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On June 28, 2018, Alibaba announced the launch of Taobao Xinxuan (淘宝心选), which translates to ‘Taobao Selected’. After a year in alpha testing, the company’s new concept is finally available to the wider public.

Through the website or one of two physical stores in Hangzhou and Shanghai, users can shop for affordable quality lifestyle and functional daily necessity goods including home fragrance, smart power sockets, underwear, and sonic-control toothbrushes.

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Rimowa?

According to TechNode, the recently opened store in Shanghai was raided and emptied by eager customers in a mere two hours.

What is Taobao Xinxuan?

Appearance wise, the Taobao Xinxuan concept will remind many of Japanese retailer Muji, whose clean and simplistic stores offer a wide range of quality and affordable clothing, stationery, bags, and even furniture.

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Taobao Xinxuan Store Concept Design

From a business model perspective, Taobao Xinxuan is actually more like Xiaomi, the smartphone-manufacturer-turned-global-electronics brand. Its Manufacturer-to-Consumer (M2C) approach and short supply chain allows the company to quickly go from the latest consumer insights to manufacturers to create products and achieve go-to-market in a few months.

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Xiaomi Flagship Store in Shanghai

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Xiaomi Flagship Store in Shanghai

Arguably, Taobao Xinxuan could be considered a clone of the M2C ecommerce platform launched by Chinese gaming company NetEase called Yanxuan. Since its release in 2016, Yanxuan has seen rapid growth in a unique vertical that avoids direct competition with Alibaba and JD.com.

The Yanxuan model can be described as an ODM (Original Design Manufacturer) model as well. By going directly to Chinese manufacturers creating products for established global brands, NetEase is able to get the same quality while selling at a much lower price by skipping over distributors.

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NetEase’s Yanxuan website

By targeting young, mainly urban consumers who value quality and design but are also price sensitive, Yanxuan has been able to achieve rapid growth in the Chinese ecommerce space. The company reached a monthly GMV (gross merchandise volume) of RMB 60 million (about US$9 million) by Q3 2016, only a few months after its initial launch. This allowed Yanxuan to break into the list of top 10 Chinese ecommerce platforms based on GMV.

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Yanxuan Home & Living Category

Alibaba’s New Trojan Horse?

For a business to execute the M2C model well, it needs to understand what consumers want and then act on it swiftly. Considered the pioneer in M2C in China, Xiaomi is well known for asking its users directly what they’d like to see in terms of new features and products.

Another company that knows what its users want is – surprise, surprise – Alibaba. Being the largest ecommerce company in China, Alibaba has extensive data on what brands and products people are buying and when and where. This doesn’t even include the additional data it gathers through its other businesses Ant Financial, Ali Health, and its offline Hema supermarkets and ‘New Retail’ initiatives.

Alibaba’s US counterpart Amazon hasn’t shied-away from using its data to introduce its own private label brands to compete directly with the other brands selling on its platform.

“The company now has roughly 100 private label brands for sale on its huge online marketplace, of which more than five dozen have been introduced in the past year alone. But few of those are sold under the Amazon brand. Instead, they have been given a variety of anodyne, disposable names like Spotted Zebra (kids clothes), Good Brief (men’s underwear), Wag (dog food) and Rivet (home furnishings).”

New York Times, ‘How Amazon Steers Shoppers to Its Own Products’

And this move by Amazon isn’t a small pilot project. Amazon private labels have a large impact on revenue:

“The results were stunning. In just a few years, AmazonBasics had grabbed nearly a third of the online market for batteries, outselling both Energizer and Duracell on its site.”

Amazon’s home court advantage gives it a leg up versus other brands:

“Take word searches. About 70 percent of the word searches done on Amazon’s search browser are for generic goods. That means consumers are typing in “men’s underwear” or “running shoes” rather than asking, specifically, for Hanes or Nike.

For Amazon, those word searches by consumers allow it to put its private-label products in front of the consumer and make sure they appear quickly. In addition, Amazon has the emails of the consumers who performed searches on its site and can email them directly or use pop-up ads on other websites to direct those consumers back to Amazon’s marketplace.”

Alibaba has been flying under the radar with regards to any private label initiatives, and for good reason. Unlike Amazon, which started out as a retailer buying and selling products, Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall properties are pure marketplace plays from the beginning. Because Alibaba’s main goal is helping connect merchants and buyers via its platforms, a neutral stance is essential to the platform’s success.

