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One hundred two billion dollars. That’s how much the value of ecommerce in Southeast Asia is estimated to exceed by 2025.

The latest e-Conomy of Southeast Asia report by Google and Singapore-based Temasek confirmed the growing confidence among investors in the region. Startups raised $9.1 billion in the first half of last year, almost as much as throughout the whole of 2017.

2018 was dubbed as the year of ecommerce for the region, so what can we expect in 2019? We speak to industry leaders to discover the anticipated trends for online retailers and brands in Southeast Asia.

1. Brands Shift Their Focus from Data Gathering to Data Utilization

The biggest differentiator between online and offline retail is the ability to track, collect, monitor, and manage information, all in real time.

Through online channels, brands are able to access customer data through chats, social media, and their own websites. This information can be used to devise online strategies. Globally, 73% of brands plan to allocate their ecommerce budget on data & analytics services in 2019.

However, despite the general agreement of its importance, many brands still have no concept of how to utilize data to their advantage.

“Even today, not all retailers have embraced data fully to the point where they think of themselves as data companies, and this might be why many companies are suffering.” Harvard Business School Professor Srikant M. Datar.

Data collection is easy but having and optimizing the analytics capability to use it is a completely different ball game.

A survey by ecommerceIQ identified data analysis as one of the most difficult skills to find among the digital talents in Southeast Asia. Brands are constantly searching for data aggregators to consolidate information into one place for convenient retrieval and use to target, retarget, and personalize products and services.

Reagan Chai, Head of Regional Business Intelligence and Business Development at Shopee told ecommerceIQ that data acquisition enables the company to map out and optimize buyer and seller user experience while pre-empting customer demand and anticipating future potential. The company has seen an increase in website traffic in the past year that even surpasses the other regional players.

In China, Alibaba and JD.com have taken this a step further by utilizes the data gathered online to improve inventories and experiences at their physical stores. Alibaba Chief Marketing Officer, Chris Tung said the company wants to help brands find the right consumers by tracking them throughout Alibaba’s system.

“We’re finding all data that has to do with people, their behavior, what they like, what they buy and binding this online data to real people,” concluded Chris.

Seeing the need, regional brand ecommerce enabler aCommerce launched a data analytics platform BrandIQ last year to enhance their capabilities as a data partner to help brands centralize their customer data and offer customized products or services to each target group.

The capabilities of BrandIQ that aim to enhance brands’ performance on online marketplace; BrandIQ

This leaves brands with two options: find an economical way to utilize the data or continue looking for a needle in a haystack.

2. Social Commerce Channels are Brands’ New Sales Outlets

Social commerce in this region boomed before the rise of ecommerce as we know now.

Facebook groups have long established as an online space where people connect to buy and sell goods, even before the launched of Marketplace feature. The social media’s rapid growth in Southeast Asia is propelled by mobile adoption and smartphone, where 90% of the online population access the internet via smartphones. For some, Facebook even defines the internet itself.

With multitudes of potential customers gathered in social media platforms, brands naturally espied alternative sales channels. Following Facebook’s footsteps, social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest have also developed their own shoppable features.

“Brands will miss out if they don’t have a social media presence. The best way to get feedback from consumers is by having a direct conversation,” Deb Liu, Vice President, Facebook Marketplace told Forbes.

LINE recently acquired a social commerce management startup Sellsuki in Thailand, where it has the second biggest user base, to build a strong foundation for its ecommerce business. The company has also formed a joint venture with three local banks to offer personalized loans to SMEs.

A few big brands like L’Oreal have already equipped their social media page with ‘Shop’ feature that allows consumers to purchase the order directly on the page and it’s only a matter of time before more brands activate the platforms as one their sales channels and remove another layer between them and the consumers.

Consumers can purchase L’Oreal products on their Facebook page assisted through the Messenger app until the checking out process; L’Oreal Thailand.

3. E-Marketplaces Launch New Services to Differentiate

Looking at the successful existing ecommerce players in more developed markets, one key success factor they share is the various services rolled out on their fully-controlled supply chain.

JD.com’s investment to the development of their own supply chain allows them to scale their technology and offer Retail-as-a-Service proposition to help other retailers or brands sell online. Alibaba is unrivaled on its extensive ecosystem beyond commerce, including a logistics network Cainiao, a payment firm Ant Financial, not to mention its recent foray into the entertainment industry.

