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Here’s what you should know today.

1. Amazon completes acquisition of Zouq

Amazon has completed its acquisition of e-commerce firm Souq.com, which was first announced at the end of March and sees the U.S. retail giant enter the Middle Eastern market.

The deal is officially undisclosed, but sources previously told TechCrunch that Amazon is paying around $650 million.

The two companies said today that they have completed an initial integration that allows customers to log into Souq.com using their Amazon account credentials. Next up, they plan to integrate products and services between the two sites to leverage their respective scale.

In an announcement, Souq.com in particular spoke of the potential to integrate with Amazon’s global seller and customer base to boost its business.

Read the rest of the story here

 

2.Online lending platform gets $3m from Vertex to make a play for Indonesia

Singapore-based fintech startup Validus Capital has received US$3 million in funding from venture capital firm Vertex Ventures.

The online lending platform said in a statement that it will use the new funds to finance its expansion into new markets in Southeast Asia

As with most P2P lending models, the idea is to cut costs associated with more traditional ways of completing financial transactions.

A new initiative that Validus has been rolling out – and that it suggests will benefit from this latest capital raise – is its supply chain-focused financing service.

Under this scheme, Validus partners with larger corporates to help secure funds for their SME suppliers and customers that are in need of finance.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

3. Recommended Reading: Fashion retailers are reconsidering their chatbot strategies

According to research from GPShopper, a retail mobile app developer, only 19 percent of consumers are familiar with chatbots, and just 9 percent think the technology will improve their shopping experience.

As a result, brands that do choose to develop bots are moving away from platforms like Facebook, Kik and WeChat, and instead developing integrated Apple iOS programs.

Saks Fifth Avenue, for example, launched an update to its iOS app earlier this month that incorporates a messaging functionality allowing consumers to ask questions and make purchases directly through the app.

Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you should know today.

1. Philips Lightings introduces Facebook ‘chatbot’

Philip Lightings has launched a chatbot on its Singapore Facebook page to help users make a purchase decision and buying products directly on the platform.

The move is part of its LEDs Get Smart Campaign, aimed at educating consumers of the benefit of installing the right lights at home. People from anywhere in the world can try out the chatbot, providing they access it via the Philips Singapore Facebook page.

The company has also partnered with Lazada Singapore to launch its first-ever specialty e-store on the ecommerce platform. Alok Ghose, MD of Philips Lighting, said that the partnership will serve as an excellent opportunity for the company to tap into the growing ecommerce segment.

Read the rest of the story here

2. Flipkart raises $1.4 billion from eBay, Microsoft, and Tencent

Indian ecommerce giant Flipkart has confirmed that it has raised $1.4 billion in new funding with some big names like China’s Tencent, eBay and Microsoft as strategic investors.

These names join the existing Flipkart backers that include Tiger Global, Naspers, Accel and DST Global as strategic investors. The company is now valued at $11.6 billion and getting ready to battle Amazon and Alibaba.

The investment will also see Flipkart take control of eBay India, which will remain an independent ecommerce site.

“This is a landmark deal for Flipkart and for India as it endorses our tech prowess, our innovative mindset and the potential we have to disrupt traditional markets. It is a resounding acknowledgment that the homegrown tech ecosystem is indeed thriving and succeeding in solving genuine problems in people’s daily lives across all of India,” founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal said in a statement.

Read the rest of the story here.

3. New report by Criteo reveals a distorted view of Southeast Asian online retailers

According to the new report published by Criteo, Southeast Asian retailers lacking a cross-device perspective will have a distorted view up to 41% of their online transactions.

The company indicates that in the long run, this distorted view results in inefficient allocation of marketing spend which in turn has a direct impact on the quality of shopper engagement and the volume of customer acquisitions.

It emphasizes the need for retailers to deepen their understanding of cross-device consumer behavior and align marketing strategies.

“In today’s competitive landscape, ecommerce businesses cannot afford to draw the wrong conclusions and waste money on the wrong channels,” explained Alban Villani, General Manager, Southeast Asia, Criteo.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

Here’s what you need to know today.

1. Thailand’s Box24 is moving beyond laundry service

Through Box24, customers simply had to deposit the laundry, make a payment, track the status of their laundry through the mobile app and pick-up when its ready.

