As email marketing is essential for businesses to continue growth and more than half of marketers in Southeast Asia are using some form of automation such as email triggering, it’s important to know what channels and platforms their customers in the region prefer.

A recent survey by JakPat, one of Indonesia’s open survey platforms, revealed that Gmail by Google is the leading email service in Indonesia used by 96% of respondents followed by Yahoo!Mail with 56% users.

The JakPat survey showed majority of 987 respondents use two or more email accounts, up to as many as five, but most respondents claim using Gmail the most. 9% of respondents use email domains given by the workplace or university, 8% use Outlook and 4% use iCloud email service.

Number of email accounts Indonesians use

Source: JakPat, Which and Why: E-mail Service and Web Browser of Choice, Jan 19, 2017, n=987 respondents who use email aged 16-39

The popularity of Gmail in Indonesia offers several benefits for ecommerce marketers. First, businesses can use Gmail ads to advertise to Gmail users at the top of their inboxes.

The interactive ads look like normal emails and have responsive designs, making it great for viewing ads on mobile phones.


The Gmail ads come in several formats – a single image or catalogue view – offering businesses options to be creative about the message they want to communicate to their consumers.


The inbox ads also offer a range of targeting options – affinity segments, topics, interests and targeting users who have received emails containing contextual keywords. It also allows targeting based on the domain of emails, including that of competitors’.

Secondly, Gmail made image loading safer a few years back meaning that images in emails are displayed by default and users are able to see the rich photos or promotions. Note, there is still an option for users to disable images for incoming messages.

Ecommerce software platforms such as Shopify also offer several integrations with Gmail, for example, adding a customizable contact form to your online store.

While JakPat wanted to know if email usage habits differ among students and employees, it found no significant difference.

Two thirds of respondents named creating a social media or ecommerce user account as one of the key purposes to use email, second only to corresponding.

Among other reasons named for email usage are knowing notifications from actively used social media (44%) and receiving shopping promotions (31%).

Some other behaviors to take note of:

  • 81% of respondents use a mobile phone to check a new email while only 19% use a computer and of those who check email on their phones, 86% do it via an application.
  • 81% of respondents who use email have allowed a notification and 31% open the inbox to check when a notification about a new email pops up.
  • Half of respondents check their email two and more times a day, 13% do it once a day.

The JakPat data on email usage frequency contradicts the findings from the latest Digital In 2017 report, according to which only 14% of respondents in Indonesia check their emails weekly. The significant differences might be explained by different survey methodologies, including demographics and geographical dispersion.

The overwhelming support for Gmail, which is used not only as a private email service, but also powers business correspondence most likely stands true.

Businesses and digital agencies should keep up to date with new Google features that will allow them to optimize their marketing efforts such as Gmail ads to best communicate with their Southeast Asian audience.

Online retailers and brands have long been asking for an email address upon signup or login on their  websites. And why not? It enables the establishment of a relationship with customers and push for sales through email marketing. But as the global usage of smartphones increases, the focus of businesses should move towards mobile, and it is customer phone numbers that hold the future potential to better target online shoppers and track their behaviour.

Phones these days are no longer reserved for only voice calls or text messages. With smartphones, the internet is accessible at any time opening up new ways for customers to interact with businesses – they can research and browse for products, call or text and make purchases all on a single device.

Southeast Asia has quickly become a mobile-first region with nearly 800 million mobile connections which constitutes to 124% penetration of the general population.

Every fourth person in the region has two mobile connections.

And smartphone subscriptions are increasing. By 2021, they are expected to pass 100% of the population in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, while in the Philippines and Indonesia, they will more than double.

Smartphone subscription in “mobile-first” Asia is rising. Source: South East Asia and Oceania Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2016

What are the benefits of capitalizing on phone numbers?

