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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.

Asian lovers don’t seem to shy away from Valentine’s day.

According to Mastercard, 75% of mainland Chinese are likely to buy a gift for their partner on this amorous occasion, followed by 74% of Thai, and 63% of Malays and Filipinos.

They’re shelling out hefty sums too.

Chinese residents indicated they would spend an average of US$310, closely trailed by Hong Kong at US$282 and Taiwan with US$281.

Filipinos don’t spend as much as some of their other Asian counterparts, but they’re ranked as some of the most romantic in the region.

An Orient McCann study revealed that Filipinos are the most emotional people in the world and second among those who most frequently say “I love you”, making Valentine’s Day an ideal event to let their feelings be known.

Google Trends data for the past week show interest in Valentine’s Day from the Philippines reaching a zenith as we approach the day itself.

Search interest is escalating fast.

What are Filipinos searching for online? And how can brands leverage this information?

Analyzing customer preferences in The Philippines

ecommerceIQ surveyed 500 Filipinos with access to the internet in an effort to understand how they prepare for Valentine’s Day.

87.2% of those surveyed said they intend to purchase a gift to mark the occasion, whereas only 12.8% indicated that they had no plans to do so.

But it’s not so straightforward.

63.9% of survey respondents said their eventual purchase would take place offline.

Within this subset, 42.8% said both the search and purchase would happen in-store and 21.1% outlined that their purchase journey would start online by searching for products but would be followed by a visit to their local mall.

36.1% of the people surveyed said they’re comfortable transacting online, mainly because of better deals & discounts, as well as the option of scheduling delivery at a particular time.

The most popular gifts sought by Filipinos for Valentine’s Day were surprisingly clothes at number one, followed by chocolates, and perfumes.

Flowers ranked a distant fourth – likely because the price of flowers in Manila tends to spike by 500% on or right before Valentine’s Day.

There’s no real substitute for red roses but consumers have a plethora of options when it comes to clothing and perfumes, leading to price stability.

What’s preventing Filipinos from purchasing online?

According to the survey results, more than 75% of respondents exhorted that they prefer to see the product before buying it.

A further 17% said they can’t trust the quality of products they see online or that they’ve been subjected to scams. Only 5% thought malls offer better deals & discounts.

Lazada was the overwhelming favorite among those who did purchase online. Almost 60% of respondents said they’d shop for Valentine’s Day gifts from the popular etailer. Shopee came in second, with 22.2%.

Despite the fact that the most sought-after gift was clothes, pure-play fashion ecommerce site Zalora secured only 4.4% of the vote.

Photo credit: Maxpixel

Capturing love online

Filipino preferences are indicative of a larger trend engulfing global ecommerce markets.

“It’s very hard to launch a brand these days that’s just online-only,” explains Sucharita Mulpuru, analyst at Forrester Research. “It’s an incredibly difficult and crowded ecommerce environment.”

Filipino brands have consistently tried to latch on to prevailing sentiments during Valentine’s Day to either sell more products or increase brand awareness.

Popular fast food joint Jollibee launched a successful campaign last year playing on themes of unrequited love and eventual reunification.

The ads, which were released in three parts, went viral on social media with over 50 million views on Facebook alone.

Condom manufacturer DKT Health gave away nearly 40,000 condoms in Manila during the Valentine’s Day weekend in 2015 by partnering with stalls selling balloons, chocolates, and roses.

Southeast Asian brands are cognizant of this dynamic, at least in Thailand. David Jou, the CEO and co-founder of Pomelo wrote in 2016 about how he viewed offline as a key component of his business moving forward.

“[…] is our goal to be the biggest online fast fashion brand or is our goal to be the biggest fast fashion brand?”, he said, posing an apparent challenge to his team.

Brands in mature ecommerce markets have already started to take a similar route too. Zara opened a pop-up shop in London last month to support its ecommerce channel. Staff at the store were trained to assist with online orders – shoppers can walk in, examine the inventory, receive recommendations from assistants, and eventually pay for the goods they like. But all the products they purchase are shipped to their address.

