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


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1. Loyalty program Pointo to manage customers’ points across Asia

In the near future, Pointo targets to have at least 150 brands collaborate with them, including merchants in Asia. The company also wants financial companies, such as banks, flight carriers and telecommunication operators to join Pointo. Read the rest of the story here.


2. APAC doubling down on m-payment market

A top down regulatory push toward cashless societies will stimulate exponential growth in the mobile payment market in Asia-Pacific (excluding China and India), which will surge from $71.92 billion to $271.47 billion by 2021, research from Frost & Sullivan indicates. Read the rest of the story here.


3. Stripe launches ‘Radar’mobi to tackle ecommerce fraud with machine learning

The startup that lets websites and mobile apps implement payment services through its API and a few lines of code believes that its machine learning, and close monitoring of transaction data on its own platform, giving it an edge of a lot of the third party offerings. Read the rest of the story here.

Ericsson Mobility Report

Fig.1: Mobile subscription is set to increase at a compound annual growth rate

The Ericsson Mobility Report, published in June, presents a market overview of mobile broadband and smartphone availability in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Find the key takeaways below:

  • Smartphone subscriptions are expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15%, up until 2021 (See Fig.1).
  • The rise of mobile broadband is due to smartphone availability and popularity of data intensive apps (leading to a competition of data driven bundle deals by Thai mobile carriers).
  • Mobile broadband growth has the potential to trigger an entirely new wave of growth across Southeast Asia, opening up opportunities for innovation in apps and services
Ericsson Mobility Report

Fig.2: Line is the most popular app in Thailand, whereas other countries in the region prefer the Facebook trifecta.

Unlike Whatsapp, Line users in Thailand are able to do more than messaging on the app. Line offers payments, branded content through mobile marketing and has now branched out to food delivery. This would explain the app’s popularity in the country, whilst Whatsapp remains the go-to choice for smartphone users in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

Smartphone Use In Southeast Asia

Ericsson also reports that in Malaysia and Thailand, almost half of smartphone users access social networking, instant messaging and online videos on a daily basis (40-50%), making the two countries very mobile driven. This focus on mobile leaves a lot of room open for mobile commerce opportunities, from payment platforms to shopping (see Fig.3)

Ericsson Mobility Report

Fig.3: Thailand and Malaysia has the most daily users of social networking apps

When it comes to the profiles of daily smartphone users, there are differences between countries. However, there is an overrepresentation of users who are young and educated from a regional level.

Ericsson Mobility Report

Fig.4: Currently, Wi-Fi has the larger share of overall smartphone traffic

Southeast Asia’s mobile broadband and Wi-Fi data traffic on smartphones continues to grow. User generated data shows that all markets in the region experienced increases in average data traffic per user for mobile broadband and Wi-Fi. Leisure time apps, such as games are not necessarily data intensive but are often accessed from home, this also contributes to Wi-Fi growth.

Mobile Subscriptions in Southeast Asia

Ericsson Mobility Report

Fig 5: Indonesia leads the way in mobile subscriptions

  • Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are expected to have more than 100% mobile broadband subscription penetration by the end of 2016.
  • Mobile subscriptions in the region will grow annually at 4% between 2015-2021, totaling to 1.2 billion by the end of 2021.
  • Mobile broadband services are foreseen to account for more than 90% of total mobile subscriptions in the region by the end of 2021.

Although fixed broadband subscription penetration is still low in emerging markets, compared to mobile broadband, the region has been seeing a growth in middle income households that should contribute to the rise in demand or high speed broadband services in residential areas. This is particularly true in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Mobile broadband will still be the main form of broadband access for the majority of people in the emerging markets of Southeast Asia. This opens up a window of opportunity for operators to fill the need for home broadband.

Network Performance In the Region

Communications is increasingly becoming more app centric, with video streaming to be accounting for almost 70% of all global mobile data traffic by 2021. The increasing popularity of video streaming services on smartphones is driving innovation in video compression and display technology. In order for videos to be fully utilized, a high speed network is much needed.

High expectations will continue to be placed on network performance. This should be challenging for developing countries. As mobile connectivity grows, network connectivity should be experiencing similar rate of growth in order to facilitate innovation.

Download the full Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2016, here.

Glispa expands to Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is very mobile driven, easily seen on public transport. Source:

After three years of executing mobile marketing campaigns in Southeast Asia, German based mobile marketing specialist Glispa Global Group is making a commitment to the region with a HQ in Singapore. It has also appointed former Google executive Christian Ngyuen as its Southeast Asia General Manager, Digital News Asia reports. The company has been executing mobile advertising campaigns in the region since 2013, but with Southeast Asia’s apparent mobile growth and potential, Glispa sees concrete opportunities here.

The company supports global advertisers, app developers and publishers to achieve user acquisition and monetization goals via marketing efforts with mobile. It also provides technology based solutions that tap into big data analytics, which will now be applied to Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Indonesia and emerging mobile markets such as Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

The countries make up a very interesting market for Glispa, as there are different levels of opportunities and challenges within the region, with Singapore’s mature mobile market, Indonesia’s hyper-growth market, and emerging markets with a mobile first mentality such as Thailand.

By 2019, more than 50% of digital ad spending will be attributed to mobile, which means there will be a vast extent of opportunities for Glispa to optimize in the region. Mobile advertising opportunities will grow steadily with smartphone penetration. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, almost half of Thailand’s smartphone users access social networking and online videos on a daily basis. Smartphone subscription in Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam will more than double by 2021, making the region a mobile marketing goldmine.

Glispa has had extensive experience working with companies in the region, it has executed mobile marketing campaigns for Lazada, Shopee, Gumi and Matahri Mall. Glispa is getting a head start in Southeast Asia in terms of a mobile marketing initiative, which means it has potential to become a key regional player.

A version of this appeared in Digital News Asia on June 29. Read the full article here.

LINE And WeChat Boost Mobile Marketing


Marketing on mobile messaging apps has yet to take root in the US and Europe in a big way, but it is already in full swing in Asia. The operators of Line and WeChat, Asia’s most popular chat apps, are enabling marketers to tap into platforms that provide hundreds of millions of users with a variety of customized services beyond messaging, including hailing taxis, streaming music, ordering food and making payments.

Unlike its Asian counterparts, Facebook Inc. doesn’t make money from its two mobile messaging services, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. But both apps are testing models that could potentially generate revenue, such as showing users messages sponsored by advertisers.

Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based mobile industry consultant, comments,

In terms of monetization, the messenger apps in Asia like WeChat and Line are light years ahead of Western messaging apps. 

Advertisements accounted for a third of LINE’s $1.1 billion in revenue last year. The company also earned revenue from mobile games and virtual stickers that people can buy and send to one another in conversations. The platform allows businesses to create official accounts for free, for instance, brands can set up a LINE account to stay in touch with its consumers, allowing them to be updated on promotions, launches and general news about the brand. Some accounts use LINE to directly communicate with consumers.

The company has also recently begun providing optimized advertisements based on user demographics and interests.

WeChat has more than 762 million monthly active users world-wide, mainly in China. Many businesses communicate with consumers and share discount coupons to draw people to their products, for example, luxury fashion brand Chanel used WeChat to interact with fashion show guests in May, sharing videos and snapshots of its new collection on the messaging platform.

Although the two messaging platform giants are pushing the boundaries of mobile marketing and creating new opportunities for brands to elevate consumer experience, both LINE and Wechat are struggling to expand beyond its core user base, serving as a bottleneck to their growth as game-changers. However, as they continue to influence how brands interact with consumers, they remain key mobile players in Asia.

A version of this appeared in The Wall Street Journal on June 22. Read the full article here.