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What does the FMCG giant Unilever have in common with grocery retailer The Kroger and a luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet?

The answer is Retail-as-a-Service (RaaS).

Unilever worked with JD.com to distribute goods to both online and physical stores in China, while Audemars Piguet launched its pop-up store on WeChat. In the US, food store The Kroger partnered with Microsoft to increase the level of personalization and productivity in their stores.

The term ‘RaaS’ has clamoring over the headlines over the years, but what exactly is Retail-as-a-Service?

What Is Retail-as-a-Service and Why Is It Becoming a Trend?

An analyst from Kantar Retail, Stephen Mader, defines the Retail-as-a-Service model as when “retailers build open platforms and toolkits that enable brands and third-party sellers to connect with shoppers directly through a physical store”.

Having an abundance of data in hands, these retailers bundle up services, customer data, technology, and its expertise to offer brands a service.

The emergence of ecommerce has reduced the in-store retail visits by billions in the US and part of the reason is because the experience offered by a traditional physical store is no longer enough for the savvy consumers. Besides shopping for products, consumers are slowly and surely seeking an experience when they’re out visiting the store.

“Nearly 3,800 stores are expected to close their doors by year’s end, and the brands that do survive will have done so by creating engrossing experiences.”

In order for the brands to maximize the potential of offline stores effectively, they need to provide engaging experiences to keep the consumers hooked. For example, Sephora combined activities that are completely unrelated to making a purchase into its app, while Samsung’s pop-up store was set up to allows consumers test its technology and experience rather than to focus on sale.

The trend also drives the growth of RaaS platform startups that provide an easy, cost-effective solution to brands wanting to launch physical stores.

In the US, a “Retail as-a-Service” startup b8ta has helped retailers such as Macy’s, Lowe’s, and 15 other consumer brands to set up pop-up stores and physical shops, incorporating technologies and cutting-edge gimmicks to traditional physical retailers.

Chicago-based Leap recently secured $3 million in funding to offer an end-to-end service — that ranges from staffing, experiential design, tech integration, and day-to-day operations — to help digital brands to launch a brick-and-mortar store.

Meanwhile, Fourpost is focusing on providing a ready-to-use retail space for digital native brands looking to open a physical store in the US, lowering the barrier of entry in terms of both capital and time. Each of these companies is tackling the problems that usually came with setting up an offline store and elevate the consumer experience.

“If you shop in one of our stores, you will feel different because we have gone to such a great length to remove the idea of your visit being about buying a product.” – Vibhu Norby, the co-founder and CEO of b8ta.

With over 70 locations, B8ta’s store allows brands to place their merchants and train shop assistants while gaining revenue from space rental and subscription fees from brands; Retail Dive

JD.com spurns the growth of RaaS in Asia

Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com is a big advocate of the strategy.

One of JD.com’s latest initiative to establish RaaS is the partnership with Chinese retailer Better Life. JD.com was also one of the first retailers to develop a mini ecommerce program on WeChat. To date, JD.com has developed and bundled up its marketing, logistics, financial services, and big data as a service and leverage these capabilities to help over 2,000 brands and its merchants.

JD.com also partnered with Google to develop next-generation retail infrastructure solutions by combining JD.com’s supply chain and logistics expertise and Google’s technology strengths.

All of these were the result of JD.com’s mission to go forward by scaling its technology in order to outsource its developments to third-party retailers around the world. Chen Zhang, Chief Technology Officer at JD.com says that making money is not their priority at this stage as he believes that:

“With Scalability, comes profit”

Taking the burgeoning amount of investment coming from China to the region into consideration, it’s only a matter of time for RaaS to kick off in Southeast Asia.

In Indonesia, JD.com has already started the concept on its unmanned store JD.ID X Mart. The store collected data that can be used to understand shopping behavior and optimize inventory, product displays, and other aspects of store management and marketing.

With JD.com’s joint-venture in Thailand, it’s fair to assume that the market will be the next destination for the innovation. And although Alibaba’s Lazada has been quiet on the front, looking at the fierce competition between the companies in the mainland, it seems like a matter of time until Alibaba does so.

