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Over the last few days, major moves have been made by a handful of top ecommerce players in Southeast Asia in efforts to cement a position in payments. Each company is already well aware: if you want people to buy or use your services, it makes sense to have direct influence over their spending.

Owning the payments chain has become so important (thanks to what was witnessed in China), that Amazon announced it would pass discounts to retailers if they used its online payment service.

Earlier this week, ShopBack, a cash back ecommerce aggregator, acquired Singaporean personal finance startup for an undisclosed amount. The stated reason being it wanted to help millennials ‘better handle their money‘, but with a new team of developers, no doubt the company is looking to optimise its existing system.

What was more interesting this past week were the new discoveries made by Go-Jek and Grab users in Southeast Asian markets.

Go-Pay

The on-demand market leader in Indonesia has expanded its reach to the most unexpected locations – street food vendors.

Tweet translation: “Interesting find this afternoon: Some street vendors on the alley beside Bank BNI Kebon Sirih have accepted payment with Go-Pay. When I bought ayam penyet [fried chicken] at my regular place, I just have to scan a QR code, show the payment slip, and that’s it. So cool!”

ecommerceIQ

The popularity of Go-Jek in Indonesia is almost legendary and this example shows how far its reach goes. The difficulty for Go-Jek will be expansion outside of Indonesia to other markets in the region, where similar on-demand companies exist.

GrabPay

With Uber officially out of the picture, Grab is doubling efforts to increase the adoption of its e-wallet, GrabPay. On a trip to Manila May 7th, an ecommerceIQ Community member shared with us app screenshots of Grab promoting a new cash ‘top up’ feature. Riders can add money to their Grab accounts by simply handing their drivers cash.

This is hardly innovative as Go-Jek has offered cash top ups since 2016, a large contributing factor to its success in Indonesia, but it shows Grab’s seriousness in evolving its payments product to the local market.

 

ecommerceIQ

 

This new feature follows Grab’s launch of three other services the company introduced to the Singapore market: GrabAssist, GrabCar Plus, and GrabFamily.

“Grab’s vision is to be an everyday app for consumers,” said Tarin Thaniyavarn, country head of Grab Thailand.

Regulations stand in the way of Grab’s vision in Southeast Asia as most countries lack any solid regulations to ride-hailing companies. Currently, the company is unsuccessfully trying to acquire a microfinance licence from the Bank of Thailand.

What drives the adoption of new technology?

Grab is targeting hawker stalls in Singapore, Go-Jek has already successfully penetrated local vendors in Jakarta. Grab is offering cash top ups, Go-Jek has been doing so for the past two years. They both offer on-demand services, taxis, cars, bikes and the technology and mechanics of an e-wallet are not all that different player to player. They are essentially going toe to toe, what is going to push further adoption?

The real winner will be the company’s capability in effectively communicating the benefits of its payments service to users. How aware are users of its existence and its importance? How can it make their lives easier versus using good old fashioned cash or swiping a credit card?

In developed markets like the US, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Wallet have single digit adoption rates compared to credit card usage. Why? Because the country already fares well with credit cards, there is no reason to change habits.

The same case can be made for relatively cash-less markets like Singapore. The real opportunity to dominate payments is in developing markets like Indonesia and Thailand, where credit card ownership floats around only 4 percent and majority of the population owns a smartphone.

ecommerceIQ

 

“To enhance awareness, you really need advertising — one thing that’s not well understood [by consumers] about Samsung Pay is that it has more utility the Apple Pay; you can use it at a non-NFC terminal and that’s a huge advantage I don’t think Samsung is doing a good job of promoting.”

Indonesia is arguably the most important internet market in Southeast Asia as a result of its sheer size, emerging middle class, and digitally savvy population.

The annual global digital ecosystem report by We Are Social says Indonesia has 132.7 million internet users, which points to a penetration rate of 50% of the population. 130 million of these use some form of social media, showing how plugged in Indonesians are when it comes to documenting their lives online or using platforms like YouTube to consume content.

Source: We Are Social

With half of the Indonesian population still offline, there’s massive potential for ecommerce ventures, smartphone manufacturers, as well as brands building products to appeal to millennials in the country.

Other countries in Southeast Asia – Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines for example – may have higher internet penetration rates but their smaller populations can’t compete with Indonesia in terms of volume.

It’s these numbers that have forced investors to take notice.

study by Google and AT Kearney indicated that venture capital activity in Indonesia has grown 68X in the past five years, driven mainly by growing interest in ecommerce and ridesharing.

Total VC activity in the first eight months of 2017 was recorded at US$3 billion – more than double the number for the entirety of 2016, which was US$1.4 billion.

The same study predicted the volume of investments in Indonesia will continue to grow in the foreseeable future because VC investment as a percentage of GDP in Indonesia is actually lower than its Southeast Asian counterparts.

Source: Google / AT Kearney

What are Indonesians doing on the web?

Indonesian residents love the internet. 79% of survey respondents in the We Are Social report said they logged on to the web at least once a day. The average daily time spent online was almost 9 hours with approximately 5 hours dedicated to social media and streaming music.

Source: We Are Social

The majority of web traffic in Indonesia comes from mobile phones, facilitated by the availability of cheap smartphones to the Indonesian population coming online for the first time; sidestepping desktops and PCs directly.

Access to mobile has also caused excitement around fintech as only 36% of Indonesians possess bank accounts and only 3% have credit cards. If e-wallet platforms get it right, there are 125 million mobile internet users waiting for easy banking.

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Indonesians are also increasingly using the internet to embark on their product buying journeys. 45% of Indonesian netizens search online for a product or service to buy with a similar number landing on an online store and 40% make ecommerce transactions at least once a month.

Source: We Are Social

Fashion & beauty categories attract the highest amount of spend online, almost double that of electronics despite having a lower basket size than consumer appliances like mobile phones, cameras, and wearable gizmos.

It was estimated that Indonesians spent close to US$10.3 billion online in 2017.

Source: We Are Social

Dizzying statistics aside, the Indonesian market still has plenty of space to grow.

Expect heightened competition in the years to come as incumbents jostle for space and keep raising large war chests to outmuscle opponents. VCs, especially with an entrenched position in the market, can’t afford to back down now – there’s too much skin in the game for them to consider any hasty exits.