Founder Bond Thaiyanurak saw potential in his startup, and soon looked to explore into other verticals under the Box24 brand.

For ecommerce delivery, Box24 partnered with leading retail chainsTesco and BigC to launch a service called ShopBox24. For parcel delivery, it partnered with delivery company Kerry Express to deploy MoveBox24.

Box24 will also be deploying personal storage services with Kerry this year.

Regionally, there are already a handful of ecommerce lockers available, but Box24 differentiates itself by building hardware in-house. “We have a very different business model from other players — we are selling the lockers,” said Thaiyanurak.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

2. Pypestream raises $15M series A for its customer messaging platform

 Pypestream has expanded to offer messaging capabilities in businesses’ own apps and elsewhere. This goes beyond just sending text and images — users can also make payments, schedule appointments and send files directly from the messaging window.

“Brands thought, or agencies think, that people actually want to have general conversations with businesses and brands that aren’t specific to utility or aren’t specific to a need,” founder Smullen said.
“Just as a consumer, I don’t need to have a general conversation with Nike — but if my sneakers are broken, then my conversation with Nike is very necessary.”
Read the rest of the story here.

 

3. SCB Fintech Forum reveals key industry trend in Asia

According to key panelists at SCB’s fintech forum held on 28 February, agriculture tech and healthcare will become more prominent this year. We should be seeing the integration of big data which will help drive more movement within agriculture, including new digital platforms that will fund agritech projects.

Doctor-on-demand will also be introduced on a larger scale in Asia.

Read the rest of the story here.

 

4. BCBG Max Azria files for bankruptcy

Fashion house BCBG Max Azria Group LLC has filed for bankruptcy protection , the latest casualty in the struggling U.S. retail sector, as shoppers abandon malls in favor of internet shopping.

The company is taking steps to close its freestanding stores in Canada and consolidate its operations in Europe and Japan, in addition to the 120 retail stores closed as part of the restructuring efforts.

The re-shuffling will allow the company to hone in on customer shopping patterns, selected retail locations and ecommerce, a spokesperson for BCBG said in a statement.

Read the rest of the story here.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Lazada’s 12.12 sale nets $40.5 million

Lazada Group’s Online Revolution, also known as 12.12, has again proven to be the biggest online shopping event in Southeast Asia, ringing up US$40.5 million in sales.

About 60% of the gross merchandise value (GMV) of the December 12 event came from mobile, with shoppers spending an average of 12 minutes on Lazada apps browsing deals from international and local brands and sellers.

Read the rest of the story here

 

2. Asian postal services adapt to post-mail era

With traditional mail volumes dropping dramatically, ecommerce offers hope for national postal firms in Asia if they adapt quickly enough and do battle with giants like FedEx and DHL.

Asian postal firms “are doing some very innovative things to take advantage of ecommerce”, said Brody Buhler, global managing director for post and parcel at consultancy Accenture. Japan Post has partnered with convenience stores to provide 24-hour delivery, while Pos Malaysia is boosting its warehousing, logistics and other other capabilities in a bid to become a full-service ecommerce provider.

Read the rest of the story here

 

3. Online retailer brings catwalk to Indonesia’s streets

MullenLowe Indonesia has launched a branding campaign for Sale Stock, an emerging e-commerce fashion platform. Themed “Fashion for the rest of us”, the campaign aims to democratize good quality fashion for cost-sensitive women.

A television and online campaign that is running on YouTube, Facebook, Line and Instagram is titled “Catwalk Nusantara” (‘Nusantara’ translates loosely to ‘the archipelago’ and is a way of referring to Indonesia). The campaign emphasizes the ease of shopping online at Sale Stock.

Read the rest of the story here

 

Sale Stock has been making wakes in the industry this year. Most recently, it has launched the first chatbot in Southeast Asia. Read all about it here.

It is hardly a secret anymore – ecommerce in Southeast Asia is an enormous $238 billion opportunity that has been under the global radar in the recent years. It’s no longer about whether businesses should have an online presence, but instead how they can stay relevant to their audience in a quickly crowding space.

