2C / Ecommerce 1.0 players in ASEAN have dominant market share yet.

Granted, Lazada has a headstart with an alleged 20% market share (2014) but this number pales in comparison with Amazon’s 60% in the US, Tmall’s 50.6%, and JD’s 51.9% (direct retail B2C market) in China.

ecommerce 1.0, The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

The Ecommerce 1.0 Goliaths

Over the next 5-6 years, Southeast Asia B2C will go through further consolidation to end up in a 1-2 player game

There is no better way to visualize the ongoing consolidation in Ecommerce 1.0 than with ‘search interest’ data from Google Trends. The graph for Thailand shows the rise and fall of desktop C2C and daily deals, the fragmentation in B2C, and the rapid ascension of Lazada.

google trends, The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

Figure 3: Google Search Interest Showing Ongoing Consolidation in Ecommerce 1.0

This is where things start to get interesting. Whereas Ecommerce 1.0 is a game of brute force and strength, Ecommerce 2.0 exploits 1.0 loopholes in many creative ways in order to avoid the zero-sum game against the likes of ‘Alizada’.

“This next generation of ecommerce companies is as much about what you exclude as what you include. It is a paradox that excluding some things takes more time than including everything. The new models are fundamentally — whether the merchandise is proprietary or not — about merchandising.” — Andy Dunn on Ecommerce 2.0

The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

Figure 4: Ecommerce 2.0 – Four Strategies for Avoiding the Bloodbath

Gilt, the posterchild of Ecommerce 2.0, rose from the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis with a unique business model that offered high-end luxury goods at a fraction of their original price through time-sensitive flash sales. One of New York City’s first unicorns at a point in time, Gilt later struggled as the economy recovered and brands no longer needed a distribution channel for clearance stock.

While Gilt played the pricing angle, others like Birchbox and Rent the Runway innovated on the product side by offering a unique shopping experience. Birchbox started the monthly beauty subscription commerce craze and inspired countless “Birchbox for X” clones. Rent the Runway is basically fashion on-demand by providing users rental access to high-end, designer fashion.

Ecommerce 2.0 in Southeast Asia: A glimpse of hope for aspiring ecommerce entrepreneurs?

With the Ecommerce 1.0 bloodbath in Southeast Asia still ongoing as we speak, a few entrepreneurs have realized that it’s futile to compete against the Lazada’s and MatahariMall’s of the region without deep pockets or any other strategic moat. Instead, they are focusing on emerging opportunities in Ecommerce 2.0 by positioning themselves in a unique way.

Proprietary Merchandise

Pomelo Fashion

Founded by the ex-Thailand Lazada founding team, Pomelo Fashion is one of the first Ecommerce 2.0 companies in Southeast Asia. Rather than selling other brands’ products with low margins, Pomelo Fashion has taken a M2C/D2C (Manufacture / Direct-to-Consumer) approach, focusing on building its own fashion brand and vertically integrating its supply chain, going as far as manufacturing its own clothing and apparel.

The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

Glazziq and Franc Nobel

Inspired by Warby Parker’s success in the US, Glazziq and Franc Nobel are applying the proprietary merchandise model in the eyewear space in Thailand and Indonesia, respectively. Glazziq adds a local spin by positioning itself as prescription eyewear for Asians.

The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

Sale Stock

In Indonesia, another startup has taken a cue from the Facebook and Instagram seller playbook, and scaled it 10x. Sale Stock, a fast-fashion startup based in Jakarta has taken a similar path to Pomelo Fashion, with vertical integration of design, manufacturing, and supply chain.

Proprietary Selection

Motif Official

Motif Official is a fashion retailer based in Bangkok focusing on proprietary merchandise and selection. Their ‘Motif Official’ label is designed and manufactured in-house. For their ‘Motif Select’ range, they select and curate minimalist brands from across the world. Motif’s ecommerce strategy eerily resembles that of Nasty Gal in the US, where founder Sophia Amoruso started the business in 2006 by curating vintage clothing sourced from second hand stores.

The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

“We are an online concept store specializing in women’s apparels and accessories; from our own in-house label ‘Motif Official’ to our ‘Motif Select’ range, where we curate the best pieces from brands all around the world to your everyday wardrobe. We believe in the concept of minimalism, with attention to details, shapes and silhouettes.”

Motif proves that you can still compete with the big retailers by focusing on a niche and dominating a category through curation. Many of the premium brands on Motif would never sell on Lazada, let alone Zalora.

Following pure play ecommerce companies in the US like Warby Parker and Birchbox who went offline to augment their brand, Motif also operates physical stores in Central World and Siam Discovery in the heart of Bangkok.

 

The Evolution of Ecommerce Business Models in Southeast Asia

Figure 5: Ecommerce 2.0, Global vs SEA Comparison and Opportunities

The Future of Ecommerce in Southeast Asia

Applying either the Ecommerce Lifecycle or Ecommerce 1.0/2.0 framework makes it easy to see where ecommerce in Southeast Asia is headed.

The B2C war will continue to wage for the next 4-5 years until some run out of money and throw in the towel. In China, this process took almost a decade with Tmall going from 0% to 50.6% market share from 2008-2014. In the direct retail B2C space, JD went from 15% to 51.9%. In the same period, previous leaders like Dangdang (16.2%) and Amazon China (15.4%) faded into irrelevance with 4% and 3.5% market share remaining as of 2014.

During this time, we will also see more startups and venture capital going into the Ecommerce 2.0 space. Ecommerce 2.0 isn’t new to Southeast Asia— many have tried to bring the Birchbox model into the region but failed due to the immature market. However, the next few years may be a fertile time as evidenced from the traction that companies like Pomelo Fashion, Sale Stock, and Motif are getting.

Does this mean we can go ahead and copy something like Gilt into Southeast Asia? It really depends. A model like Gilt needs access to old inventory of premium brands which in markets like Thailand and Indonesia are controlled by 1-2 distributors such as Central and MAP. This is the same issue that caused the downfall of Zalora in the same markets. Any Ecommerce 2.0 model launched in Southeast Asia will need to be customized for the local market.

Ecommerce in Southeast Asia is still relatively young, with only 1% of total retail GMV being generated online compared to 7.1% and 15.9% in the US and China. However, the region is already widely being touted as the next frontier of ecommerce opportunity, or the next ecommerce gold rush and recent research predicting the market to grow 32% year-on-year to reach $88 billion by 2025 (6.4% penetration), up from today’s $5.5 billion (0.8% penetration). As shown in our analysis, there are plenty of opportunities in ecommerce for those with deep pockets as well as those who adopt unique and local strategies.

“Don’t always go through the tiny little door that everyone is trying to rush through… maybe go around the corner and go through the vast gate that no one’s taking.” — Peter Thiel

By Sheji Ho

Share your feedback to @ecomIQ and @sheji_acommerce