It’s not surprising then that Alibaba decided to launch Xinxuan as ‘Taobao Xinxuan’ rather than ‘Tmall Xinxuan’. Originally a part of Taobao, Tmall spun off to provide a more premium B2B2C marketplace for authentic brands to sell their products online. Mixing in Xinxuan’s private label products would only upset brands competing in similar product categories.

Lazada’s LazMall a stepping stone towards introducing Lazada private label in Southeast Asia?

Last week, Lazada officially launched LazMall, its Southeast Asian version of Tmall. It’s a move towards splitting Lazada (‘b-to-C’) and LazMall (‘B-to-c’) and aims to offer a premium place for big brands to sell online, away from the grey market sellers on the platform.

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From the outside, this looks like an obvious move against JD, known to offer a better customer experience according to our recent Indonesia online marketplace survey.

However, seeing Alibaba’s new concept in China with Taobao Xinxuan, it’s not far-fetched the LazMall spin-off will lead to Lazada M2C private label brands in the near future.

The Chinese ecommerce market, being about 10 years ahead of the Southeast Asian one, acts like a crystal ball for brands operating in our region. Battle-tested brands with operations in China know better to diversify their channels before putting all their eggs into a single basket.

Southeast Asian-native brands are recommended to shake off their naivety and learn from China’s history.

Monogamy in ecommerce does not lead to happiness.

We conducted an online survey (“Mom & Baby Shopper Survey”) in February 2018 to understand the shopping behavior of Indonesian females (N=1,144), specifically mothers, when buying items in the Mom & Baby product category i.e. diapers, milk formula, toys, etc.

The results revealed whether these women preferred to buy baby products online or offline, how much they spent on average per order, what item they purchased on a frequent basis, their age, the family household income and what would convince them to increase shopping frequently.

The survey sheds light on the following topics:

  • What factors are causing consumers in the Mom & Baby category to continue to buy offline rather than online?
  • What aspects of ecommerce marketplaces are most important to Indonesian female shoppers and which marketplaces are most popular?
  • What items do Indonesian female consumers prefer to shop for online in the Mom & Baby category?
  • How do Mom & Baby category consumers start their online purchasing journey?
  • What is the shopper profile and annual spend of Mom & Baby shopper in Indonesia?

Chapter 1: The Online Potential for Mom & Baby Brands in Indonesia

The birth of a baby is a life changing event for a household in regards to its finances, hours of sleep received per night, and especially, the ongoing adjustment to becoming parents.

For every minute that passes, approximately 250 babies are born into the world.

Indonesia is a country with a population of more than 260 million and on average, 2.44 births per woman in 2015/2016 – the fourth highest among all Southeast Asian nations. It is approximated there are 1.6 million births per year in the country.

Figure 1: The average number of live births per woman in Southeast Asian nations. Source: Statista

To care for each new life, parents need to invest heavily in categories like diapers, milk formula, toys, clothing, education and especially, time. Over the next eight or ten years as the child grows older, starts school and requires different products and nutrition, certain shopping habits in the parents have already cemented.

This includes what brands they trust, what products they will recommend to friends and family and which channels to buy them from.
As the median age of new mothers in Indonesia at first birth is 22.8 years of age, younger than found in Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines, she is commonly already digitally savvy.

Indonesia is predicted to have the fourth largest middle-class consumption on a global scale by 2030.

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Figure 2: Middle class consumption around the world. Source: The Emerging Middle Class in Developing Countries, Brookings Institution

Considering the country’s middle-class household count is also expected to rise to 23.9 million in the next 12 years from 19.6 million in 2016, retailers are looking to capture common characteristics of middle class consumers – more spend on travel, holidays and family.

The purchasing power of Indonesians will also rise for the next two years as the country’s gross domestic product is expected to reach US$1.7 trillion by 2020 (Figure 2).

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Figure 3: Forecasted GDP of Indonesia is expected to reach US$1.7 trillion in 2020. Source: The Economist, World Bank, Badan Pusat Statistik Indonesia.

This is why companies are allocating massive budgets to build credibility with customers early in the journey of motherhood and more importantly, influence the behavior of future generations.

