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2016 has been somewhat of a definitive year for ecommerce in Southeast Asia. With the region poised to experience an ecommerce golden age, trends and predictions that will shape ecommerce in 2017 have been identified and there is no denying that the year will most likely bring significant milestones to the region’s development.

2016 certainly set things in motion: acquisitions, closures and entries were this year’s key themes. As the year draws to a close, we present the top 5 stories and briefs covered on eIQ that have made an impact on the development of ecommerce in Southeast Asia.

1. Battle of the giants

The first foray in a series of moves that would eventually complete Jack Ma’s trojan horse for Southeast Asia. In April, Alibaba made a $1 billion acquisition of Rocket Internet’s Lazada, effectively injecting much needed investment into the cash strapped marketplace, and hereby making an effective entry into the region.

This was followed by an announcement in November that Alibaba’s Ant Financial has invested in Thailand’s Ascend Money.

Amazon finally announced its entry into Singapore Q1 of 2017. Although a much covered angle in the media, these three stories have defined the majority of Southeast Asia ecommerce in 2016.

 

2. Indonesia’s Go-Jek, Singapore’s Garena & Grab are unicorns

After raising $550 million, Go-Jek is now valued at $1.3 billion, claiming unicorn status.

Singapore’s Garena has also maintained its status as Southeast Asia’s most valuable startup with additional funding that came through in September.

Grab also raised $600 million in funding making it another unicorn in the region.

 

3. Google and Temasek’s e-conomy SEA 2016 report

Arguably the most referenced report this year. Google and Temasek’s analysis of Southeast Asia’s ecommerce landscape has appeared in a string of interviews as references for research arguments and have shined a spotlight into the region’s developing landscape. Access the full report on eIQ’s reports section here.

 

4. LINE debuted as 2016’s largest technology IPO

The dual listing in New York and Japan occurred in July this year. The Japanese messaging app spiked 30% in market debut after opening at $42 per share in what appears to be the biggest tech IPO of this year.

The company is owned by Naver, a South Korean Internet company, who offered 22 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange and 13 million on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

But it hasn’t been all good news for Cony & Brown as news came out in October that the messaging app is struggling to acquire new users, barely moving beyond its 220 million monthly active user base.

 

5.  Goodbyes: Ensogo, Rakuten & Foodpanda

In June, Ensogo announced the closureof all business units in Southeast Asia. Following its shift from a daily deals website in 2013 to a mobile marketplace in 2015, the company was struggling to thrive in an increasingly competitive market.

Rakuten also announced the closing of its Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia marketplaces in February and sold back Rakuten Thailand to original founder, Pawoot Pongvitayapanu. The company did not give a reason for the closures, but announced that the moves are in line with a new roadmap.

In December, Rocket Internet declared that it was selling online food delivery startup Foodpanda to rival, Delivery Hero for $150 million. This announcement came after a string of rumors regarding the service provider’s performance.

The series of chain reactions that occurred have shaped Southeast Asia’s potential ecommerce boom. If these developments were anything to go by, we should be seeing all the puzzle pieces being placed together within 2017. For now, it’s a wrap for 2016!

 

Southeast Asia in 2010 started to experience an ecommerce boom with the likes of Ensogo, Rocket Internet’s Lazada and Zalora, Groupon, etc. It seemed to be at the height of its peak with money pouring in, mergers and acquisitions happening every day, and Amazon finally moving in to capture the region’s potential but amid these buzzworthy headlines, down rounds plagued startups such as Lazada, were sold for scraps like Zalora Thailand, or shut down completely, such as Ensogo.

What happened? Smaller startups began venturing into other fields providing human resources (Getlinks), car wash services (Wash Mobile), recruitment (JB Hired), agriculture (EverGrow), hardware (DriveBot), and more. It seemed that startups were shifting focus to offer niche services to carve out their own demographic in a saturating market but could they sustain themselves?

A Sustainable Model: Fintech

Across the region and even in once-upon-a-time unicorns such as Flipkart and Snapdeal, news reported large reductions in hiring, peaking salaries, and a slowdown in capital flow shadowed the once profitable businesses VCs banked hard on. The customer behavior in Southeast Asia, more specifically trust, is simply not mature enough.

It also cannot be denied that a capital and inventory intensive model requires deep pockets. After running a successful ecommerce company in Thailand for three years, I realized it was necessary to go back to the basics, to start a business model that encompassed the three components of sustainability:

  1.       High margins
  2.       High customer lifetime value (LTV)
  3.       Low customer acquisition cost

A business with these characteristics usually has a strong foundation and presents a good investment opportunity because it shows promise for profitability down the line. While ecommerce does have low customer acquisition due to the nature of retail and lower commitment products, such as retail and consumer goods that are being sold, it severely lacks in margins and customer LTV (lifetime value).

Margins are often eroded away by high operation costs, packaging, shipping, and inventory while LTV is nullified by heavy competition as most ecommerce companies do not have exclusivity on products and pricing. After all, it isn’t in the best interest of product owners and manufacturers to only distribute their products through one single channel.

Fintech on the other hand, a recently booming industry, does not suffer from these disadvantages. Like most tech companies, there is no inventory to hold, the margins are much larger and once you have acquired a customer, you have an 80% renewal rate for at least the next four years (Bangkok Insurance’s internal data). By building better fintech, it would change the behavior of consumers in Southeast Asia and eventually fuel the growth of ecommerce in the region.  

fintech-southeast-asia

Lack of Innovation: More Room to Grow?