The same practice has infiltrated down to Southeast Asia. Lazada has strengthened its logistics arm FBL (Fulfilled by Lazada) post the acquisition, and although no concrete plans have been disclosed, Shopee has expressed the intention to build its own logistics network.

Singapore’s Qoo10 is set to launch its blockchain-based ecommerce site QuuBee this year, leveraging the blockchain technology to eliminate the transaction and listing fee which in turn increase the retailers’ profit margin and make a more sustainable commerce approach.

In Indonesia, Tokopedia is set to offer “Infrastructure-As-a-Service” with the fresh $1.1 billion funding. They also plan to use AI for customer care services and to run credit checks on merchants seeking loans to expand their businesses.

The practice is not exclusively done by the general e-marketplaces. Fashion e-marketplace Zilingo scored $226 million in funding due to their new focus to build a network of fashion supply chain that anyone, small merchants or big retailers, can tap into.

“It’s imperative for us to build products that introduce machine learning and data science effectively to SMEs while also being easy to use, get adopted and scale quickly. We’re re-wiring the entire supply chain with that lens so that we can add the most value,” revealed Zilingo CTO Dhruv Kapoor to TechCrunch.

Facebook is also showing more intention to jump into the bandwagon that is the region’s ecommerce. The social network has launched Marketplace feature in Thailand and Singapore without much fanfare, but the recent partnership with Kasikorn Bank in Thailand to allow in-app payment feature might be the start of the company’s effort to bulk up its commerce capabilities and cater to those that utilized the platform for their business.

Facebook partners with Thailand’s Kasikorn Bank to enable transfers and card payments on chats from Facebook Messenger; Facebook

 

In a bid to recruit more brands to sell on their platforms, we anticipate that e-marketplaces will continue to go head-to-head with each other through new services, acquisitions, and partnerships. Ready to burn more cash to win in this battle, e-marketplaces?

4. Brands to Reinforce Reviews and Fund User-Generated Content to Win Ecommerce Consumers

E-marketplaces in Southeast Asia has been upscaling and building add-ons which provide consumers with the utmost convenience. The search for better technology and assistance for the consumers is constant and never-ending.

Lazada introduces AI-powered image search feature onto its platform which allows shoppers to take a picture of an item and the platform will suggest similar items available; LiveatPC

Online consumers begin their online purchasing journeys by searching for product information or reading reviews, usually on the e-marketplace platforms, before making their purchase decision. They are looking for real opinions and user-generated reviews to validate the products.

The habit of leaving product reviews on ecommerce platform is not as common in Southeast Asia as it is in the US — Amazon even have dedicated page for top reviewers — and when they do, the reviews usually left little information about the product and more about the other aspect of the purchase (i.e. delivery time, packaging, etc).

Platforms like ReviewIQ are used by brands to increase their ratings and reviews engagement on their e-marketplace listings to help boost consumers make their decision. While the use of chatbots is an increasingly popular solution to help smooth the online customer experience, it’s more suitable for generic questions such as “where is my order?” or “is this product available?” instead of personalised questions such as “will this lipstick look good on a yellow-undertone skin?”.

Community-crowd model like one that’s popular with travel platforms such as Airbnb might also be suitable for ecommerce in the region to help consumers get passed their apprehension with online shopping — something that Edouard Steinert, aCommerce Thailand’s Director of Channel Management, is investigating to help the company’s clients as this model has shown to save time, increase results, and keep costs low.

“Consumers today want to hear genuine feedback and reviews about a product and become more averse to hard-sell methods. [User-generated] Reviews, especially from people who share the same passion with them, proved to drive better conversion for the brand,” added Edouard Steinert.

5. Brands Employ Direct-to-Consumer strategies to Acquire Direct Consumer Data

89% of companies are now competing mostly on a customer experience playing field and the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) approach is becoming more important for brands as it allows them to gain insights into their end users and anticipate their needs.

One trend observed among brands to promote DTC is ecommerce subscription. From a consumer perspective, subscription offers a convenient, personalized, and often cheaper way to buy what they need. For brands, it’s a subtle method to create customer loyalty in the digital landscape.

One brand adopting subscription ecommerce in the region is Nescafe Dolce Gusto, offering free coffee machines in exchange for a minimum 12-month subscription. Besides witnessing sales growth, Nescafe Dolce Gusto also noticed that consumers continued to purchase goods from its brand despite dropping out of the subscription plan.