Recent developments already demonstrate how investors are taking a long-term view of the market. Alibaba injected over a billion dollars in local ecommerce marketplace Tokopedia last year. JD.com, Alibaba’s direct rival in China, has opened fulfillment ccenters across Indonesia with a view to keep expanding. And homegrown unicorn Go-Jek is rapidly transforming into a Wechat-esque ‘super app’ with users able to do everything from hail motorbikes to get their plumbing fixed, and pay for it via e-wallet.

What’s Pinduoduo?

Pinduoduo, or PDD, is a social commerce app founded by Colin Huang, an ex-Google engineer, in September 2015. Only a couple of years old, PDD has become the fastest growing ecommerce company in China. It raised $100 million in 2017, is backed by China’s Banyan Capital and Tencent, and valued at a whopping $1.5 billion.

Source: Crunchbase

As of Feb 21, 2018, PDD ranks #3 overall in the Chinese iTunes app store ranking for free apps, after popular apps like Tik Tok (Douyin) and WeChat, and ahead of other shopping apps like Taobao. PDD went from 100 million yuan ($16 million) GMV a month in early 2016 to 4 billion yuan ($630 million) GMV a month by 2017, putting it in fourth place behind Alibaba, JD and Vipshop.

How does Pinduoduo work?

Users can download the PDD app or access it within WeChat. Like any ecommerce platform, PDD offers products across a wide range of categories from food to fashion. However, unlike Tmall and JD, PDD incentivizes users with discounts to invite friends to buy in groups.

 

For example, one container of Similac Advance Infant Formula Powder costs 59 yuan if you buy alone but only 35.5 yuan if you can get one other person to buy it too. In the screenshot below, a total of 1,822 pairs have “group-purchased” this item already.

 

 

In addition to group discounts, PDD also incentivizes customer acquisition. Getting users to follow the PDD WeChat Official Account, install the app, and sign up via WeChat login will earn them free products.

PDD also offers cash red envelopes worth 5-20 yuan to users for each friend they get to download the app and register. The entire system is then gamified through a public leaderboard.

Wait, is this new? Didn’t Groupon invent social commerce?

Groupon did arguably pioneer the group buying concept. In its early days, a certain number of users had to sign up for the same deal in order for everyone to receive the voucher. But unlike PDD, there wasn’t a direct incentive; users had to sit back and wait for anonymous users to tip the scale.

This mechanism was quickly abandoned to scale faster with minimum thresholds that acted more like gimmicks.

Groupon was labeled “social commerce” at first but in its later years, lost its social aspect.

Source: wiredtech on Flickr.com

Let’s take a step back and look at the definition of social commerce, according to ConversionXl:

“Social commerce is defined as the ability to make a product purchase from a third-party company within the native social media experience.”

Groupon emerged in the pre-mobile age of 2008 when most consumers still transacted via desktop, especially in the company’s US home market. Back then, less than 1% of ecommerce transactions were via mobile acquisition channels.

In addition, the company’s main distribution channel was email newsletters, a slow and high-friction medium and payments weren’t seamless either as users relied on a credit card or PayPal.

Now looking at 2016 in China – PDD’s first full year in operation – WeChat is the country’s dominant “super app” and leading medium to socialize online with 889 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) by year end.

71% of ecommerce now takes place on mobile, creating a flattering backdrop for the rapid rise of PDD, which started out as an app on WeChat.

Paying for products on PDD is also remarkably easy because the app makes it automatic. After the first payment, users can opt for one-click payment via WeChat Pay that don’t require passwords.

Desktop usage, clunky email newsletters, and credit card payments limited Groupon’s true social commerce potential. Where Groupon failed, PDD is succeeding because of an ecosystem of mobile-first users and WeChat’s features that make it a super app.

Will PDD come to Southeast Asia?

Why not? Southeast Asia ecommerce is already being carved up by Alibaba and Tencent. Lazada and Tokopedia, two companies owned and invested in by Alibaba, dominate the B2C and C2C space on one end and Tencent-invested JD, Shopee, and Go-Jek are on the other end.

With Southeast Asia’s horizontal ecommerce market being consolidated into a few properties like Lazada, Tokopedia, JD and Shopee, there isn’t as much opportunity in the space as before.

New ecommerce players have to focus on dominating a specific, vertical category or provide a competitive advantage through means other than outspending peers in advertising and/or coupon subsidies.

This is where a model like PDD fits snuggly.

It also helps that one of PDD’s biggest investors is Tencent, which already has its eyes set on the rapidly growing Southeast Asian market.

Will the PDD business model work in Southeast Asia?

To determine if the PDD model would work in the region, we need to identify the criteria that were conducive to its success in China:

1. Lack of distribution channels / expensive distribution channels

If you strip away all the hype, PDD’s competitive advantage is in its customer acquisition strategy. Instead of relying on expensive channels like display advertising or paid search (e.g. Baidu ads), PDD is paying its users to get more users. For example, CPCs alone on Baidu can range from 5 to 25 yuan. Note these are clicks, not even users acquired.

Southeast Asia (excl. Singapore and Malaysia) is very similar to China in terms of lack of channels, due to a similar “no-tail” ecosystem. Whereas entrepreneurs in China had to pick their poison between Baidu, Sina and Sohu back in the day, startups in emerging Southeast Asia are limited to Facebook Ads, Google Search, and portals like Detik in Indonesia and Sanook in Thailand.

Early entrants like Lazada took advantage of low cost-per-clicks (CPCs) back in 2013 but given the raging ecommerce “bloodbath”, online ad CPCs have gone through the roof.

Having saturated online channels, Lazada started exploring offline advertising channels like TV and out-of-home media.

Others like Pomelo Fashion tapped into physical stores as a more cost-efficient way to acquire users and simplify last-mile logistics.

PDD social and viral customer acquisition strategies could work quite well.

2. High mobile commerce penetration

The majority of ecommerce transactions in China now take place on mobile. In 2016, 71% of ecommerce GMV was on mobile. In the US, this number was only 20% in 2016.

In Southeast Asia, companies like Lazada and Shopee today see over 65% of their orders coming from mobile (with 21.6% using both mobile and desktop to shop), according to a recent survey by ecommerceIQ.

Needless to say, high mobile penetration in Southeast Asia along with high mobile ecommerce usage will provide a fertile ground for a business model like PDD to gain traction here.