1. SMS marketing has higher conversion rates than email marketing

Email direct marketing (EDM) is still one of the most effective tools to boost sales as 48% of online consumers in Southeast Asia have made a purchase as a result. However, it is becoming a crowded space – if every ecommerce player asks customers to sign up for a newsletter, the customer inbox fills with several emails all pushing them to buy. 

According to popular email marketing service MailChimp, of all ecommerce emails sent 16.7% are opened, but the click rate is only 2.36%.

SMS marketing, on the other hand, is more efficient as 99% of text messages from brands are opened and the click rate is nearly 20%. While emails tend to get lost in a crowded inbox, the chat-loving Southeast Asians rarely miss an instant message.

Online marketplace Orami is one of companies in the region which actively uses SMS marketing to get its message through to customers. Orami sends text messages with promotions to its clients approximately every two weeks. They contain a link and promotion that encourages customers to shop on Orami.

Online marketplace Orami regularly sends its customers text messages with latest promotions.

2. Phone numbers enhance ad targeting precision

Phone numbers can easily be used for the same purpose that email addresses are collected for by advanced online marketers. They can be uploaded to a platform such as Facebook or Google Adwords that allows mapping to its corresponding user profile to send ads to a specific audience.

Two years after the eye-popping $22 billion acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook, the social network revealed its true intention – to gain access to WhatsApp users’ phone numbers to better target ads.

Facebook is also using other tactics to obtain more phone numbers by forcing usage of its Messenger app that can be activated only with a number verified with One-Time Password (OTP). In addition, new users now can sign up for Facebook with their phone numbers.

Facebook has been actively pushing to get phone numbers from its customers – one can now sign up with a mobile phone number for a Facebook account.

By adding phone numbers to its extensive database, Facebook will improve its ad targeting capability and remain a highly attractive advertising platform. Ecommerce businesses could separate their own large phone number databases into different sectors depending on interest, channel of acquisition, gender or other to improve campaign performance and sales.

3. Phone numbers more convenient than emails

In Southeast Asia, more than 85% of adults own a mobile device, whereas many don’t own a computer.

An older colleague once told me she wasn’t able to make a purchase online because she forgot the email address registered earlier by her daughter and couldn’t sign in. Still few marketplaces offer a guest checkout option and even if they do, they still request an email. India’s leading ecommerce player Flipkart last year made a bold move by requesting mobile numbers once they realized only 12% of India’s computer users knew how to use email.

Flipkart, one of India’s top e-commerce players, allow users to register with just a phone number.

Flipkart noted this change would ease the signup process as well as simplify password recovery, the reset process and add an extra layer of security.

4. Better customer behaviour tracking across different channels

For businesses that operate offline and online, using a phone number as a customer identifier allows tracking of behaviour across channels.

Tops Market in Thailand, which has brick-and-mortar shops as well as an online store, recently began using phone numbers to identify customers instead of loyalty cards for point collection. If a customer forgets his loyalty card, he can simply tell the cashier his phone number and Tops Market will record the purchase history.

The retailer can identify whether this particular shopper prefers to shop online or offline, how often and what he is buying throughout the week, the month, the year. Having this data allows the retailer to then create personalized emails or SMS targeted to this shopper and those similar to him and improve click-through rates by an average of 14%.

Connecting all these behaviors across channels will enable businesses to gain insight about their customers in an unprecedented way.

Higher conversion rates, precision of ad targeting, and tracking customer cross-channel behaviors are the benefits that will drive adoption of a phone number as the main customer identifier in the future. Ecommerce players who will be able to fully capitalize the phone number will have a far greater advantage than competitors in acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones.


By Koravut Pavitpok, aCommerce Internet Marketing Manager


What works best for your business – email or SMS marketing?
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This article of the beautyIQ series will provide tips on how to target customers and generate demand for your products in Southeast Asia. In the previous articles, we looked at how to create engaging, localized content and where to best sell online to present your product correctly to Southeast Asian customers. Even if you have the best product in the world, it is important to get it in front of the eyes of potential customers.