“They may have dropped out of the subscription but not the brand. They still buy capsules from different channels; ecommerce website, online marketplaces, and supermarkets. A subscription strategy is not just a long-term consumption enabler but also a consumer acquisition channel for the whole brand,” Bhuree Ackarapolpanich, Brand Director & Digital Expert at Nescafé Dolce Gusto.

aCommerce’s Regional Director of Project Management, Mandy Arbilo said that e-sampling is a popular strategy employed by brands to evaluate the demand, especially ecommerce.

While normal sampling techniques used by offline retailers are expensive, e-sampling saves brands up to 40% as well as providing essentials customer data.

Mars Petcare is one of the e-sampling pioneers for aCommerce. The campaign prompted up to 25% of pet owners to try Pedigree as the main meal; aCommerce

As DTC becomes widely adopted, consumers will see brands coming up with attractive gimmicks using digital tools to gain insights and entice consumers to spend more on their brands.

6. 2019 Will Finally see Regulation of Ecommerce across the Region

Ecommerce practice in the region has remained largely unregulated as a nascent occurrence. As the industry grows, it is only a matter of time until governments step in to tax this fast-growing segment and level the playing field for foreign companies to offer digital services and goods locally.

News of the implementation of ecommerce tax regulations in Southeast Asian countries has been floating around since the beginning of last year but nothing concrete has as yet materialized.

A couple of months ago, Economic Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed an agreement to facilitate cross-border ecommerce transactions within the region.

However, while nothing has written in stone, predictions abound concerning the impacts of ecommerce tax on imported goods into the region. In Indonesia and Thailand, ecommerce tax is predicted to bolster the growth of social commerce because, unlike marketplaces, they are uncontrolled.

“If tax regulations restrict ecommerce platforms, making selling in Bukalapak complicated, there will be an exodus of people who prefer selling on Instagram and Facebook. These platforms are uncontrolled and not chased for tax because they sell through the back door,” Bukalapak co-founder and Chief Financial Officer Muhamad Fajrin Rasyid.

Singapore might also see a decrease in cross-border shopping as prices increase with the introduction of Goods and Service Tax (GST) on ecommerce goods and services from overseas. Currently, 89% of all cross-border transactions in the Asia Pacific region are conducted by Singaporeans.

A snapshot of the state of ecommerce tax regulations across six major Southeast Asian markets; ecommerceIQ

Looking at another high-potential ecommerce market, India introduces the new e-marketplace laws that indicate the prohibition of marketplace “owners” to sell products on their own marketplace through vendor entities in which they have an equity interest. It also prevents marketplaces to make deals with sellers that grants the marketplace exclusivity rights on the product. Could we see such laws be applied in Southeast Asia?

Regardless, brands will have very little influence on how the new tax policies take root but they will be behooved to anticipate the ruling and adjust online strategy accordingly to mitigate the impact of a shift in customer behavior. This ASEAN agreement will encourage more local entrepreneurs to create new products and venture online to access a larger and more diverse market. Brands will now need to be nimble and innovative to adapt to local nuances and preferences.

7. Grab and Go-Jek Challenge Logistics Providers to Capture Ecommerce and Online Food Delivery

Since Uber’s exit last March, Grab monopoly in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia has led to complaints about services and prices increased which resulted in protests from consumers and fines from governments which hit the headlines of the Filipino newspapers and Singaporean watchdogs.

But with the recent regional expansion from Indonesia’s Go-Jek, the competition between the two will only get fiercer. Go-Jek has successfully carved its existence in Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand last year alone. In addition, Grab’s competitor in Malaysia, Dacsee, has also expressed the plan of expanding to Thailand.

Both companies are not racing to be the best ride-hailing providers, they’re aiming for something much bigger; super apps. Go-Jek has secured $1 billion funds from Google, Tencent, and JD.com in part of their plan to raise $2 billion for this venture. Meanwhile, Grab recently nabbed $200 million investment from Thailand’s Central Group, boosting their valuation to 11 billion to date.

2019 will see these two competitors steer toward the same goal of food and ecommerce delivery. Google and Temasek reported that the online food delivery business grew 73% CAGR in 2019. By 2025, they predict online food delivery growth at 36% CAGR with online transport only 23%.