3. Frictionless mobile payments

One of the drivers of PDD’s success is its seamless payments through WeChat Pay.

This will be a challenge for PDD in Southeast Asia as only Singapore and Malaysia are credit card dominated whereas the rest of the region is mainly a cash-on-delivery market.

Source: ecommerceIQ

Despite efforts to come up with a universal mobile payment standard, no one has succeeded as of today. Efforts like Sea’s AirPay, Ascend’s True Pay, and LINE Pay have hit a wall due to lack of distribution, lack of use case, and a plethora of other issues.

Right now, most eyes are on Go-Jek’s Go-Pay, which has a massive distribution channel by leveraging Go-Jek’s 40 million install base and 10 million Weekly Active Users (WAUs). In addition, and more importantly, Go-Jek addresses emerging Southeast Asia’s unique lack of both credit card and bank account penetration — users are able to top up their Go-Pay accounts by handing cash to Go-Jek drivers that essentially act like mobile ATM deposit machines.

While still a poor-man’s WeChat Pay, Go-Pay offers hope for business models like that of PDD to thrive in Southeast Asia.

4. Attachment to popular social platform

Without the WeChat ecosystem, PDD wouldn’t have been the company it is today. Being embedded in WeChat, PDD was able to quickly get massive distribution by tapping into the potential 889 million MAUs of WeChat.

In Southeast Asia, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and LINE are highly popular, however, none are considered super apps that offer seamless integration.

The closest to WeChat in Southeast Asia would probably be Indonesia’s Go-Jek.

While Go-Jek hasn’t entered ecommerce yet (it’s positioned only as a services marketplace and offers delivery for partners through its GO-MART product), it wouldn’t be surprising if PDD decided to leverage the Go-Jek platform, given the similarities to WeChat in China. Like PDD, Go-Jek also counts Tencent as an investor.

With an estimated third of ecommerce in markets like Thailand happening on Facebook, Instagram and LINE, the user behavior of buying through social channels already exists.

5. Access to cheap product sourcing

If you browse through PDD, you’ll notice that most of the products sold bear similarities to many of those sold on Taobao. In other words, a lot of “mass” and non-branded products. PDD thrives in China because of easy access to a supply of these products manufactured locally.

However, in Southeast Asia, these kind of products (typically sold on social media and C2C platforms) are imported from China, which leaves less margin for PDD to play with in terms of discounts and customer acquisition.

To sum up, emerging Southeast Asia meets several of the criteria behind PDD’s success in China but poses some unique challenges:
ecommerceIQ

What will happen next?

In the analysis, we’ve identified some of the drivers of PDD’s rapid rise in China and also their presence in emerging Southeast Asian markets at an earlier stage.

Given this opportunity, we can expect the following scenarios to play out over the next few months and years:

1. Local and Chinese entrepreneurs will launch PDD clones across the region

Ever since opening up to the world in the 80s, we can describe China having gone through the following three stages, with the third one still progressing as we speak:

1. Made-in-China (1980-2000)

China perceived as manufacturing base for (often cheap, low-quality) export products

2. Copy-to-China (2000-2015)

Chinese entrepreneurs, some foreign educated, bring back models that worked in the US, e.g. Search (Google -> Baidu), Portals (Yahoo -> Sina, Sohu)

3. Copy-from-China (2015-2030)

Birth of unique Chinese Internet business models (e.g. bike-sharing, payments, live streaming, social commerce, O2O). Increasing media focus on Chinese tech innovation and locals outside of China looking for Chinese models to copy

We are witnessing stage 3 happening right here in Southeast Asia. Below is a Thai post on Facebook looking to recruit staff to work on what looks like a PDD clone:

It doesn’t have to be local talent copying PDD from China to Southeast Asia. With the influx of Alibaba, Tencent and JD into the region, there are plenty of Chinese employees who’ll be noticing the similarities between Southeast Asia today and China, and jump on new opportunities.

2. PDD will enter Indonesia through Go-Jek (helped by common investor Tencent)

If PDD were to follow Alibaba and Tencent’s steps and enter Southeast Asia, we expect them to join forces with Go-Jek. By embedding itself inside Go-Jek, PDD is executing the same game plan that led to its rapid initial growth within the WeChat ecosystem. Fostered by a shared investor — Tencent — Go-Jek would be the perfect launch partner for PDD in Southeast Asia.

3. Existing players will adopt the PDD business model to compete against horizontal ecommerce plays

Local ecommerce players like MatahariMall, Konvy, and Orami could pre-empt PDD by adopting its customer acquisition strategies to compete with regional giants like Lazada and Shopee.

For Konvy and Orami, two female-focused ecommerce platforms, this move could make a lot of sense since the majority of PDD’s users in China are female, over 40 year old, and living in smaller cities.

Play on players.

250 million Indonesians have rapidly embraced the rise of ride-hailing apps to add convenience to their lives.

The three largest players in Indonesia – Go-Jek, Grab, and Uber – not only lower congestion on the roads by connecting drivers to multiple riders, they also offer food delivery, payments via e-wallet features, and almost any service you can think of on-demand.  

These value-added features are possible thanks to each player’s treasure chest topped up with billions of dollars from venture capital funds and massive corporates like Alibaba, Honda, and SoftBank.

But which app do users in the archipelago actually prefer and why?

Indonesians judge their favourite ride-hailing apps

Consumer Pulse by ecommerceIQ is a new series that dives into the minds of consumers to translate their trends and habits into actionable business strategies.

The team conducted an online survey answered by 515 people (46 percent men, 54 percent women) in major cities in Indonesia – Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, to Papua – to find out which ride hailing application (Uber, Go-Jek and Grab) they use the most on a daily basis.

A general consensus is that price and number of promo codes are the two key factors that impact adoption in Indonesia, but, our results indicate otherwise.

The majority of respondents pointed to safety as the primary factor when choosing which ride-hailing application to use. It’s not hard to decipher when you consider Jakarta traffic and the thought of weaving through the streets on a high-speed motorcycle.

Indonesians choose safety as the primary factor when choosing which ride-hailing application to use. Image source: ecommerceIQ team.

According to the Head of Indonesia’s Traffic Police Unit, traffic related deaths in the country have hit worrisome levels at roughly 30,000 per year – higher than crime related and terrorism caused deaths combined.