Inside JD.ID X Mart in Indonesia. It is JD.com’s first unmanned store outside of China and it is a demonstration of JD.com’s mission to implement RaaS; Pandaily

With the ‘offline is the new online’ trend carried over to 2019, we can expect to see more traditional retailers offering their service and retail space to help online brands expanding their reach and getting more foot traffic in return.

A win-win strategy for the ever-changing landscape of retail.

With the boom of technology in the region, Southeast Asia has become home to young startups, and investors hoping to help fuel its rapid growth.

Some examples of investment news surrounding the region only this year include Chinese ecommerce giant JD.com confirming a $500 million joint venture with Thai retailer Central to build up the ecommerce and fintech sector in Thailand; Malaysia Debt Ventures set aside a $238 million fund to target technology-based companies like AR, VR, etc; and 500 Startups has made its debut investment in Myanmar backing a social media monitoring and news discovery app.

A recent report commissioned by Google and AT Kearney also highlights just how much money has been funneled into the region, which market is the most attractive and where are the most deep-pocketed investors coming from.

Southeast Asia’s golden child

Although the investment for startup companies in Southeast Asia only contributed to 8% to the total $90 billion of investment into Asia, this value has grown 23 times from 2012 to 2016 from $0.3 billion to $6.8 billion.

Most of the money has been pumped into Singapore and Indonesia that captured 60% of the entire investment.

Indonesia startups investment

Singapore gained most of the startup investment in Southeast Asia

However, nothing shone brighter this year than the myriad of Indonesian startups that have been stealing the attention of global industry giants like Tencent, Expedia, and Tim Draper from Draper Associates who invested in the early days of Tesla, Baidu, and Skype.

The country has produced three startups that classify as a ‘unicorn’, a company valued at more than $1 billion. They are Traveloka, Tokopedia and Go-Jek.

The first is valued at $2 billion after a $350 million investment from Expedia in July, and both Tokopedia and Go-Jek also are worth around $1 billion and $3 billion respectively.

Where’s all the money coming from?

Attracting the Chinese investors

In a short span of four years time from 2012 to 2016, Indonesia has seen 31 times growth of investment value from $44 million to $1.4 billion. During 8 months in this year alone, this value has grown more than two times to $3 billion driven by later-stage investments.

Indonesia startups investment

The staggering growth has AT Kearney predicting the ecosystem could attract more investment than the oil and gas industry — which contributed $23.7 billion or 3.3% of the country’s GDP last year.

“Due to the massive growth, the value of startup investments in Indonesia may surpass the nation’s oil and gas investment which was $5 billion in 2016,” said AT Kearney partner, Alessandro Gazzini.

From all of the investment raised by Indonesian startups since 2012, ecommerce received the biggest chunk of gold taking 58% of the total investment value.

Transport and fintech quickly follow behind with 38% and 2% respectively.

Indonesia startups investment

Indonesia has also become a hotbed for the expansion of Chinese companies as the country sees a growing interest from Chinese investors this year.

94% of the startups investment in the country during 2017 have involved Chinese investors, up from only 2% last year. Two of the infamous Chinese BAT, Alibaba and Tencent, are raising stake in Indonesia by investing in Tokopedia and Go-Jek respectively.

Meanwhile, JD.com diversified its portfolios with investment in Traveloka making Indonesia the official battleground for Chinese companies to fight their proxy war.

Indonesia startups investment

The involvement of Chinese investors in Indonesia is something that the government has encouraged across all sectors. Indonesia’s Investment Coordinating has even set up a special China desk to attract more investors.

With the country still at a nascent digital stage, there is no precise measurement to find out the country’s true potential until company’s try but as the famed venture capitalist Tim Draper said about Indonesia, “it is a great place to be”.

Here’s what you should know:

1. Member.id raises seed funding to disrupt customer loyalty program in Indonesia

Customer loyalty platform Member.id has raised an undisclosed seed funding round led by East Ventures to expand its team and support product development.