Market size of the ride-hailing industry in Southeast Asia; e-Conomy SEA 2018 Report by Google and Temasek

“We will be expanding our GrabFood and delivery business and deepening our relationships with restaurant merchants and key partners in some markets,” said Grab’s head of regional operations Russell Cohen.

Same-day delivery providers are going to feel more competition next year. The impact of Grab and Go-Jek on market vibes will definitely raise the bar for the logistics and delivery sector.

8. Brands and Retailers will Double Down on Omnichannel is Southeast Asia’s Preference over Pure-Play Ecommerce

The omnichannel shopping experience is not a new concept, but companies do have diverse interpretations of the concept. Headlines revealed that online retail behemoths, such as Amazon and Alibaba, are moving into physical retail.

The main reason why Alibaba ventured out of online space reflects its determination to solve core problems of the shopping experience, such as scattered operations and lack of payment transparency.

JD.com pipped Alibaba for once by opening the first unmanned convenience store in the region in Jakarta to leverage the enormous database by offering beneficial insights to brands such as the best products to stock and advertise. Through their JV with Central Group in Thailand, JD Central also planning a similar launch in the country by 2020.

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; Food Navigator Asia

Pure-play ecommerce retailers and brands recognized drawbacks in online marketing channels with fragmented infrastructure and a limited pool of shoppers. They promoted offline as an attractive option to push sales growth.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, companies are slowly but surely adopting this strategy across all categories. Ecommerce fashion players like Thailand’s Pomelo and Singapore’s Love, Bonito have opened physical stores in their respective countries.

In 2018, Pomelo opened 5 new outlets, embarking away from Bangkok’s prime shopping areas to central business districts (CBDs) like Asoke and residential areas of Bangna. Meanwhile, Love, Bonito has 17 retail outlets spread across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

Rachel Lim, Co-Founder of Love, Bonito told Peak Magazine, “Data can tell you what’s selling but being on the ground tells you why something is not selling and what the customer is looking for.”

Visiting shopping malls is a popular social activity in Southeast Asia and this trend is not set to disappear anytime soon. Brands should take advantage of dual physical and online presence.

Updated (28 Feb 2019): Shopee Thailand does not have a solid plan to build its own logistics network yet. The comment was mentioned briefly in the interview with Bangkok Post which was made a focal point by the media.

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.

The overall pet industry in Thailand is worth $2.8 billion and it is expected to continuously grow at a 10-15% rate per year. Pet food is the largest segment in the overall pet industry in Thailand and makes up 45% of the industry’s value.

Asian Trends in Pet Food and Health; Euromonitor  2017

Out of the 1,015 survey respondents ecommerceIQ has commissioned in August, we have found that 65% of them keep more than one pet.

Let’s dive into what we found out about Thai’s pet food buying behavior.

Kind-Hearts Get Thais More Pets

With the increasing number of singles, married couples without children, and an overall aging society, the pool of pets owners in Thailand is growing faster than ever.

40% of 65 million people in Thailand are working-class singles. An average Thai family now bears only 1.6 child per family even though the government recommends 2.1 children per family to prevent the country from becoming an aged society. Inability to provide the best for their children, whether it is education, safety, or financial stability, is among the most popular reasons why Thais are refusing to give birth to a child. This is why many rather choose to keep pets instead. More often than not, Thais refer to their pets as ‘Luk’ which means baby or child. This shows that they regard their pets as their children that they do not have.

Among the 65% of the respondents who keep more than one pet cited that they want pets to keep each other company. Being a Buddhist society, more than 35% of the respondents keep more than one pet because they do not have the heart to see them being astray.

The reasons why Thai respondents keep more than one pet; ecommerceIQ Pet Food Survey Thailand 2018

Thais are Pet Pleasers When It Comes to Food

Dry food has become the most popular pet food type among Thai pet owners as 40% of them said that they feed their pets with dry food. This does not come as a surprise since dry pet food has many advantages. It doesn’t need to be stored in a refrigerator and it lasts all day, which is important to pet owners who are not always at home. They can simply leave dry pet food for their pets for whenever they feel hungry.

There are also health advantages to dry food. According to Pedigree, dry pet food has distinct benefits for your pet’s oral health. Chewing kibble helps to keep their teeth healthy by reducing plaque and tartar buildup, also resulting in better breath.