He also added that the number of traffic incidents in Indonesia is the highest among ASEAN countries.  

“Think of the approximately 28,000 to 30,000 people who die on the road per year because of accidents. Compared to terrorism and crime (the difference) is huge,” — National Traffic Police Chief Royke Lumowa

Providers should focus on improving the quality of their riders and vehicles, protective gear and insurance policies to capture more users. Both online and offline elements should be considered during product development as they are equally crucial when it comes to consumer purchase decisions.

For added assurance to both passengers and drivers, the three major ride-hailing apps in the country offer insurance:

  • Go-Jek offers up to 10 million IDR ($751 USD) for death and 5 million IDR ($375,50 USD) for an injury.
  • Grab provides up to 50 million IDR ($3,755 USD) for deaths, and 25 million IDR ($1,877.50 USD) is given to users with severe injuries.
  • Uber provides the most; up to 100 million IDR ($7.510 USD) for deaths, and 10 million IDR ($751 USD) for the treatment.

In 2016, Grab Indonesia promoted a controversial ad campaign to highlight the importance of road safety and how standards in Indonesia can improve. Unfortunately, the images were too graphic and the video was removed but it succeeded in bringing awareness to safe driving practices.

Grab’s ad campaign in Indonesia received a less-than-positive reaction from netizens, with many calling it too gory and disrespectful but it did its job in increasing awareness. Image source: Brandingasia.com

The second most popular reason why people used one ride-hailing app over the others was (unsurprisingly) the ease of finding a driver (23 percent). The rest of the reasons are as follows:

  • Frequent promotions and discounts (22 percent)
  • Easy navigation within the app (16 percent)
  • Many payment options (5 percent)
  • Wide food delivery options (3 percent)
  • Helpful customer service (3 percent)
  • Loyalty rewards (2 percent)

Consumers also indicated that they’re not excited about e-wallet features. Unsurprising as there’s no widespread use apart from the apps own services.

Nevertheless, payments remain a priority area for senior management looking to build a super app like WeChat in China.

CEO and co-founder of Go-Jek, Nadiem Makarim, mentioned he wanted to separate Go-Pay from the Go-Jek ecosystem during an interview with CNBC,

“Payments will be our core focus in 2018, and it will become the year of Go-Pay leaves the Go-Jek app ecosystem and it goes online and offline and to start fulfilling its mission to be the number one financial inclusion tool for Indonesians to gain access to these digital goods and variety of financial services, that frankly they have been deprived of this thought.” — Nadiem Makarim

So which ride-hailing player wins Indonesia?

What’s the app used on a daily basis among our respondents?

First position goes to homegrown unicorn Go-Jek.

Working under the slogan, “Karya Anak Bangsa” (Made by Indonesians), the company has become a favorite among the survey respondents (56 percent) and Indonesians since its establishment in 2010.

The country’s first tech unicorn scaled from a call centre and fleet of 20 riders to more than 654,000 drivers in 50 cities.

Later entrants in the space benefitted from Go-Jek’s investments in marketing and awareness. Consumers, now educated about ride hailing and startups didn’t need to be persuaded too much to try a new option.

  • Grab placed second at 33 percent
  • Uber place last at 8 percent
  • 3 percent of the respondents reported they don’t use ride-hailing apps at all

When considering these results, there are a few factors that impact the ranking:

  • First mover advantage (Go-Jek)
  • Largest reach in the country (Grab)
  • Time of entry into the country (Go-Jek October 2010, Grab June 2014, Uber August 2014)
  • Location of the respondents

A couple of months ago, Grab announced its expansion to 100 cities in Indonesia, making it the dominant player in the country. Meanwhile, Go-Jek and Uber can be accessed in only 50 cities and 34 Indonesian cities, respectively.

Price and promos also carry more weight after the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation announced basic rates for all online car-hailing services; 3,000 – 6,000 IDR ($0.23 – $0.45 USD) per kilometer in the areas of Java, Bali, and Sumatra. For Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, and Papua, the rate is more at 3,700 – 6,500 IDR ($0.28 – $0.49 USD) per kilometer.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government hasn’t announced any regulations for online motorcycle taxis. Based on eIQ research, rates vary between each app.

*The rates are based on a 15 kilometer trip that eIQ personally hailed on each app during rush hour.

46 percent of respondents admitted they have two ride-hailing applications installed on their smartphones. 23 percent of respondents had three applications installed, 29 percent owned one application and 2 percent didn’t use any apps.

Final takeaway

It’s not difficult to understand why residents in each city prioritize certain features over others. Respondents from Semarang, Surabaya and Greater Jakarta value discounts and promotions more than any other option, probably because they have more access to transportation choices.

The KRL Jabodetabek (Jakarta Commuter Line) and TransJakarta in Jakarta; TransJateng and BRT in Semarang; and TransSuroboyo in Surabaya.

Based on the data collected, providing a helmet, hairnet, and insurance is a safety standard all ride-hailing apps should meet.  

The other takeaway from this piece is that being first mover in an industry may not always guarantee an advantage. Go-Jek was the first company to introduce ride-hailing in Indonesia, seizing a head start on later entrants but Grab has been quick to develop and expand its operations in Indonesia and become the dominant player in the country.  

Growing your business without understanding your market and competitors is risky. Consumer Pulse by ecommerceIQ helps collect and analyze information about consumer behavior to help you to hone your marketing strategy.

Alibaba’s entry into Southeast Asia served as social proof for many entrepreneurs and businesses that they were onto something big, which led to a year of exuberance for ecommerce in the region.

“We’re just at the beginning, [the Alibaba-Lazada deal] will kickstart the whole cycle. It will attract more global investments into the region, and attract more entrepreneurs who now see this region as a great place to start a business.” — Stefan Jung, founding partner at Indonesia-based Venturra Capital in an interview with Tech in Asia

Even as we get closer to 2018, there are already numerous casualties in one of the most promising ecommerce growth markets in the world.

Alibaba doubled down on its Lazada investment by upping its share from 51 percent to 83 percent and in a push to monopolize the market, put grips on Tokopedia, arguably one of Lazada’s biggest competitors in Indonesia.

Tencent, through JD or directly, also began executing its China playbook by investing in companies like Sea, Go-Jek, Traveloka, Pomelo Fashion and Tiki.vn.