Indonesia Ecommerce Landscape

ECOMScape: Indonesia details the growing ecommerce ecosystem as of 2016. Source: eIQ

One market that has time and time again stood out is Indonesia thanks to more accessibility to mobile devices, affordable data plans and a youthful demographic propelling social channels and social commerce to the leading activity on the internet. It is a clear goldmine for brands, retailers and investors alike to unlock over 250 million unrealized online shoppers.

So how are they going to do this? Well, Indonesia is a mobile-first country and its citizens update their social networking apps twice more frequently than games and fives times more than music/video apps according to a study by Baidu.

In the next three years, Indonesia is expected to have over 92 million smartphone users, up 67% from 2015. This will push many startups to skip desktop entirely and focus on smartphone friendly ecommerce products. New apps have been the popular way to reach customers, but large spending for development, maintenance, and marketing have restricted companies from finding long-term success. And what happens when app downloads start to slow down as currently happening in the US?

wearesocial-indonesia-eiq

The rising global resistance to new apps

Almost 50% of smartphone users in the US did not install a new app last month while less than 25% of the ones who did returned to it after the first use. What’s even more shocking is a full 94% of revenue in the App Store comes from only 1% of all publishers, think Google and Facebook.  

Mobile isn’t dead but the opportunity is shrinking. So what does this mean for businesses scrambling to capture the attention of the world’s fourth largest population who prefers to use on average only 6.7 apps?

You don’t chase customers, you find them where they already are.

For the first time, messaging apps have surpassed social networks and that’s where chat commerce comes into the story.

Chatbot, chat commerce

Chat commerce isn’t the future, it is the present.

Chat commerce or conversational commerce is the intersection of messaging apps and shopping and is already a very familiar concept in the West. Businesses understand the importance of being readily available to their customers, especially as a poor customer service experience will drive 89% of them to a competitor.

According to Facebook, more than 50 million companies operate on its platform and send more than 1 billion business messages every month.

But having properly trained customer service reps to support hundreds to millions of personal conversations in parallel is difficult to scale for any business. Solution? Chatbot.

A chatbot is an AI (artificial intelligence) feature of a chat or messaging platform that simulates a human conversation with the user in order to provide them with the information or service they’re looking for.

Brands overseas like Taco Bell have partnered with Slack to allow customers to order and pay through the team communications platform.

Think about Siri who has been helping Apple users carry out tasks since 2011 or Amazon Echo, an at-home device by Amazon, which encompasses a chatbot named Alexa to read aloud weather reports, set alarms and more importantly, help customers order new products from Amazon.

chat-bot-amazon

Screenshot from Amazon Echo commercial.

These are only a few of many examples. Facebook Messenger also opened its platform earlier this year for businesses to build chatbots through its Messenger Send/Receive API.

The API will support sending and receiving text and also images and interactive rich bubbles containing multiple calls-to-action.

chat-bot-benefits, southeast asia chatbot

A chatbot can clearly offer a business great benefits to get closer to customers in a medium they are already familiar with, so why has there been little activity in Southeast Asia?

Call all chatbots

Southeast Asia has largely mirrored the West and particularly China in development of its ecommerce maturity. Yet, current chatbot growth has been stuck at the ‘idea phase’ – a lot of chatter and buzz about its revolutionary importance but no product.

“The reason why companies in Southeast Asia haven’t created chatbots isn’t because they don’t think the opportunity is there, but they lack the resources and most fundamentally – AI talent to build it,” comments Lingga Madu, Sale Stock co-founder.

No company has released a true commercial-scale, transaction-enabled MVP, that is, until now.

Sale Stock case study: Facebook Messenger’s first chatbot in Southeast Asia

One lesser talked about company has already begun testing its chatbot with Facebook, Indonesia’s most popular social channel. Sale Stock, the mobile first shopping platform widely popular among Indonesia’s young females, has become SEA’s first company to launch a chatbot that can handle end-to-end transaction on Facebook’s Messenger Platform.

Meet Soraya AI, a relatable, cheery chatbot who handles 100% of queries coming to Sale Stock’s Facebook Page and the brainchild of Facebook, Google, Palantir, and NASA engineers recruited by Sale Stock around the world.
sale-stock-chat-2, southeast asia chatbot

Soraya uses machine learning to shuffle through queries and decide whether to answer it autonomously or give recommendations to an agent instead.

Frequently asked questions such as “do you offer cash on delivery?” or “do you sell high heels?” are replied to almost instantly. In development since 2015, she can already handle 22% of all queries autonomously.