For companies looking to capitalize on the visible potential and consumer intent to purchase, they’ll have to overcome the prevalent trust barrier currently impeding ecommerce. A consistent online-offline retail experience could very well be a significant first step in doing so.

All aspects of ecommerce can be controlled by a brand, except for one area that is completely in the hands of the user – product reviews and ratings.

As competition grows on marketplace, where most online customers start their purchasing journey, this aspect has become a reliable filter to help other users decide, “to buy or not to buy.”

On most ecommerce sites, customers can sort products from highest to lowest average ratings, which means a high score gives brands more visibility and a competitive advantage over competitors. Better product rating, better purchase rate, makes sense right?

But five stars alone isn’t enough to convince customers to add to cart, it’s what the reviews are saying that drive checkouts, especially in Asia where an average of 22% customers — the highest globally — count online reviews as a decision making factor due to the strong effect of community.

By aggregating the major consensus of what customers are saying in their reviews, brands can leverage reviews to improve their performance online. How can this be done?

customers review Unilever

Data-analytics platform BrandIQ has collected reviews for four of Unilever’s brands – Dove, Rexona, Simple, Toni and Guy – on Lazada Philippines to showcase what companies can learn from this set of data and separating out the generic complaints (i.e. slow delivery, average product).

The average rating of each brand online gives a high level glance at which brand needs more monitoring and brand building. For example, Toni and Guy scores an average 3.81/5, which isn’t necessarily bad, but can be improved to rank higher in search.

42% of total reviews scrubbed were about the touch and feel of the products, but approximately 58% actually shed light on aspects other than product quality.

What were they saying?

To sort the data, reviews are split into five main categories: Product, General, Delivery, Packaging, and Customer Service.

customers review Unilever

From the data above, the keyword “delivery” is the second most quoted in reviews, but it doesn’t reveal whether sentiment is good or bad.

By splitting customer reviews into two sentiments: positive and negative, we identify the strengths and weaknesses of these categories. This allows companies to understand which area should be prioritised for improvement.

For Unilever brands on Lazada Philippines, despite the small numbers of reviews that talk about Package, the category racked up a strong positive sentiment compared to the other four categories (Service contributes only a small percentage of the total reviews). Extrapolation of this data can signal that the products ordered by customers is well taken care of during the last mile with the packaging the company used.

customers review Unilever

customers review Unilever

Review left by a Dove customer on Lazada PH that was found helpful by at least six other customers.

Customer reviews are a unique and vital aspect to ecommerce that offline retail rarely had to face before. Brands looking to crack the code on e-marketplaces will need to build an understanding for this new metric, and use it as a tool to their advantage.


HOW IS YOUR BRAND PERFORMING ON SOUTHEAST ASIA’S TOP MARKETPLACES?

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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For more charts & graphs, check out our database.

One of the biggest pain points that most brand managers in traditional companies experience is internal push back when trying to drive their ecommerce initiatives forward.

Why is this?

Headlines like this:

Online sales eating into offline retailers profits
Ecommerce is killing traditional retail
Five signs that stores (not ecommerce) are the future of retail
The advantages of ecommerce over traditional retail

And this,

Ecommerce Case

A fashion item sold in store or online is still a sale made for the company. Source: ONESTOP

Creating an online retail channel requires resources and that could cause other departments to feel threatened but headlines like these create a ‘this or that’ type of mentality even within companies.

No matter which channel the sale is made, it’s all money going into the company’s pocket.

Given that online retail is usually pitted against traditional retail as “the enemy”, ecommerce managers have the uphill challenge of proving that this isn’t the case and actually, sometimes the complete opposite.

Re-thinking a traditional mindset

Fighting for more resources to be allocated to ecommerce becomes a struggle given the unpredictable nature of success online.

Open an offline store in a popular shopping center and it’s almost guaranteed to generate sales. Open an online store and fear that it will be lost in a sea of better keywords, better product images and even hungrier digital agencies.