Global attention from the US came from KKR, who through Emerald Media, put $65M into ecommerce ‘arms dealer’ aCommerce in a bid to replicate Baozun’s dominance in the Chinese “TP” (Tmall Partner) landscape.

And the plays won’t stop here.

Leveraging newly consolidated positions of strength, marketplaces will cross traditional boundaries and move into areas like private label brands and offline distribution. Brands will also feel increasingly cornered, facing a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

Those that survive 2018 will have to find a niche for themselves, such as in fashion or home, because there isn’t much room left for another horizontal ecommerce player. Others will be tempted to take risky shortcuts like say, raising money through ICOs.

2018 will also see Tencent, not Alibaba or a local company, emerge as the winner in mobile payments in Southeast Asia.

It might be a good time to start learning Chinese.

1. Plata o Plomo: Southeast Asia ecommerce will be increasingly factionalized into Alibaba and Tencent camps, and locals will pick sides

Given its similarities to China roughly 10 years ago, Southeast Asia has become a gold rush for Chinese Internet giants looking to expand beyond the mainland. It was Alibaba’s acquisition of Lazada last year that triggered an arms race between China’s #1 and #2 in Southeast Asia, and in turn, will cause local companies to choose sides.

Image source: Sohu

Alibaba also led a $1.1B investment in Tokopedia in 2017, continuing to place its biggest bets on ecommerce. Moving forward, the company is expected to position Lazada and Tokopedia as the Tmall and Taobao of Southeast Asia, respectively.

Meanwhile, Tencent has aggressively tried to replicate a three-prong formula that was successful in its fight against Alibaba in China: gaming, mobile and payments.

The first step was becoming the largest shareholder of Sea (previously Garena), predominantly a gaming powerhouse that runs Shopee, a mobile-first ecommerce marketplace and the second was placing bets on Go-Jek to become a “super app” like WeChat and WeChat Pay.

Understandable as WeChat Pay now commands an impressive 40% market share in China vs. AliPay’s 54%, up from 11% in 2015.

“Is there a land grab right now for these kind of assets? I think in the land grab they [Tencent] are following us. They are seeing that we have positioned ourselves very well, and they’re sort of playing a catch up game. So what we want to do is, since we already have our positions, is to work with local entrepreneurs.” — Joe Tsai, Alibaba Vice Chairman, in speaking with Bloomberg.

Tencent and Alibaba share price increase over last 7 years compared to Amazon and NASDAQ composite
Source: Yahoo Finance (December 4, 2017)

With both Tencent and Alibaba market caps at all-time highs, we expect this trend to continue throughout 2018 with both sides gobbling up more local companies across the ecommerce ecosystem and upping shares in existing ones.

2. Facing slow organic growth, Amazon will acquire a company to fast-track its ecommerce expansion in the emerging region

Image source: Getty Images

Amazon’s entry into “Southeast Asia” was the biggest surprise and non-surprise at the same time.

A non-surprise because Amazon’s long-awaited and rumored soft-launch into Singapore was widely covered by the media even before the company’s Prime Now services officially became available on July 26, 2017.

A surprise because Amazon’s expected tour-de-force across the region ended before it even started.

Amazon fanboys celebrated the initial launch of a scaled down, poor man’s version of Amazon — Amazon Prime Now — offering a measly one million household items and daily essentials.

“I was expecting more things that I can’t get in Singapore, for example Sriracha or something small that’s not available in Singapore but most stuff on Prime Now are basic things you can get from Fairprice…” — Reddit User Ticklishcat

But there’s good reason for it.

It doesn’t make sense for Amazon to set up a full-blown local presence in the country-state. Singaporeans, under the Free AmazonGlobal Saver Shipping option, were already enjoying free international shipping from Amazon en masse for orders over US$125.

The country ranks #29 in terms of session/year to Amazon.com on a global scale but #4 when normalized for population size. With an average of 14.04 sessions per person per year visiting Amazon.com, Singapore takes the top spot among all the countries in Asia.

Singaporeans already buying from Amazon, without the latter’s full-fledged local presence: Singapore ranking only #29 in traffic to Amazon.com but #4 when normalized for population size (#1 in Asia)

Source: SimilarWeb, World Bank

The launch of Amazon Prime in Singapore earlier this month makes it even less likely for the firm to set up local operations beyond Amazon Prime Now. Amazon is no longer subsidizing the original free shipping for orders above US$125 to Singapore and Singaporean Prime members have free international delivery only on orders above S$60 on Amazon’s US website for S$8.99 per month in addition to other benefits.

Not much else has been heard about the company’s further expansion into the region, particularly Indonesia and Thailand, where markets are being rapidly carved up by Alibaba and Tencent.

With time running out for a full-fledged, organic entry into the high-growth markets of Southeast Asia, its stock trading at all-time highs, and not too distant memories of failure in China, we expect Amazon to attempt at least one major acquisition in 2018 to accelerate regional expansion.

3. Offline is the new online: pure-play ecommerce to launch physical stores to offset rising online customer acquisition costs and improve last-mile fulfillment

While traditional offline retailers like Central in Thailand and Matahari in Indonesia scrambled to move business online, online pure-play ecommerce is expected to make moves offline.

With online customer acquisition channels like Google and Facebook rapidly reaching saturation and diminishing returns, ecommerce players like Pomelo and Lazada will look to offline channels to reach new customers.

Pomelo dabbled in offline over the last few years but, fresh off a $19M Series B, recently launched its biggest pop-up to date in Siam Square, the fashion center of Bangkok. The store applies “click-and-collect”, enabling customers to order online and try items in store before deciding which ones to keep or return.

Image source: Pomelo

“In fashion, the number one barrier to purchase is still the need to try product on for fit coupled with the hassle of returns. An offline footprint addresses this barrier head on. Additionally customers can be acquired offline and data from online can be used to drive higher sales and greater operational efficiencies offline. In short, a mix of offline and online is the optimal strategy for fashion retail going forward.” — David Jou, Co-Founder and CEO, Pomelo Fashion

Love Bonito, another online-first fashion brand from Singapore, officially launched its permanent flagship store at Orchard Road after seven years of being an ecommerce pure-play.

Image source: Love Bonito

Lazada, on the other hand, may follow Alibaba’s moves in China where the ecommerce juggernaut launched Hema supermarkets in Beijing and Shanghai. In addition to reinforcing a positive brand experience and customer acquisition, these new offline stores serve as fulfillment centers, effectively making up for Southeast Asia’s lack of logistics infrastructure.