Not only does Indonesia house 132.7 million internet users, 1 out of 4 of the internet users in the country is a mother (Google & Kantar WorldPanel Indonesia). The number is expected to rise over the next three to five years as the majority of the population are females aged 10 to 19 years of age (Figure 3), meaning Indonesia can also expect a rise in new mothers.

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Figure 4: Indonesia’s demographic by age and gender. Source: Central Intelligence Agency

All of this makes the Mom & Baby category a highly attractive and rampant industry in Indonesia in the coming years.

How can companies capture new mothers and help them adapt to parenthood?

Sign up here to receive the full report of Digital Mom & Baby Shoppers Profile in Indonesia.

It’s amazing how this highly upvoted answer (Ron Rule’s answer to What stops Walmart from beating Amazon in online shopping?) is basically proving, without the author realizing it, why Disruption Theory works. The answer takes an exceedingly narrow view of the entire retail industry and labels the pursuit of leadership in an emerging market/channel (ecommerce), which is clearly where the world is heading over the next few decades, as mere “bragging rights”.

“Disruptive innovations tend to be produced by outsiders and entrepreneurs, rather than existing market-leading companies. The business environment of market leaders does not allow them to pursue disruptive innovations when they first arise, because they are not profitable enough at first and because their development can take scarce resources away from sustaining innovations (which are needed to compete against current competition).”

(Source: Disruptive innovation – Wikipedia)

The real answer is, Amazon has already won in online shopping. It is not due to a lack of effort from competitors, which is probably too little too late.

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This quote, attributed to Jeff Bezos, sums up why:

Your margin is my opportunity.

Even with Walmart’s massive revenues and profits (compared to Amazon), it cannot compete with the juggernaut that is built by Bezos. Amazon is “not profitable” by choice. All the earnings are put back into the business, either into more capital investments or to sell loss-leading products that lock in customers or drive competitors out of business, vertical by vertical, and market by market.

The investments that Amazon has made over the first two and a half decades of its existence give it momentum such that it is tough if not impossible for any other company to catch up over the coming decades: the technology stack, the deeply integrated logistics/supply chain (they are now getting into competition with FedEx/UPS), the effective third-party seller marketplace, the customer loyalty (through Prime).

Every exponential curve runs below the linear curve in it’s infancy, that is until it suddenly crosses over, goes through the roof and hits the sky. Even though in absolute numbers Walmart is still bigger than Amazon, only one of the lines below is going up and to the right:

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On top of all this, in the last couple of years, Amazon is also getting into physical retail, with acquisition of Whole Foods and pilot of Amazon Go. Here’s a great analysis of this: Amazon’s New Customer (I highly recommend Stratechery for tech+strategy topics in general).

At this point it is more likely that Amazon will eventually beat Walmart at physical retail, than Walmart will beat Amazon at online shopping. If Walmart wants to survive till the end of this century and not go the way of Sears, Walmart must come up with a strategy that creates value in a digital, super-connected future where everyone is hooked on to the convenience and choice furnished by online shopping, but in a manner that converts their massive current investments in physical retail from liabilities to assets.

The last thing Walmart should do is to build an Amazon clone. As then, they are playing by Amazon’s rules. And nobody beats Amazon at their own game.

 

Read the original on Quora by Pararth Shah, Software Engineer at Google

Not commonly prevalent in the news, Rocket Internet’s venture Jumia (formerly known as Africa Internet Group) has managed to stay under the radar while slowly dominating one of the largest developing internet markets in the world.

Only after speaking with a team of Jumia Vendor Success Senior Managers was I able to realize the massive potential of the continent’s top ecommerce player, and how it is not so different from Southeast Asia.

“Like every other region, Africa has its own challenges but the internet users [in Africa] are more than that of the US, UK and actually, both of them combined,” said Gaurav Jain, Head of Vendor Success, Jumia Group. “The number is behind only India and China.”

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Source: Statista, Africa has over 360 million internet users

During a knowledge sharing session held at aCommerce fulfillment center in Bangkok, ecommerceIQ spoke with the Jumia team to understand the unique properties of their ecommerce ecosystem, and uncover why the company was more similar to Go-Jek than the commonly perceived Lazada of Africa.

Africa’s ecommerce behemoth: The sum of all parts

To understand the extent and ambition of Jumia’s business goals in Africa, it’s important to know that Africa is a continent broken up into 54 countries and according to the company, consists of 1.3 billion consumers and 17 million SMEs/merchants.