The internet is full of tips on how to do automated personalized email marketing, show up at the top of Google search and run ad campaigns to lead browsers to your online store, but with such a diverse and large audience as in Southeast Asia, the general ‘spray and pray’ digital marketing strategy will not work. To make your marketing campaigns successful, the trick is to leverage on the online and shopping behavioral traits of your target audience in each Southeast Asian country.

Which channel does your target audience use for product research? Which are the most popular social media networks? Do customers use laptop or mobile to buy products online?

Southeast Asian nations are among the ones who spend the most time online. Philippines is the second country after Brazil by hours spent online daily – people aged 16 to 64 years access internet through their computers 5.2 hours and through their phones – 3.2 hours every day.

Singaporeans are the least internet active – they spend online daily “only” 4.2 hours on their PC and 2.1 hour on their phones. This provides an excellent opportunity to reach your customers through various online tools as they are connected for the most part of the day.

These are some of the habits you will want to know before moving forward with your online marketing campaign. The better you understand your customer, the more you know what they want. Many companies already sit on gold mines of unutilized consumer data – take advantage of it as well as these reports to increase the success of your digital marketing strategy.

An ecommerce marketing strategy in Southeast Asia should include the following parts:

  • Continual communication with the customer, i.e. several direct emails per month
  • “Always-on” paid search campaigns
  • Dynamic retargeting
  • Discounts and samples


Send Emails to Keep Communication Fresh

As 96% of online Southeast Asian consumers identify themselves as email newsletter subscribers and 48% have made a purchase as a result of a marketing email, it is the top communication channel for marketers who target their products to customers in the region.

Offer your customers a newsletter subscription pop-up with an incentive and send them emails directly (EDMs) one or two times per week depending on how many promotion campaigns you plan to run. If you offer deals more frequently, send emails more often. aCommerce internal data find that even if your offers are less frequent, sending emails accordingly to remind your subscribers about new products at least once or twice a month will still result in conversions.

Some tools to automate email marketing include: Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, Getresponse Bluecore.

Examples of beauty brands that do it correctly: Kiehl’s presents first time visitors with an email newsletter subscriber pop-up, offering free delivery and samples. Other brands may take it one step further by offering a specific incentive such as a discount off a user’s first purchase.

Premium cosmetics brand Kiehl’s motivates customers to subscribe to its newsletter with incentives. Source: Kiehl’s Thailand online store

Bobbi Brown Thailand is another brand that continuously connects with customers through emails. It lands weekly emails into subscribers’ inboxes with promotion details, a call-to-action (CTA) link on the image in the email which directs them to the Bobbi Brown website and occasionally, discount promotion codes.

Bobbi Brown offers its customers in Thailand a gift with a purchase worth 2,500 baht. Source: Bobbi Brown weekly newsletter

Once a visitor has subscribed, brands should follow up with personalized emails, which is among the most effective channels for ecommerce business to drive orders. In 2014, the average return on investment in email marketing in Britain was 38 pounds ($47) for each 1 pound spent. Yet, even smaller returns make it worth invest in email marketing.  

Building up a customer database opens the door for marketing automation and highly targeted customer acquisition and activation at scale in the future.

Keep Paid Search Campaigns “Always-On”

Search marketing is the most effective customer acquisition tactic and customers in Southeast Asia, same as elsewhere around the globe, turn to search engines when looking for information about products they want to buy. In Singapore, 67% of internet users searched online for a product or service to buy, while 48% in Thailand and 31% of Indonesia’s internet users did the same.

Google provides excellent tools for brands to appear at the top of search ranks when customers search for a product from your line. Don’t let your competitors or other distributors steal customers who look for your products – do paid search marketing. It means you bid for ad placement in a search engine’s sponsored links for keywords related to your business – your brand name, product line or generic product name you sell. Then you pay the search engine a fee for each click.