Alibaba’s Hema supermarkets in China. Image source: Quartz

Lazada Group CEO Max Bittner already hinted at the possibility physical stores in Indonesia at a conference earlier this year.

Over the last decade in China, Alibaba rode 50%+ year-on-year ecommerce growth to become what it is today, however, as maturation slows, Alibaba has doubled-down on initiatives like Single’s Day (11.11), “New Retail” (smart pop-up stores around China), and market expansion to accelerate sales (Southeast Asia).

Despite the region being projected as the next big ecommerce growth story, online accounts for only 1-2% of total retail today. If companies like Lazada and Shopee want to grow faster than the market allows, going offline will be the obvious choice.

4. New ecommerce startups will use ICOs to raise funding to battle giants

With Southeast Asia increasingly being carved up by giants such as Alibaba and Tencent in a presumed winner-takes-all-market, smaller ecommerce startups will look at alternative ways to finance themselves.

Enter newly hyped Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).

Raising funds through these means in Southeast Asia was pioneered by Omise, a fintech startup based in Thailand, that successfully raised $25M in a few hours to develop a decentralized payment system.

Given early speculation of Amazon moving into the cryptocurrency space, we’ll have fertile ground for our first Southeast Asian ecommerce ICO. Already a start up called HAMSTER is selling HMT tokens to develop a decentralized marketplace that promises “no fees, no brokers”.

Revolutionary ecommerce platform funded by ICOs or ponzi scheme?

Expect ecommerce startups to use ICOs to fund customer acquisition, new product development, and inventory financing. That is, until the bubble bursts

5. A final wave of ecommerce consolidation sweeps through as local players adjust to a New World Order

We’ve shared numerous stories of casualties and consolidation during the Southeast Asian ecommerce bloodbath in our previous annual predictions.

Japan’s Rakuten sold off most of its assets in the region when it retreated in 2015/2016. Rocket Internet dumped Zalora Thailand and Vietnam in a fire sale in 2016 and sold its Phillipines entity to local conglomerate Ayala Group the year after.

In Thailand, Ascend Group put its assets WeLoveShopping and WeMall on life support to focus on fintech.

In Indonesia, reports surfaced of SK Planet selling its Elevenia shares to Indonesian conglomerate Salim Group, which was quickly followed by news of its Malaysian entity up for bid between Alibaba and JD.

Earlier in the year, Indonesia’s second largest telco Indosat Ooredoo shut down its ecommerce website Cipika. Alfamart, Indonesia’s second largest convenience store chain also had to downsize operations to pivot its ecommerce initiative Alfacart away from a general marketplace play towards an online grocery channel.

Come 2018, all eyes will be on the health of remaining bastions of home-grown, horizontal ecommerce plays. As Alibaba and Tencent up the ante, there will definitely be more casualties in the new year.

6. Go-Pay will venture outside of Indonesia through Sea, Traveloka and JD to become the WeChat Pay of Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s ecommerce today is like what China was in 2008 — the pace of change is unimaginable. When I visited our office in Jakarta 12 months ago, hardly anyone was using Go-Jek’s mobile payment platform and wallet, Go-Pay.

Returning six months later, almost all of my colleagues used Go-Pay to transfer money peer-to-peer and pay for products and services.

In most of emerging Southeast Asia (excl. Singapore and Malaysia), credit card penetration rates are in low single digits and most people don’t even have a bank account.

Source: Global Findex, World Bank

Unfortunately, few fintech and payment startups in the region have created products to address the lack of credit cards and large unbanked population. Instead, the majority happily build payment gateways and e-wallets that rely on existing and legacy credit card infrastructure like in the US (Apple Pay anyone?).

It’s no wonder cash-on-delivery (COD) still makes up over 70% of all processed transactions according to data by ecommerceIQ.

Those that do focus on mobile wallets topped up with cash like Thailand’s True Money struggle to achieve sustainable “core product value” and reach mass.

“Community, Commerce, and Payments are inter-connected in the Digital World. Thus far, all successful mobile payment plays, globally, are centered on the commerce and community axis. PayPal started with eBay, Alipay with Alibaba/TMall/Taobao, WeChat Pay leveraged WeChat/QQ, and Amazon Pay has Amazon. Due to this very reason, standalone payments/wallet business will struggle.” — Gaurav Sharma, Founder at Atlantis Capital

Go-Pay addresses these fundamental issues by allowing users to send payments peer-to-peer (P2P) and top up by giving cash to Go-Jek drivers who act like mobile ATM machines.

Top up your Go Pay mobile wallet by handing cash to a Go-Jek driver

More importantly, with Go-Jek being part of the Tencent faction, we expect the company to push Go-Pay into other Southeast Asian countries through its community and commerce platforms such as Sea (Garena, Shopee, etc.), Traveloka and JD.

Following rumors in November, Go-Jek finally announced its acquisition of Kartuku, Mapan and Midtrans. The latter, being one of Indonesia’s top online payment gateways, will give Go-Pay additional distribution channels and use cases such as Matahari Mall, Tokopedia and Garuda Indonesia, pushing it beyond the realm of P2P into B2C payments.

A strong contender for the “WeChat of Southeast Asia” is Grab, whose 2.5 million daily rides makes it the largest ride-hailing platform in Southeast Asia. GrabPay, launched this year, is Grab’s effort to move Singapore towards a cashless society, with plans to expand across the region in 2018.

Should Go-Jek be worried? Not really.

Singapore is not the ideal test-bed to launch a mobile wallet because the country already has an ubiquitous cashless payment platform called “credit cards”. And GrabPay’s recent partnership in Indonesia with Lippo Group’s Ovo hasn’t garnered much attention or presented wide use cases.

“While it might seem like common wisdom to first test (an idea) in Singapore, and then take it regionally and to the world, with all due respect to the government, I think it doesn’t make sense in today’s world.” — Min-Liang Tan, Co-Founder and CEO of Razer

Go-Pay, on the other hand, is adding value to users in a country where only 36% have bank accounts and 2% have credit cards. Emerging markets like Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines have a similar (lack of) financial infrastructure as Indonesia.