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Jumia, started in 2012, was initially an e-tailer selling only electronics and fashion items when it moved into a marketplace model in 2015. It has since become the largest internet player in Africa and first unicorn leading in six regions: Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, and Morocco.

The company not only operates in 23 countries, but has effectively squeezed out the ecommerce players that came before them, namely Kilimall and Konga.

It’s safe to say that Jumia Group is no longer a simple, horizontal marketplace and is responsible for pumping out ventures Rocket Internet is famous for copying and pasting in developing markets: Jumia Food (foodpanda), Jumia House (Lamudi), Jumia Car (Carmudi), Jumia Jobs, Jumia Deals, etc.

But launching online services in a region where ecommerce is only 0.5% of total retail sales is not cheap.

The company posted a Sh14.9 billion ($148 million) loss before tax and other costs in December 2017 compared to Sh11.3 billion the year before.

While it doesn’t paint the entire picture, severe losses was one of multiple factors that spurred the company to create the Jumia One app combining its top services in one place. The app launched in Nigeria earlier in March and allows customers to shop online, order food, buy airline tickets and pay cable and electricity bills.

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“People like to shop on the mobile app. They prefer to have ecommerce handy so they can place an order on the go. The Jumia One app is growing, 42% to 56% in terms of mobile share.”

Other factors for launching Jumia One included:

  • It makes more sense to invest heavily into a single platform versus managing and marketing multiple brands
  • Consumers don’t have enough storage on their mobile phones to download multiple apps as mentioned by a user
  • Mobile penetration in Africa is expected to reach 50 percent in leading countries over the next five years – meaning over 300 million smartphones will be added to the market
  • The app is another revenue stream as Jumia marketplace merchants can buy advertising space for their products
  • It also allows the company to cement themselves as a strong payments player, vital for mass adoption as demonstrated by Alibaba’s Alipay

The company will dabble in micro-financing to merchants given its rich data. A win-win to give merchants more capital to invest in their online businesses and drive more traffic back to its platform.

“We know the patterns, the revenue, the number of orders. We lend out money so they can manage their shops,” comments Gaurav. “It’s a growth opportunity to accelerate their growth as fast as possible.”

“They can use mobile money, not only cash.”

The all-in-one app draws parallel to one of Southeast Asia’s unicorns. Jumia is becoming the superapp in Africa – a Go-Jek for 1.3 billion customers.

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What are then the challenges holding back Africa’s enormous potential? The typical it turns out.

Challenges in Africa mirror Southeast Asia’s own struggles

Africa’s obstacles preventing exponential growth of ecommerce are the same that plague Southeast Asia’s internet economy.

  1. People still want to visit offline stores for the look and feel to buy products
  2. Lack of trust by both customer and merchants who don’t believe in digital transactions
  3. Fragmented markets, different languages, customs
  4. Cash based society
  5. Underdeveloped infrastructure
  6. Shortage of digital talent and training/education

“They need to know that ecommerce is not a Ponzi scheme. Trust is a large issue. We show them how their products will sell, we show them the importance of visibility and assortment until they have confidence in us and they grow their business so it’s mutually beneficial,” says Gaurav.

“Sellers with offline shops aren’t used to waiting for payment. Cash flow is a problem with our vendors,” says Damola Ajayi, Head of Vendor Success, Jumia (Nigeria), when asked about his challenges. “We guarantee a 7 day payment cycle from day of shipment and even daily for our gold vendors.”

The company paved the way for other ecommerce players to come in, but currently there is no standout competitor apart from the expansion efforts of Chinese companies and the country’s predisposition for offline retail.

Creating the next 500 millionaires in Africa

What was most impressive about Jumia wasn’t its ‘superapp’ or the sheer size of the African market, it was the dedication and enthusiasm exuberated by each Jumia employee I met.

ecommerceIQ, Jumia

They understood the massive challenges ahead and were candid about how to tackle them.

Lack of vendor trust, digital skills or education?

  • Launch training 2 to 3 times a month to advise on marketing, pricing, and inventory management
  • Maintain a ‘fair’ playing field by enabling local businesses to offer COD (cash on delivery), whereas cross-border merchants don’t have this option
  • Spend heavily on marketing for its high performing vendors
  • Share insightful data with vendors on a weekly basis about top selling products across multiple categories, propose assortment and price forecasts

Lack of talent?