But ecommerce is not new competition, it is simply another shop down the street that showcases what your brand is about. It can also be used to drive more foot traffic to your shop if conducted correctly.

Once the mindset, “you against me” is reversed, can ecommerce channels thrive on behalf of the brand.

The company will slowly learn a new business model described as “unified commerce” – where retail and the internet are not siloed but managed to complement one another.

Being able to utilize the internet to resurrect a brick-and-mortar brand will be vital to many brands currently stuck in an in-between situation.

Payless Shoesource in the United States is planning to close up to 500 of its stores for bankruptcy reorganization but will continue its operations in the Philippines – a market that they advocated for ecommerce almost since its inception in the country.

“It will be business as usual for Payless’ international operations, including the Philippines, as these business segments have been doing well and are profitable,” SSI Group Inc. said, Payless Philippines official distributor.

Making the ecommerce business case

Payless Philippines Ecommerce Project Manager, Thea Lizardo, spoke to a select audience at the ecommerceIQ x Google Ecommerce Masterclass in Manila earlier this year to share a few tips for managers advocating ecommerce internally.

Have a champion

This can be any individual in the company, preferably someone in the C-level ranks, who supports your mission to build a digital channel. When requesting for a larger budget or during monthly reporting, this ‘champion’ should be able to ensure enough resources are available to reach your growth targets.

ecommerceIQFrom experience, Thea knows that reporting may look deceiving to outlookers but that ecommerce managers should be able to understand and explain the numbers.

Brand milestones – highs – are usually followed by dips as the company reassess and allocates more spending to build the ‘front-end’ business (demand generation) by focusing on optimizing marketing, mobile, and product assortment, etc.

Employee advocacy

Often overlooked, a company’s employees can be the number one source for low-hanging free advertising fruit. As shared by Thea, 1,000 employees can be responsible for reaching one million customers, or creating 5,000 unique pieces of content all about your brand.

Their involvement in the company’s success online and knowledge of the ecommerce department’s progress will also build a sense of community and ownership.

ecommerceIQ Payless

Payless Philippines Ecommerce Project Manager, Thea Lizardo speaking at ecommerceIQ x Google PH Masterclass 2017

*Introducing eIQ DataBite series that shares interesting charts and research findings relevant to consumer habits and ecommerce in Southeast Asia. 

Indonesia is commonly thought of as Southeast Asia’s largest market as it contributes to 40% of the region’s economic output, has the largest population in the region and endorsed as the ideal cash cow for many businesses (VCs and startups alike).

But according to alpha-beta and Nielsen findings in a recent report highlighting consumer demand in the region, Indonesia does not dominate the largest consumer markets for items like shampoo, soft drinks and detergent.

ecommerceIQ

*Nielsen doesn’t report demand for chocolates in VN. Covers six largest cities in Myanmar, includes carbonated soft drinks, isotonic drink and sports drinks. Source: Nielsen.

 

It is the Philippines that actually accounts for a larger share in one third of the consumer product categories looked at by Nielsen (cigarettes, beer, chocolate, diapers, instant noodles, vitamins, moisturizer, etc.).

Other notable stats was Myanmar’s increasing impact on ASEAN’s consumer demand for items like chocolate and diapers and the popularity of facial moisturizer in Thailand.

Euromonitor 2016 reports predict that most consumer demands in Southeast Asia are being driven by online channels. Unilever brand, St.Ives, launched an official shop-in-shop on Shopee through aCommerce Brand Services in July and sold out its all-natural SKUs in a day and a half.

Keep in mind

Indonesia shouldn’t be the only market that foreign FMCG companies look at when assessing the Southeast Asian market, especially as the market becomes saturated with resource rich outsiders.

According to Euromonitor (2016), well-educated Filipinos between 25 and 34 years account for just 3% of the population but more than 20% of discretionary consumption – that is, spending on categories other than basic needs.

By 2020, this particular demographic group is expected to contribute 50% of the country’s discretionary expenditure, much of which is starting to be conducted online.

Read more about the Philippines ecommerce landscape here.

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