Fintech is ripe for entrepreneurs because existing legacy players such as Viriyah and MSIG in the market lack innovation. Companies like Bangkok Insurance, HSBC, and other traditional financial institutions are only beginning to realize the magnitude of the tech wave that has hit the world.

As the saying goes, it is hard to steer big ships, and ships seldom get bigger than the companies that make up our financial industries. These companies earn a vast majority of their profits from traditional channels, leaving the unexplored to opportunistic entrepreneurs like myself with Frank.co.th and many others who have managed to convince investors for support.

A recent report from Accenture found that global investment in fintech has skyrocketed from $930 million back in 2008 to over $12 billion by the beginning of 2015. Europe experienced the highest growth rate with an increase of 215% to $1.48 billion in 2014. Globally, fintech startups have raised investments totaling $19 billion according to a insight report published by Citibank. This has begun to eclipse other startup sectors as it continues to grow.

Challenges of Fintech

The next big thing does not come without its own challenges. Fintech startups need to realize very early on that there are many rigid regulations which were not created with innovation in mind. For example, in Thailand, selling insurance online requires a business to report to at least three different governing bodies all of which have their own set of rules to abide to. This increases admin work for small companies and also requires legal knowledge that most new companies lack.

Companies are also not allowed to call a customer to confirm purchase as that would be considered “telemarketing insurance sales” and requires a different license. One of the biggest challenges for fintech companies is encouraging users to trust young companies with their financial information, savings, and future to adopt its products and services.

It takes time and a lot of marketing dollars to explain to customers who you are and why they should trust you with their money. These challenges do get easier as more startups enter the space and educate their audience through smart marketing initiatives.

Rabbit, a company based in Thailand, is the first integrated online/offline payment platform in Thailand accepted in multiple retail stores, restaurants and used for public transportation. Its partnership with LINE earlier this year means over 5 million users are slowly allowing their financial information to be connected to some sort of a tech platform.

“This joint partnership [Rabbit LINE Pay] will strongly support government policy in driving Thai people into a cashless society,” says Nelson Leung, chief executive officer of BSS Holdings, the operator of Rabbit card.

Influence from neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia, a lot of which have already set up country specific ‘sandboxes’ to trial for fintech regulations, are also moving towards a cashless society to drive the realization that there is a need for innovation in the financial sector.

Ecommerce is a big marketbut until the shopping habits of Southeast Asians are shifted to online spending habits, it can never reach its full potential. The emergence of fintech and its supporters mean that by building the fundamentals, companies in the entire ecosystem can benefit from its success. 15 years ago, people would call a travel agent and ask them to book a ticket. And now? When was the last time someone called a travel agent to book a flight or hotel room? Behaviors change, but it takes innovation and time.

BY HARPREM DOOWA, MD & CO-FOUNDER AT FRANK.CO.TH
Ensogo Shuts Down All Marketplaces In Southeast Asia

Ensogo Office in Bangkok Source: bk.asia-city.com

Ensogo announces that it is shutting down all business units in Southeast Asia and laying off staff in the region.

This follows an array of bad news that has been following the company since the beginning of the year, including the firing of half its staff in May in an effort to save costs. In a statement sent to Tech in Asia, the company has announced that:

Ensogo Australia will no longer provide financial support to its subsidiary Southeast Asian flash sales and marketplace business units. This decision has been made to preserve the company’s cash for new investment opportunities.

Trading in the Ensogo stock was halted on June 17 prior to today’s announcement, and is due to resume today.

Ensogo owns a network of ecommerce websites in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. It has been struggling to strive in a competitive marketplace, and shifted from being a daily deals website in 2013 to a mobile marketplace in 2015.

What went wrong?

Ensogo initially started out in a time when Groupon popularized online daily deals. Eventually, this trend fizzled out and although Ensogo attempted to reinvent themselves, they struggled to catch up to larger ecommerce titans, the main challenge for the company was to convince consumers to engage with them even though Ensogo reported that it had 3.5 million users.

The trail of bad publicity continued in May 2016 when Ensogo merchants complained about not receiving payment. A report sent to the ASX earlier this year showed that the company’s total cash at hand stood at only $13.2 million US, which meant that if it did not raise additional money or trim costs, the company could run out of cash before end of 2016.

A version of this story was published in Tech in Asia on June 21. Read the article here.

Ensogo halts share trading

Source: ensogo.co.th/

Ensogo, the struggling daily deals ecommerce company, saw today its trading suspended on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) pending an announcement.

Formerly known as iBuy and founded by entrepreneur Patrick Grove, Ensogo owns a network of ecommerce websites in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. The company has been experiencing a decline in share price down to nearly zero this year.

The trading halt follows the resignation of two Ensogo directors (Thomas Baum and Frederique Covington) as well as the selloff by a big shareholder. On May 24, The Australian reported that Macquarie offloaded 2.3 million shares in Ensogo for A$0.50 apiece, marking a 50 percent discount to its closing price at the time.

Ensogo has been embroiled in controversy after its merchants complained about delayed payments starting in April this year.

The Australian bourse said the suspension would remain in place until the opening of trade on Tuesday, June 21 or when the announcement is released to the market. The news comes less than a year Groupon shuts down in 7 countries including Thailand and Philippines in Southeast Asia, signalling the start of ‘deal fatigue’ among consumers that lowers re-purchase rates and thus customer lifetime value.

A version of this appeared in Tech in Asia on June 17. Read the full article here.