  • “The company brought in expats who managed senior roles and groomed locals to move up,” says Damola. “This was necessary for our early growth.”

Lack of cashless adoption?

  • Add convenience through JumiaPay allowing payment by debit card or bank accounts
  • Offering cash on delivery

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“We are able to cover the entire vendor journey,” comments Gaurav. “We offer services at every point the customer needs.”

So how are these band-aid solutions working out? At the knowledge sharing session, top performing Jumia vendors shared their experiences with me:

“If you dedicate yourself to Jumia in top product categories, mobile phones, there is no need for you to go offline. You can grow 70% [in sales] if you know what you’re doing.”

“Target the demands of the market and Jumia helps you focus. They will give you foresight.”

“We started with Jumia since 2013, we were selling a small number of products. During Black Friday, we sold 1,000 phones but for “Mobile Week” in March, we sold 15,000 Xiaomi phones, and broke the record for the Middle East.”

The company, while struggling with the perils of other companies prioritizing high growth over all else, is taking baby steps to expose its merchants to the world’s possibilities.

“We [Jumia] want to enable African customers to enjoy best products from the world at their doorstep,” shares Gaurav.

What can I say? The more the merrier.

 

Editorial comment: a quote was adjusted April 22 8:51am

If you’ve been in Thailand and toured its popular landmarks, it’s most likely you have passed by a store packed with Thais and tourists alike buying bags and bags of…well, bags. Crowded stores filled with unmistakable colorful patterns distinguish NaRaYa from other locally produced labels and its popularity among Chinese, Japanese and South Korean tourists speaks volumes.

The famous brand can be found at over 20 domestic stores scattered around Thailand and 13 international branches and after 30 years in the retail business, shoppers can finally go online to buy NaRaYa products.

ecommerceIQ sits down with the decision makers at Narai Intertrade Co,. Ltd. to understand what plans they have for 2018 and what their definition of successful retail is.

Obstacles to a fruitful online journey

For a brand that has enjoyed immense popularity among women in Asia across all age groups, it seems the company is actually late to the retail game given the prevalence of ecommerce in Southeast Asia.

A few factors explain why it took NaRaYa so long to finally focus on digital.

Narai Intertrade Co,.Ltd., the parent company of NaRaYa, is a family owned business established in 1989 and is the manufacturer, distributor and official retailer of its own brand, making the supply chain a tangled web of complexities.

But a common obstacle that keeps manufacturers and distributors from going direct to consumer is channel conflict. By selling online, the brand would be competing directly with its partners in other markets.

“Initially, we wanted to focus on selling traditionally in our physical stores, and on being a wholesaler for our overseas partners,” shares Mrs. Wasna Lathouras, President of Narai Intertrade Co.,Ltd.

“Doing ecommerce would mean cannibalizing our partners.”

“If you notice on our website, you will be directed to the online websites of our overseas partners such as in Japan. If we were to go online, our cost would definitely be cheaper but reduce the opportunity of our partners to market and sell our products in their local markets.”

So how did they get around upsetting current partners?

Simple.

“We launch ecommerce in markets where none of our dealers exist.”

Channel conflict aside, the owners share a few factors that drove them to tilt the scales in favor of ecommerce. One, it was hard for the company to ignore the pressure to sell online, especially as the executives took to social listening to understand the needs of its customers.

“We have really high demand for our products from customers that don’t live in major cities in Thailand. Being online, everyone with a mobile phone can get NaRaYa products in a few days,” says George Hartel, the company’s Chief Operating Officer. “It opens a new market and opportunity for us.”

Two, they found a partner able to handle multi-channel retail and provide enough flexibility to expand across the region when the company was ready.

Left to right: aCommerce Group COO Peter Kopitz, Narai Intertrade Co,.Ltd. President Mrs. Wasna Lathouras, Assistant CEO Mr. Pasin Lathouras, COO Mr. George Hartel

“Both NaRaYa and aCommerce need to grow together. That’s why we need to have our backend and distribution center ready for offline distribution, while aCommerce will take care of the online distribution,” says Mr. Pasin Lathouras, Assistant Chief Executive Officer.

Three, they realized what online could mean for new retail opportunities in the US, India and China markets and expansion even within home market Thailand.

