How to operate your ecommerce business successfully in Southeast Asia

This is a guest post from Katie, Content Manager and Researcher for Flipit Singapore, on why SEA is the perfect ecommerce market of today. Flipit is a global couponing startup which has some local sites in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

coupon-discount-icon-saleSoutheast Asia is fast becoming one of the most attractive ecommerce markets globally, and collectively the ten countries which makeup the ASEAN form the fastest-growing consumer market in the world. As an online couponing startup based in the Netherlands, with the intention of becoming global market leader, SEA was therefore naturally top of our list of regions to expand to.

Flipit is an online couponing service providing discount codes and vouchers to bargain lovers across the worldwide web. Southeast Asia’s huge shopping culture and enthusiasm for a great discount, combined with a growing tech-savvy population, make this the perfect environment for an online couponing business to thrive in. Since launching in the region just over a year ago, we’ve experienced a 400% increase in traffic to Flipit Singapore, and a staggering 1000% percent traffic growth for both Flipit Indonesia and Flipit Malaysia just since January 2015.

Since launching in the region, we made some observations about the different trends and habits of the Southeast Asian market that we thought could benefit any ecommerce startups interested in initiating a presence here.

Go mobile

If you’re not engaging with mobile shoppers in Southeast Asia you might as well just give up. Southeastgo mobile Asia has some of the highest rates of smartphone penetration in the world (Singapore has the highest percentage globally), so ensuring that your site is mobile optimized is essential. 60% of traffic to our Indonesian site comes from mobile devices, compared with around 30-35% mobile traffic on average to our European sites. Furthermore, Malaysia and Indonesia have a whole generation of mobile-first consumers (meaning they’ve never owned a desktop computer and have jumped straight to shopping from smartphones) so staying ahead of the m-commerce game will make you a popular choice amongst the online shopping community.

Localize your service

Since the introduction of the ASEAN, the tendency is often to consider the region collectively as one single market, however this would be a mistake. Each market is unique, diverse and as a result has different needs when it comes to shopping online. For example, cash on delivery payment options would be pointless in Singapore, which has on average 3.3 credit cards per person, whereas this is an extremely popular payment option in Indonesia and Vietnam, where credit card penetration is lower.

As each country within the ASEAN is very diverse, they of course each have their own regional customs, festivals and celebrations, and it’s extremely important that you do your research in order be aware of these. Failing to recognise a holiday that is important to a country can really alienate your customers and suggest you’re out of touch with them.

Get involved in social media and online communities

Social media is a massive selling tool in Indonesia – amazingly, in 2014 27% of Indonesia’s ecommerce sales occurred via social media and Jakarta still holds the title of Twitter capital of the world. Thailand and the Philippines also have particularly vibrant blogger communities, so getting involved in these can increase your site’s traffic substantially.

Build strong relationships with brands and affiliate networks

Reaching out and being personable with brands and affiliates will always work to your company’s benefit. No matter how big or small a webshop is, it’s a good idea to make yourself known to them so that they will be on your radar for any future promotions, and they are also more likely to offer exclusives if you reach out personally.

A common theme here is that taking the time to research and understand each individual market of the ASEAN prior to launch is crucial if you want to guarantee your ecommerce business will be fully embraced in the region. Luckily, this is far from a tall order, and businesses can even gain genuinely invaluable insights from researching such young, diverse and burgeoning markets as can be found in the Southeast Asia.

Katie Paterson – Guest Contributor
Katie Paterson is Content Manager and Researcher for Flipit Singapore. A Scottish expat living in Amsterdam, with her professional brain virtually on South East Asian soil, Katie’s research focuses on Asian e-commerce trends, consumer behaviour, and the future of shopping in Asia.

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Minh Bui is a seasoned eCommerce veteran from both Southeast Asian startups and corporates in online commerce and offline retail chain as well. He's also an avid Asia explorer and love to enjoy local foods and learn cultural differences in Asia.

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