Go-Jek, by being part of the Tencent faction, has access to a much more diversified distribution channel and offers a variety of common day-to-day use cases such as gaming (Garena), shopping (Sea, JD), travel (Traveloka) and pretty much everything else (Go-Jek itself).

7. New mobile-first fashion and beauty marketplaces will fill void left by Zalora

Zalora, Rocket Internet’s once star fashion ecommerce venture, has struggled in Southeast Asia since launching in 2012. Zalora Thailand and Vietnam were picked up by Thai retail conglomerate Central Group for pennies on the dollar while the Philippines entity was partially sold off to the Ayala real estate group.

There were even rumors of Zalora Indonesia exiting to local retailer MAP, which were swiftly denied.

A few factors contributed to the company’s difficulties: 1. Price and product variety competition with merchants selling on Facebook, Instagram and LINE, 2. Control of brands by one or two retail conglomerates like Central in Thailand, MAP in Indonesia, and SSI Group in the Philippines.

These two factors made it difficult for Zalora to pivot to an ASOS-style premium brand marketplace.

A shell of its former self, Zalora’s challenges left a void that is increasingly being filled by more nimble, mobile-first fashion marketplaces that see an opportunity in a space dominated by mass-market, general ecommerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee.

As evident from Amazon’s struggle to court premium fashion brands in the US, luxury brands don’t like to sell on mass platforms, where merchandise shows up beside detergent and washing machines.

“After purchasing Whole Foods, Amazon now has access to the wealthiest refrigerators in the country but they still can’t get into our closets because the aspirational beauty and fashion brands don’t want to distribute on their platform. Why? Because they don’t have their heads up their ass and realize that Amazon partners with brands the way a virus partners with its host.” — Scott Galloway, L2 Founder and NYU Stern Professor

Over in China, both Tmall and JD had to exert a Herculean effort to attract fashion brands. In October, JD launched TopLife, a standalone online luxury platform to provide a high-end experience that high-end brands promise. Alibaba also launched Luxury Pavilion, a section within Tmall tailored to luxury brands like Burberry and Hugo Boss.

Spearheading a new wave of mobile-centric Southeast Asian fashion marketplaces are Zilingo, fresh off an $18M Series B, and Goxip, a Hong Kong based startup that recently completed a $5M Series A with plans to enter Thailand. In Indonesia, there’s LYKE, ironically founded by the ex-Zalora CMO.

With the benefits of hindsight and understanding of the importance of social commerce on driving fashion, these emerging players will offer elements like chat, content and an influencer network to offset some of the customer acquisition cost challenges inherent in scaling ecommerce.

8. Marketplaces will grow up and clean up ‘grey market’ for blue-chip and luxury brands

Over the last six years, most of the region’s initial ecommerce growth was focused on driving GMV by tapping into any merchant and brand willing to sell online.

In 2018, marketplaces like Lazada and Shopee will continue to attempt to onboard bigger global brands but their success will require them to control grey market sellers and counterfeit goods in order to cultivate an environment in which blue-chip brands will feel comfortable selling.

Alibaba went through the same process in China when discussions surrounding counterfeits and grey market goods on Tmall and Taobao peaked around the company’s IPO in 2014.

Based on data provided by marketplace analytics platform BrandIQ, 80% of SKUs from consumer product giants like Unilever, Samsung, and L’Oreal on average are sold by unauthorized, grey market resellers. These grey market SKUs are sold at a price 30% lower than official flagship stores and authorized resellers.

Why all the fuss? Because grey market sales impact the image of brands selling in official stores.

“Lately, the explosion of third-party sellers on the site has led to authentic goods from companies such as Nike, Chanel, The North Face, Patagonia and Urban Decay being sold on Amazon even though they don’t authorize the sales, undercutting their grip on pricing and distribution,” said the Wall Street Journal.

Nike, for example, refused to sell directly to Amazon for a long time, fearing it would undermine its brand. But by not selling on marketplace creates space that will be quickly filled by grey market, unauthorized third-party resellers looking for arbitrage opportunities as seen from the previous BrandIQ data.

Customers buying from these grey market resellers perceive this as buying from the brand itself and, when having a poor customer experience, end up blaming the brand rather than the unauthorized reseller.

BrandIQ data shows that the average rating for grey market SKUs are 24% lower than reviews for similar products sold through the official shop-in-shop or flagship store.

We’ll see a push from the marketplace and brands to address grey market sales in Southeast Asia in 2018. Marketplaces will employ a tighter grip on third-party resellers in order to attract better brands, while brands will set up an official presence on marketplaces as a way to pro-actively manage the customer experience and brand image.

9. Marketplaces and e-tailers will introduce its own private label products and alienate brands

As the ecommerce market in Southeast Asia matures and consolidates, marketplaces, e-tailers and ecommerce startups will be increasingly scrutinized for margin growth. Gone are the days of aggressive top line growth and market share grabs at all cost.

With Lazada post-Alibaba acquisition and Shopee post-IPO (as part of Sea), what other value-added services will these companies tap into for sustainable revenue growth?

In this instance, companies in Southeast Asia have taken a cue from the China playbook. Lazada launched a Lazada Marketing Solutions unit to monetize its 23M active annual customers through advertising similar to how Tmall and Taobao charge for ads in China.

Today, Lazada offers display ads and programmatic promoted product ads to its customers but is expected to launch pay-per-click search ads in 2018 competing with Google, Facebook and similar networks out there. Across the region, Shopee has already launched pay-per-click search ads.

Beyond advertising, we can expect more marketplaces and e-tailers to follow Amazon’s foray into private label brands to boost margins. With the data collected from selling third-party brands, these ecommerce platforms know exactly what kind of products sell best, to whom, at what time and where.

Flipkart, one of India’s top marketplaces competing with Amazon, recently announced its aim for 20-22% sales contribution from private labels in the next five years.

“When we first decided to foray into private labels in mid-2016, a ‘Tiger Team,’ for private labels was created internally to research 50-odd retailers around the world, including Europe, the US, China and India, to envisage what the private label landscape would look like for Flipkart over the next few years. Research revealed that private labels can contribute 10-20 percent of the company’s business. For instance, US-based Costco Wholesale’s private label brand Kirkland contributes 20-25 percent of its business,” said Adarsh Menon, Flipkart’s Head of Private Labels in an interview with The Hindu.