“I would say that 80% [online revenue] will come from overseas, and 20% from Thailand,” shared George. “This is because Thailand is a tourism based country and ecommerce is relatively early in Thailand so primarily people are still shopping offline.”

And four, given their existing footprint, could they reach retail’s pinnacle, omnichannel?

“We are starting an evolution with pure ecommerce in the beginning and in the future, we could roll out an omnichannel experience, for example, tourists can preorder at the airport and deliver to hotels.”

But George is very clear in stating: “We are not substituting offline with online.”

NaRaYa offline also gets a makeover

The evolution of retail isn’t a sign that companies should close down shop and open webstores. What the headlines and trends instead point to are the expectations of a new shopper generation.

What factors will nudge Thais to spend their newfound middle-class income?

Shoppers waiting outside the mall with their bright yellow NaRaYa shopping bags.

Part of creating a wholesome and attractive brand is greatly affected by the user’s sensory engagement in brick and mortar stores. As one loyal NaRaYa shopper put it,

‘Every time I visit NaRaYa, it makes me feel relaxed and free to choose my new bags with quality staff, if you want any help you can talk with them.’

Enter the rise of ‘smart stores’ and new technologies bridging offline and online channels like RFID tags, smart mirrors in change rooms and even robots handing out cards to act as virtual baskets in Sephora’s case.

While Thailand’s commerce industry is not ripe for robots, NaRaYa has plans to heighten its in-store shopper experience.

Mrs. Lathouras shares details of the brand’s newest two-floor flagship store at ICONSIAM, scheduled to open in October of this year and estimated to span 1,450 sqm.

Not only will the flagship introduce four new brands, making a total of seven sub-brands available for long standing fans, it will also incorporate a cafe serving local tea.

The cafe will accommodate customers waiting for friends and family browsing in stores and offer a palatable drink menu suitable for its typical Asian shopper.

The care placed in the customer experience is vital to building any successful business but creating a memorable shopping experience doesn’t come cheap. The company plans to spend up to 2 billion THB ($64M USD) on its distribution channels, existing and new, to not only expand its presence offline but also modernize its traditional brand image.

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New Lalama product line by NaRaYa freshen the brand

“We want to rebrand our look and feel to be less housewives and domestic. We want to look modern and international but remain a luxury affordable brand.”

The company’s soft launch online will be on Lazada Thailand next week and offer an initial 300 SKUs, while the official launch scheduled for May will look to imitate what is seen in physical stores.

“NaRaYa wants global recognition, ultimately. Of course, it is a dream to see NaRaYa in fashion capitals but we are very conservative when it comes to our goals,” closes Mr. Pasin.

Talk to most experts in Southeast Asia about the potential of ecommerce in the region and they’ll find common ground: the real bottleneck towards growth lies primarily in logistics that can’t keep up.

Decrepit infrastructure, outdated customs processes, and the sprawling landscape all add up to a scenario notoriously murky to navigate. Indonesia, for example, is the largest internet market in Southeast Asia and it’s expected to drive the bulk of growth in ecommerce. Economic indicators are rosy and consumers have higher disposable incomes.

The problem? It’s a massive archipelago consisting of 17,000 islands. Ecommerce deliveries can take up to a week if delivery is even offered at all, leaving customers frustrated and uncertain whether they’d engage in a purchase again.

It’s a similar story in the Philippines, which has over 7,000 islands. Countries like Thailand may be geographically easier to navigate but it’s not without its own set of challenges: the Kingdom witnesses the second-highest road accidents in the world, just marginally behind Libya.

But simply adding more delivery vehicles and hiring people to drive them won’t instantly solve the problem. Within the logistics industry, there are issues such as fuel pilferage, lack of adherence to safety rules and regulations, and rash driving. These problems entail an inherent cost for fleet operators ordinarily passed on to end consumers in the form of delivery fees. And that’s a cost which can be avoided.

Thai company Drvr is trying to tackle these challenges head-on. It uses telematics, which allows devices to send and receive information across large distances, to track vehicle performance, driver behavior, unscheduled stops, and so on. Drvr installs an array of sensors inside vehicles to help managers keep track of the fleet and also provides a SaaS platform that displays an overall dashboard. It can be modified and tweaked according to client requirements, of which Mercedes Benz is one.