While 31% give pets a mix of pet food because they believe that each type of pet food provides different nutrients and has different benefits.

The types of pet food Thai pet owners use; ecommerceIQ Pet Food Survey Thailand 2018

Regarding pets as their children, Thais are willing to choose the best food for their pets. This explains why 22% of respondents say that product quality is the most important factor when buying pet food.

While the second factor depends on pet’s preference, meaning that food types and brands are selected based on the liking of their pets, this factor will continue to be the reason why Thai pet owners change pet food sometimes. It is reflected that 32% of the respondents change pet food when their pets refuse to eat or grow bored with the current food.

The factors that Thai respondents consider when choosing pet food; ecommerceIQ Pet Food Survey Thailand

The Pet Food Industry in Thailand isn’t Betting on Ecommerce Yet

For a country with high Internet penetration and familiarity with ecommerce like Thailand, it is surprising to learn that only 14% of the respondents are currently buying pet food from online channels, with 74% of those buying from online marketplaces, such as Lazada and Shopee.

One would think that pet food, given its bulkiness, purchasing frequency, and lower risk, is a perfect category to triumph in the online space. However, Thai respondents are too comfortable with buying pet food at the pet food shop or supermarket that they did not see why they should switch to buy it online.

Since cheaper product price is the factor that Thai online shoppers value the most, according to the ecommerceIQ E-Marketplace Survey Thailand 2018, discounts and promotions offered through marketplaces are a good incentivized motivation for them to start buying pet food online.

Brands can also implement an e-sampling strategy which will allow consumers to get a free sampling product and learn whether their pets will like the food or not. This is also beneficial to the brand because consumers will be willing to provide the brand with their personal data, in return for the sample-sized pet food. Brands may also use this information to customize and target the communications strategy towards their potential online shoppers in the future.

Through the e-sampling service of aCommerce, Mars Petcare in the Philippines successfully rolled out an e-sampling campaign that was able to gain awareness on social media organically; aCommerce.

How else can pet food brands increase their online capability? Sign up to receive ecommerceIQ’s report on the pet food industry in Thailand here.

Chinese ecommerce platform JD is lesser known amongst international audiences, but its mid-annual 618 shopping festival generated almost $25 billion in gross merchandise value this past June. The company has a 33% share of China’s B2C ecommerce market and generates more direct revenues than Alibaba. Google’s latest $550 million strategic investment in the company is the latest in a series of partnerships JD has orchestrated, as it seeks to challenge Alibaba and Amazon for ecommerce dominance in both China and the rest of the world.

JD’s Direct Retailing Model Gives it a Strong Competitive Advantage

JD’s business model is distinct from that of Alibaba’s in that it is a direct retailer – meaning that it purchases inventory wholesale and sells products directly to individual customers, rather than simply acting as an intermediary between buyers and sellers. Approximately 92% of its business comes from direct sales, whereas for Amazon this figure hovers around 50%.

JD stocks its own inventory in its vast proprietary network of nearly 500 warehouses across China, each of which is situated strategically close to consumers to ensure fast delivery. JD also employs an in-house delivery force of over 65,000 warehousing and delivery workers. During the 618 festival this year, JD was able to deliver 90% of its goods within two days.

This dedication to customer service requires a significant amount of capital to sustain, but JD has been able to stand out from its competitors.

JD claws its way up to a 33% market share in an industry where Alibaba was previously thought to be unbeatable.

Richard Liu, CEO of JD.com delivering goods during their ‘618’ Mid Year Sales Source: Internet

The Borderless Retail Alliance

To compete with Alibaba, JD has enlisted the help of numerous partners. In China, this includes internet giants Tencent and Baidu, in addition to its partnerships with the likes of vertical-focused ecommerce platforms Vipshop and Meili Inc. Tencent owns 18% of JD’s shares and partnered with JD to invest $864 million in China’s third largest ecommerce platform Vipshop this past December. JD made its claim to fame by selling electronics to a predominantly male user base, and such partnerships with Vipshop and Meili, both of which sell a combination of apparel and cosmetics, help the company appeal to a broader female base.

America’s largest retailer Wal-Mart owns 10% of JD’s shares and has been a strategic partner since 2016 when it first sold its ecommerce division Yihaodian to JD Google, despite having a limited presence in the China market, announced a $550 million investment in JD this past June. Both of these strategic partnerships will be key as JD prepares to expand its business overseas.