Launching private label brands in Southeast Asia isn’t something new. Zalora launched its own fashion label called EZRA as early as 2013 followed by Lazada’s LZD Premium Collection in 2014. With the focus on top line growth in the period of 2013-2016, private label brands have taken a backseat as seen from the limited number of them listed today on Zalora and Lazada.

Althea, a Korean beauty e-retailer that recently raised a $7M Series B, specifically said to be using the new funds to launch more private label products.

Althea private label product sold on their website

“Based on the vast amount of user data that we have gathered… we are now able to understand the specific needs of our customers in each market, garner feedback almost instantly through our online platforms, and quickly turn that into a product within a month or two,” said Althea Co-Founder and CEO Frank Kang. “We have deep insights into our customer base that traditional brands simply cannot match.”

In light of all this, it’s not surprising Zalora has expressed renewed interest in pushing its own private labels, “Something Borrowed” and “Zalora”, for the new year.

10. B2B ecommerce to disrupt offline distributors, blurring lines between online and offline distribution

Despite the rosy outlook for ecommerce in Southeast Asia, the reality is that B2C ecommerce today is still in the low single digit percentages. Given aggressive growth targets, brands, marketplaces and e-tailers will increasingly look toward non-B2C channels such as B2B and B2E (Business-to-Employee) channels for revenue.

Zilingo, the Sequoia-backed fashion marketplace, launched its Zilingo Asia Mall B2B marketplace to allow fashion buyers in the US and Europe buy Zilingo merchandise at wholesale prices, effectively creating an “Alibaba” for fashion.

Shopee launched a wholesale feature earlier this year, allowing merchants to set lower unit prices for larger order quantities.

 

Shopee Malaysia offering wholesale feature

aCommerce, Southeast Asia’s ecommerce enabler and e-distributor, fresh off a $65M Series B from KKR-backed Emerald Media, coined a new term for all this — “B2A” or Business-to-All.

The company is behind the B2B and B2E initiatives for brands like Samsung and L’Oreal. According to the company, B2B ecommerce now contributes to 30% of total revenues at aCommerce, up from 10% a year earlier (disclaimer, I work here).

Written by: Sheji Ho, aCommerce Group Chief Marketing Officer

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

As the fastest growing industry in one of the world’s fastest growing markets, the evolution of Southeast Asia’s ecommerce landscape means new players and a lot of consolidation since last year’s first ECOMScape series by ecommerceIQ.

This year’s new edition of the ECOMScapes kicks off with Indonesia.

Expected to capture the biggest chunk of the $200 billion ecommerce opportunity in Southeast Asia, it’s easy to see why Chinese giants like Alibaba, JD, and Tencent have rigorously left their home-market to tackle Indonesia. What has happened over a span of only one year?

1. Chinese Companies are Hungry

Out of the total $3 billion investment put into Indonesia startups in the first eight months of 2017, 94% of the funding came from Chinese investors.

News regarding Alibaba leading a $1.1 billion investment in Tokopedia created excitement in the industry, especially because JD was rumored to also make a bid for the popular local marketplace.

Indonesia startups investment

Although that opportunity passed, it hasn’t stopped JD from participating in the funding round of Indonesia’s two other unicorns, ride-hailing app Go-Jek and online travel booking platform Traveloka. Chinese giant Tencent also joined the round for Go-Jek.

2. Natural Selection: A Race to the Bottom

As the market in Indonesia saturates, in both players and investment, it’s only a matter of time before natural selection weeds out the weaker companies (especially those with shallow pockets).

The past year has seen several ecommerce companies in Indonesia either shutting down or pivoting business models, and investors pulling out before stakes become worthless. And don’t think it’s only happening to the small fish.

Some cases? Alfacart and Elevenia.

Earlier this year, Indonesian convenience store chain Alfacart announced its decision to ditch the marketplace model after a continual lag behind e-marketplaces like Lazada and MatahariMall.

Launched in 2013, Elevenia is the joint venture of telco companies XL Axiata and Korea’s SK Planet. Despite claims that Elevenia has seen positive growth over the years, it’s a telling sign when both companies pull out and sell their stake to Indonesia’s conglomerate group Salim.

Even the ecommerce arm of large telco company Indosat, Cipika, shut down in June citing unprofitable business model and high cash burn rate as reasons.

Indonesia ecommerce landscape

With JD and Alibaba investing directly in local companies, it’s not a stretch to expect fewer names on the ECOMScape next year.

3. Marketplace Competition Heats Up

If this time last year Tokopedia was focused on growing its core C2C business, the Indonesian marketplace has long since been strong arming its shift to B2C as signaled by Unilever’s official store opening on the platform.

The move is already serious competition to Lazada, especially as the two ecommerce companies interchangeably grab the top spot in web traffic in Indonesia (which is probably why Alibaba invested in both companies).

Indonesia’s top C2C players have been moving into the B2C space i.e. Tokopedia. Traffic of ecommerce websites compiled by ecommerceIQ. Find more here.

Sea’s backed Shopee has also opened its platform for brands as it launched Shopee Mall that claimed to offer over 500 brands.

The shift from C2C to B2C is a natural progression as companies attempt to increase revenue and leverage their already large customer bases.

4. Having Fintech is for “Cool Kids” But the Nerds Will Win

While payments still remain a pain point in Indonesia ecommerce even though multiple companies released their own e-wallets last year, the country and the region potentially, might finally have a real solution.

Both Kudo and Kioson are arming micro-entrepreneurs and business owners such as mom-and-pop shops in rural areas with their digital platform to empower them to act as the bridge between ecommerce companies and rural citizens.

The O2O (online-to-offline) concept clearly has some merit, as both companies attracted investor attention and made headlines in 2017. Kudo was acquired by Grab and Kioson raised $3.3 million as the first tech company to IPO on the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX).

Kioson during its IPO in October 5, raising $3.3 million. Source: Kioson.

Indonesian startup darling Go-Jek is also leveraging its millions of users by launching its own mobile wallet, GoPay, which has real potential to become the WeChat of Indonesia.

GoPay’s usability has improved from payment for rides to also allowing peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers and making the order of food, groceries, tickets, and beauty treatments extremely easy in one app.


Are we missing any key players? Let us know via Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter

Download ECOMScape Indonesia 2017 here.

Featured image credit: Martha Suherman