CEO and co-founder David Henderson, who hails from Seychelles, first moved to Thailand in 2014 following a stint at a telematics firm in Australia. The challenges of solving mammoth problems in Asia was the primary motive – he had originally pitched the idea to his previous employer but they were far too risk-averse for his liking. So he decided to quit and branch out on his own.

“The product we had two years ago was simply a GPS tracking product,” David tells ecommerceIQ. “We’ve matured significantly as a company since, and it’s fair to say that we have one of the most advanced fleet management and IOT platforms in the world now.”

The Drvr analytics dashboard

Why start in Thailand?

David explains that his target market isn’t just the logistics sector, but any business that owns and operates a large fleet of vehicles. This could entail players in transportation as well as construction. Such businesses need to keep a keen eye on the health of their vehicles to make sure that drivers and support staff aren’t running amok.

“Thailand is a natural market for us because there are over 3 million vehicles manufactured here annually with commercial vehicles accounting for half that number. That’s the primary reason we’re based here,” he explains.

Drvr’s core solution aims to make fleet operators operate efficiently. It achieves this via a number of ways – the first, as mentioned earlier, is via the predictive analytics platform it offers. The driver version of its app also combines gamification elements to help coax drivers into following the rules. There are rewards every time they adhere to a certain standard such as the maintenance of an average speed or keeping unscheduled stops to a minimum – these could be in the form of cash bonuses or enhanced performance reviews, but is agreed mutually between the fleet manager and driver. The company says this helps reduce the element of confrontation between them and HR.

“One of our immediate use cases that we can prove to our customers is in the case of fuel theft. Fuel theft is a major issue, not just in Thailand but right across the world in fact. It takes on different forms in different areas – [in Thailand] it tends to be siphoning but in Australia and other places […] people tend to fraudulently buy fuel or fill up their own car with the company credit card. We can detect these scenarios and prevent them from happening,” says David.

Before Drvr came along, the common solution to this issue was that companies would simply pay their drivers lower. These would lead to distorted economic incentives – drivers would simply shrug their shoulders and pilfer more fuel from the vehicle in order to sell it for cash. And the cycle would worsen.

David doesn’t disclose how many customers he has but does say that the startup turned a profit last month. While they’re based in Thailand, the largest market is currently Myanmar in terms of volume. However, both Indonesia and the Philippines are high on his list of priorities.

“We see Indonesia as the critical market in Southeast Asia – volume-wise, it’s just one with huge potential. Margins are a bit lower, admittedly, but there are big opportunities there,” he adds.

“At the same time it’s very tricky to get a foothold – we’ve failed a couple of times because of the difficulty of finding a reliable local partner. If you’re successful in Indonesia, it’s a massive tick on your profile.”

What trends does he notice?

Fleet analytics companies aren’t exactly mindblowing tech and there’s a few of them around already such as Cartrack and Coolasia. For David, however, they’re trying to set themselves apart in terms of the sophistication of their platform and the clients.

Mercedes Benz trucks, one of their key clients, actually ships all vehicles in Myanmar with Drvr sensors pre-installed. This provides a certain degree of validation when pitching to other companies. Drvr is also helping facilitate the growth of a subscription vehicle model – whereby fleet owners ‘rent’ vehicles from manufacturers as opposed to simply buying it outright and then allowing it to depreciate over its lifecycle.

This scenario – which David claims is already happening in markets like Australia – necessitates razor-sharp analytics so manufacturers know how to charge on an hourly or monthly basis. Analysts need to understand costs specifically and it’s simply not possible to do that without carefully monitoring existing vehicles to figure out when it’s liable to break down, what the fuel costs are, and other predictive analytics.

He claims Drvr is working with manufacturers interested in this model – the sensors and analytics will help them build a financial model – but doesn’t name names.

Will IOT engulf Asia?

Some people might scoff at the idea of high-tech commercial vehicles plying the backwaters of Asia given how cheap labor costs are, but David doesn’t believe it’s so far-fetched. He agrees on the fact that the economic imperative, for now, is missing but says the costs of devices and provisioning the service is “much lower than what it was in the past.”

“If you’re in ecommerce or logistics, the reality is that customers expect goods to be delivered the same day or as quickly as possible. In order to facilitate that you can’t have drivers sleeping on the side of the road or stealing fuel. It damages your brand and the perception of your service. Even the most old-fashioned Thai companies are beginning to realize that,” he explains.