The beauty of machine learning is that the more information she receives, the smarter she becomes and the more accurate her answers will be.

Soraya has already improved response time by 20 – 40 times and currently replies within 60 s. That has granted Sale Stock a response time badge on their official Facebook page.

sale-stock-fb, southeast asia chatbot

Soraya has also been fed large amounts of past Sale Stock customer queries to enhance her intelligence. This combined with recent purchasing behavior and browsing history allow her to recommend consumers personalized products.

Buying the product is even more simple. Soraya asks for confirmation of the item, correct size and color, all within Messenger, and requests address and payment method. If it is a returning shopper, all previous payment information is saved so purchase is simply a click of yes.

sale-stock-chatbot, southeast asia chatbot

“Soraya was created to meet the needs of our customers, many of whom are living outside major cities on limited social media data plans where chat is free but browsing is not. Some have never even been exposed to digital shopping carts but chatting is second nature,” – Jeffrey Yuwono, Sale Stock President.

Trust is also a major concern that holds many Indonesians back from trying ecommerce. By creating a personable chatbot on a familiar channel, brands hope customers will feel comfortable sharing their personal details.

sale-stock-chat, southeast asia chatbot

Chatting with Soraya on Facebook Messenger

Sale Stock chat bot, Indonesia

What’s next for Sale Stock?

The company is already working to create viable chatbots for WhatsApp, LINE, BBM and SMS as they are the most popular messaging platforms their shoppers use. Sale Stock strongly believes in the Lean Startup methodology, “getting it out there as soon as possible to collect real, user feedback”.

“We’re still in the very early stage of our product and ironing out the bugs and adding features iteratively,” comments Madu.

All inquiries going to Sale Stock are monitored, independent of the channel source, on one platform created in house to control flow and fix any arising bugs.

The team hopes to fine-tune its technology to quite possibly launch SaaS in the future.

“The success of chat commerce depends on how well the machine can distinguish the details: context, intention, the slang, mix of dialects, and even the use of emojis so the customer never feels like they are chatting with a bot. The platform has to be robust enough to handle these typos and fringe use cases,” says Madu.

The future of chatbots

There has always been a fear of AI replacing tasks typically performed by humans, but customer support is a tricky area since personalization is at the core.

“As brand loyalty and exceptional customer service become the main priority for brands, companies simply cannot afford for bots to completely handle customer service and risk creating a negative experience. With that said, the live customer service representative will always have a place with the overall customer experience,” says Mayur Anadkat, Vice President of Product Marketing at call center software provider Five9.

The moment has not yet been reached when machine learning enables 100% accurate and instant replies to customers no matter the language, mix of dialect, slang or emojis – but it is in the foreseeable future. AI is here to enhance, not replace.

Not only will the rise of chatbots improve the reputations of brands but it will be expected of businesses by the next generation of shoppers. As Uber product manager Chris Messina put it, bots present a new, unpolluted opportunity to build lasting relationships with people.

Ultimately, the lack of friction is what makes the shopping experience a pleasant one and what will drive the A players to the head of the game.

By: Cynthia Luo

Wrapping up the day? Check out the most recent headlines here.

1. Singapore fintech/deeptech startup V-Key Signs Deal with Ant Financial

Through V-Key’s technology, Ant Financial will secure all transactions on AliExpress, Alibaba’s global e-commerce marketplace. Ant Financial is among the investor pool in US$12 million investment in V-Key’s Series B funding; one of the largest rounds for a Singapore-based deeptech and fintech company. V-Key has raised over US$16 million till date.

As detailed via press release. Find V-Key’s website here

 

2. AI startup gets $3m to put banking chatbots into Facebook Messenger

That Singapore-based startup, Active AI, has created a way for banks to offer you a chatbot. The team behind it today announced it has secured US$3 million in funding from IDG Ventures India and Kalaari Capital to persuade more banks around the world to pick up on its chatbots.

Read the rest of the story here

 

3. Indonesian government taking steps to tackle growth of ecommerce industry

The volume of ecommerce transactions in Indonesia is still relatively small but the government is taking anticipatory steps in the face of e-commerce industry growth as it is developing as a global trade model.

Read the rest of the story here