If the benefit of an online store is purchase at anytime, brands should drive traffic to their sites by keeping paid search campaigns “always-on”, especially for its own brand keyword.

For example, when searching for South Korean cosmetics brand Innisfree, the first link that appears in Thailand is a paid ad of a US online store, iHerb, which sells online Innisfree products among others. The webstore of Innisfree itself appears as the second link, which means that Innisfree is not bidding for their brand name and may lose potential customers.

Source: Google search results page for South Korean cosmetics brand Innisfree

Kiehl’s, Maybelline and Estée Lauder, on the other hand, are brands that run “always-on” campaigns. Keyword search for Kiehl’s brings the brand’s ecommerce site the first on the search engine result page, ahead of other online shops who also sell Kiehl’s products in Thailand and bid on the same keyword. This allows Kiehl’s to acquire high value customers through its brand keyword searches and control the customer experience end-to-end.

Source: Google search results page for premium cosmetics brand Kiehl’s

The average cost-per-click (CPC) for your own brand name is very low as Google gives brands and their landing pages a higher Quality Score, and the more people click on it, the more relevant it becomes and the cheaper it will cost for the brand. There should be no excuse for not bidding on your brand name all year round, even if it is just to protect the brand against competitors.

If you register on Google Adwords, you will be able to estimate how much bidding on your brand name as well as other keywords would cost. Google will provide you with suggestions what other keywords you may want to bid to get seen on the search engine’s result page. For a new brand in the cosmetics industry the minimum recommended amount to spend on paid search advertising in Thailand, for example, is 7,000 Thai baht (around $200), while the average monthly budget might be around 20,000 Thai baht (around $570).

Increase Brand Awareness on Social Networks

Southeast Asia claims one of the highest social media usage in the world – in all six countries social media penetration exceeds 70% and is expected to grow in the future as well. On average, internet users in the region spend on social networks every day from 1.6 hours in Singapore to 3.7 hours in Philippines. Across the region, Facebook and Instagram and Youtube are among the most popular social media networks.

Use this knowledge to run dynamic retargeting campaigns – it means that customers who’ve already once visited your site to look for a product, but have left without a purchase, would be reminded on social networks such as Facebook that the product they are interested is still available on your online store.

Dynamic retargeting through platforms like Google, Criteo or Sociomantic are the most effective channels in ecommerce to drive both customers to your online store and sales. Platforms like Criteo allow brands to retarget users across both Facebook and ad networks as well as across multiple devices. Dynamic retargeting is a “no-brainer” channel commonly applied by retailers such as Lazada and Sephora, but unfortunately still ignored by many brands.

Facebook also allows businesses to target ads towards existing customers or potential customers that share their interest with its Ads Manager function, a ‘lookalike audience’. That is another way you can make your customer list work for you.

Offer Discounts and Samples To Drive Sales

Everyone loves discounts, especially in Southeast Asia. According to a Mastercard Survey, 75.8% of Thais are influenced to shop impulsively from online merchants when prices are lower, second only to shoppers in the Philippines, who came in first at 76.4%.

Offer discounts to your customers on certain product lines or on major public holidays, when people like to give gifts to one another to keep them coming back to your online store. In addition, offer them samples to try out new products. Both of these incentives work well as retention strategies.

Brands such as Bobbi Brown and Kiehl’s offer samples upon check-out, allowing shoppers to choose between miniature sizes of cleansers and toners, providing in-store perks with the online experience. A small, yet pleasant detail.

Shoppers can choose up to 3 samples upon check-out on the Kiehl’s Thailand website. Source: Kiehl’s Thailand online store


Southeast Asian consumers’ internet usage and shopping habits offer a great opportunity for brands to capture existing and new customers – they are already online, a nudge with an email subscription or a discount might be all that is needed to persuade them to buy your products.

Stay tuned for the next article in our beautyIQ series the following Monday. To better understand the general population habits in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, we have also gathered reports and infographics to better guide your journey.



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