Member.id designs, builds, and operates loyalty program as a third-party provider for its clients. The company currently only targets large enterprises.

In the long run, users can exchange points across different brands via the platform. If you prefer the rewards from another brand, you can buy into that network by trading points.

Read the full story here.

2. JD.com reported more loss in Q2 2017 than the same period last year

JD.com reported a widened net loss in the second quarter of 496.4 million yuan ($74.43 million), from 252.3 million yuan in the same period a year earlier.
The losses is mostly caused by the marketing costs as it rose 63% to 4.1 billion yuan ($614 million), mostly due to sales events in June.

However, the company’s revenue also grew 43.6% to 93.2 billion yuan (almost $14 billion), well above its forecast range of 88 billion yuan to 90.5 billion yuan ($13 billion to $13.5 billion).

Read the full story here.

3. Uber appeals to LTFRB’s one month suspension order

Uber said it had appealed to the Philippine authorities to reconsider a one-month suspension order that was issued a day earlier, while resuming services as it waits for a decision.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) decided on Monday night to halt the service over Uber’s defiance of an order to cease accepting new driver applications.

The suspension led to an outpouring protest by Filipinos on social media as Uber is hugely popular and regarded as more reliable than the public transport services.

Read the full story here.

 

Here’s what you should know:

1. Baidu teams up with JD.com to send users straight to the checkout

China’s largest search engine, Baidu, has struck a deal to funnel users looking for products to online retailer JD.com.

Users browsing for product information on Baidu’s mobile search app can now buy items directly from JD.com within Baidu’s app, enabling the company to glean valuable data on its customers’ preferences.

The partnership will help Baidu build more personalised ads and product suggestions, while shortening consumers’ journey for JD.com’s products.

Read the full story here.

2. Pos Malaysia signed a bilateral arrangement for collaboration in ecommerce

Pos Malaysia signed a bilateral arrangement with its Tunisian counterpart La Poste Tunisienne for collaboration in ecommerce business.

The arrangement covers cooperation in areas such as developing and enhancing the ecommerce portfolio in terms of exchanging ecommerce parcels and small packets between the two parties at a competitive price.

The agreement will also serve as a platform for both parties to share information with regards to enhancing the ecommerce products, services and activities globally.

Read the full story here.

3. Recommended Reading: How will fashion retailers crack the last mile in ecommerce business?

Last mile remains both the most challenging and costly segment of the ecommerce journey, accounting for nearly 50% of the total cost of delivery.

For retailers, efficiency in the last mile translates into both savings and a more pleasurable transaction for the consumer.

“The main challenge for companies is that the last mile matrix is getting increasingly complex with all the different delivery channels. In order to succeed, retailers will have to orchestrate their logistics matrix strategically.”

Read the full story here.

Here’s what you should know today:

1. President of Indonesia signed the ecommerce road map

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has signed the long-awaited ecommerce road map that was expected to be issued at the end of this year

The road map will provide guidelines for the country’s digital economy sector, including issues such as payment, logistics, cyber securities, taxation, human resources development and consumer protection.

The ministry was also designing a measure to record online transaction information from the marketplace, in coordination with the Finance Ministry, Central Statistics Agency (BPS) and Bank Indonesia.

Read the full story here.

2. Facebook enters China with photo sharing app

Facebook is testing a photo-sharing app called Colorful Balloons in China after banned in the country since 2009.

Colorful Balloons works like Facebook’s Moments app by allowing users to share photos with friends and family members.

However, instead of using Facebook’s interface, it relies on WeChat, and was released by a local company called Youge Internet Technology.

Read the full story here.

3. Indonesia’s niche ecommerce players attract JD.com 

Chinese internet giant JD.com continues to show its interest in the market by pursuing new partnership with niche ecommerce players in Indonesia. The company is also said to be open to making an equity investment.

JD.com is learnt to be interested in partnering with Laku6 although that relationship may not be an equity based one. The firm aslo recently participated in Traveloka’s $500 million funding round.

The rumour of its talks for investment in Tokopedia has been around for months with its rival Alibaba also showing interest in closing the deal.

Read the full story here.