Google’s Data Will Help JD Catch Up Overseas

Ecommerce platforms such as JD spend an enormous amount of money on search ads every year, to ensure that their products show up in search results. As they grow bigger, however, internet users can go directly to ecommerce platforms to search for products, which presents a threat to Baidu’s and Google’s search ads business. Partnering with JD allows Google to hedge against this problem.

Google’s extensive ecommerce data can give JD better insights into the buying behavior of users, and JD will have a better idea of how to target users via Google’s broad ads network. This will be a significant asset as it attempts to catch up with local competitors in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the US.

Wal-Mart and JD Make the Perfect Couple

US retail giant Wal-Mart has been partners with JD since 2016 when it sold its online business Yihaodian to JD in exchange for a 5% equity stake worth $1.5 billion. That stake has since grown to 10%. In China, Wal-Mart leverages JD’s marketplace and users to sell directly to Chinese consumers online, complementing its offline business in the country. For JD, Wal-Mart is a key supplier for the JD Daojia platform, which is an on-demand delivery service that delivers groceries to customers within a one-hour time frame.

JD also sells its goods offline in Wal-Mart stores and uses them as distribution centers from which last-mile delivery can be carried out. Since JD is an online retailer without many offline retail stores, the addition of Wal-Mart’s physical locations across China is a considerable asset as it looks to expand its user base via omnichannel marketing strategies. JD is planning to expand to the US market by the end of this year, and the potential expansion of this partnership model means that JD may have a chance to catch up with Amazon, especially since the two can leverage economies of scale and source goods in bulk.

JD Dao Jia partnered with Wal-Mart on sales promotion Source: Internet

JD Goes Global

With an impressive set of partnerships under its belt, JD has the capability to challenge Alibaba and, potentially Amazon, on the global stage. JD has already set up international ecommerce site Joybuy in Spain this year and is looking to expand to Germany. JD has also launched local websites in Thailand and Indonesia under the JD brand. JD has publicly announced its intention to enter the US market by the end of 2018, with a beachhead office located in Los Angeles. The company plans to undercut its competitors and also help Chinese brands like Xiaomi expand to the US.

While it is still early stages, what is certain is that JD’s global expansion will be very interesting to watch going forward.

Written by Don Zhao, Co-founder and Executive Director of Azoya 

 

In a not-so-shocking move last month, retail giant Target acquired a grocery delivery startup for more than half a billion dollars to better compete with Amazon in the US.

Given the latter’s influence on the state of retail over the last decade, there has been a wave of excitement and fear sweeping the industry on a global scale.

The gradual consumer preference for digital has forced traditional businesses, predominantly in developed markets, to restructure internally or shut down. Case examples include retail leaders Macy’s, Sears, and American Apparel, whose legacies are now read about in bankruptcy stories.

Today’s headlines are revealing retail behemoths getting pushed to a corner by a new breed of entrants shaking up the retail status quo with business models revolving around ecommerce, omni-channel, click and collect. These new companies also tend to execute faster, reach further and understand how to utilize the goldmine that is the internet.

But understanding that “digital disruption” or “retail innovation” is needed within a traditional corporation isn’t merely enough to bring about real change.

The speed at which businesses incorporate digital channels will determine their chances at survival and relevancy to the next generation of consumers.

But by the time they come around to asking, “am I moving fast enough to catch up to my competitors?”

It’s already too late.

Shopping sprees in the West

Companies in the US felt heat from the Amazon Effect much earlier than India or Southeast Asia did, ensuing panic in direct competitors like Walmart, Target and Home Depot and forcing them to act quickly.

In the last two years alone, large corporations like the above invested over $5 billion in acquiring digital companies to beef up their portfolios.

While most of these companies have the capacity to carve out resources to build their own ecommerce operations in house, the pace at which the internet industry moves doesn’t wait for employees to learn “Digital 101”.

Not to mention the additional pain points such as internal resistance, lack of ecommerce talent and channel conflicts. Large corporations in general tend to struggle when venturing outside of their core competencies. The quickest way to patch up your business is to buy what you don’t have.

In regards to Walmart’s total $4 billion acquisition spree,

“Walmart is buying a new consumer base — upper-middle-class people who normally wouldn’t shop at Walmart — and these new relationships would bring higher margins.” — Jim Cusson, president of retail branding agency Theory House

And the “buy what you don’t have” trend is prevalent across the industry as more traditional players gobble up digital startups. In the last eight months alone,

Walmart [retailer]: acquires Bonobos for $310 million in cash and last mile delivery startup Parcel
Sodexo [food management]: acquires majority stake in Paris-based online restaurant and food delivery startup FoodCheri
Home Depot [retailer]: acquires online business of retailer of textiles and home decor products The Company Store
FTD [flower delivery giant]: acquires on-demand flower startup BloomThat
Target [retailer]: acquires same-day delivery startup Shipt
Luxico [luxury home rentals]: acquires US-based text messaging platform for hotels Hello Scout
Albertsons [grocery retailer]: acquires meal kit company Plated
McKesson Canada [healthcare supply chain]: acquires marketplace for natural healthcare and beauty products Well.ca

“Quality exits like this don’t stem from a ‘for sale’ sign tacked to the door.” – Chris Arsenault, board member at Well.ca

Of course, the enormous price tags of these acquisitions could be spent on buffing up the in-store experience but the returns would take a long time to see whereas Target’s own online sales growth from Q1 2015 to Q3 2017 show how successful the company has been able to leverage ecommerce.

Target ecommerce growth from 2015 to 2017. Source: Bloomberg

While an acquisition may seem like a quick, easy solution, there are numerous factors to consider to avoid backlash such as price point adjustments and consistent branding. Without understanding how digital can compliment the current business model, it’s likely the new asset will simmer and die in a couple of years. Simply put, don’t buy ecommerce for ecommerce sake.

Absorbing a digital company on the other hand brings about mountains of data, new customers, a solid brand, fresh talent and a seat at the hippest place where everyone hangs out, the internet.

Movement in the ASEAN region

As with most trends, they eventually infiltrate markets on a global scale and Southeast Asia is no exception. Even a couple of years before Amazon’s lackluster entry in Singapore, a few traditional retailers took the acquisition route to capture digital opportunity early.

Sephora bought online beauty retailer Luxola in 2015, Central Group acquired fashion e-tailer Zalora Thailand in 2016 and last year announced a joint venture with Chinese internet giant JD.com.

What has driven this flurry of activity by corporations across the world?

It is avoiding what Jeff Bezos describes as “Day 2”. An idea explained nicely by Bezos in his letter to stakeholders:

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1. To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.” – Jeff Bezos

Which day does your company operate in?

It’s hard to escape news of changing consumer behavior and ongoing retail ‘disruption’, especially amid the year’s largest sales. An evident signal of this shift has been the steady decline in foot traffic to once widely /lopular Black Friday sales in shopping malls.

Net sales on Black Friday slid 10.4 percent for brick-and-mortar chains, according to RetailNext.

For digital-first businesses, launching online is a no-brainer. But what happens when you are an existing brand that is over 80 years old working with hundreds of distributors around the world? Speed and simple decision making are out of reach.

At the Shangri-La at the Fort Manila, four brands – Abbott, Unilever, Payless, and Titan22 – each leaders in their own categories, were brought together by ecommerce enabler and e-distributor aCommerce to candidly share customer preferences, impact of traffic congestion and what must change internally in order to stay relevant in the future.

This is what was discussed:

1. More Filipino men pushing the carts

“There’s a lot more male shoppers going for groceries, it used to be the woman that was in charge of nutrition labels, but now they tell men to do it,” says Christian Domingo with a laugh. He is the Head of Ecommerce for Abbott Philippines.

Findings from a recent Nielsen study show that 40% of today’s grocery shoppers in the Philippines are men, an increase of six percentage points from last year. The driving factor? Affluent Metro Manila residents, especially in dual-income households.

Nielsen

Grocery shopping behavior for men and women in the Philippines. For more charts & graphs, visit here.

What this means for brands is to rethink marketing strategies traditionally targeted towards women.

Referencing another study, Christian attributed the popularity of ecommerce to worsening traffic conditions in the Philippines. CEO and owner of Titan22, the top sneaker retailer in the country, Dennis Tan, also shared his experience.

“The customer decision window is getting shorter and shorter. It used to take days where people thought about purchases and then come back to it but now the entire process seems to happen with minutes.”

He should know as Titan sold 400 pairs of Jordan Elevens during Single’s Day (11.11) in the first hour online.

“I won’t drive for hours for a chance to get the right shoe size. Consumers have a lot of options where to buy products, so we need to offer a competitive advantage.”

2. After-sales is as important as the purchase journey

Ecommerce is commonly misinterpreted as the shopping experience on a website but what gets forgotten is the attention given to the steps that come after checkout.

“How a customer feels after the purchasing experience is a big factor to the entire happiness experience to retail. This is one of the big pieces,” comments Dennis.

“We need to give them inspiration, not only about the shoe, it’s about happiness guaranteed,” agrees Thea Lizardo, Head of Ecommerce for Payless Philippines (Footwear Specialty Retailers Inc.).

3. Internal processes causing friction, there needs to be unified commerce

aCommerce, ecommerceIQ

Christian Domingo and Thea Lizardo from Abbott and Payless, respectively.

“It’s not typically mentioned but an important factor to talk about is the hurdle of internal friction in terms of technology. There’s a lot of confusion around how we attribute sales,” mentions Thea. “ These discussions are vital to transforming the entire business.”

“How do we remain competitive? How do we keep customers? It’s overwhelming for brands and business owners to adapt to all the changes because it’s so quick but at the end of the day, it’s understanding your numbers, your customers, your behavior and leveraging it.”

“Internally, there is no P&L, who is going to own the digital marketing unit? The marketplace?” comments Christian.

“It’s recommended [at Payless] to have a separate P&L, separate ERP for our ecommerce business as we didn’t want to disrupt the other 76 stores,” replies Thea.

Another internal roadblock Christian hopes to push through is the company’s (lack of) unified shift to ecommerce.

“We are selling milk online but other product divisions such as diabetic drugs need the push. They have hurdles like FDA approval, internal conflict, etc. but what we envision for 2018 is to go beyond the brand because it’s the user looking for a solution to a problem.”

“We [Unilever] have a long heritage selling fast moving consumer goods but we need to move things faster,” closes Kay Veloso, Head of Ecommerce for Unilever Philippines.

“It’s [unified commerce] not an unachievable dream, it’s a basic expectation. B2C, B2B – we serve the entire ecosystem to get the pulse of people we serve, and continue to adapt our brands to ensure their day to day needs are met through ecommerce.”

aCommerce, ecommerceIQ

Kay Veloso at the aCommerce Philippines Partner Media Workshop

4. Data and mobile will pave the retail future

Each brand has their own ideas about the main focuses for 2018. Unilever Philippines hopes to e evaluate its mobile experience to understand if it’s delivering the brand message across the board.

“Omnichannel is the big trend that is here to stay in the Philippines. We need to provide consistent online and offline experiences and preserve the quality of our products both instore and online,” comments Kay. “80% is coming from mobile websites and the Philippines is actually the fastest growing mobile market in Southeast Asia.”

Payless Philippines wants to leverage its data to better utilize its offline stores to become more customer oriented and explore new channels.

“How can we leverage the 76 Payless stores and unify them to serve our customers better? We have online data, consumer data so we can map out our merchandising plan for various locations.”

“Social commerce, exploring the space that we’re not in [social media] but also stores (they can be turned into fulfillment centers). Customers are becoming brand agnostic. We need to capture them when they are on their devices, not only at the mall, people no longer go online, they live online.”

Titan, on the other hand, will focus on expansion through ecommerce to meet the demand growing outside of Metro Manila.

“The challenge for Titan is all our physical stores are in Metro Manila while 50% of consumer base is outside Metro – we will continue to build on it and see what role innovation really plays for us.

“At the moment, ecommerce is more defense than offense, but when you start playing offense is when you start to win.” — Dennis Tan, CEO and owner of Titan22

“It used to be that companies had to set up a website because everyone was doing it but the companies that have their own internal ecommerce teams are the ones that are most successful, you need to be ones to drive and grow it in the organisation.”

Dennis Tan from Titan22


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Events

InternetRetailing Expo Indonesia 2018 is your opportunity to transform your retailing business. Taking your business ‘online’ promises increased sales, international customers and a more engaged, loyal customer base.

If you are looking to progress from offline to fully-fledged online retailer, then you need to learn the lessons from retailers across ASEAN that have tried, failed and succeeded in a wealth of aspects of online retail.