Online spend in Southeast Asia to outpace the growth of digital consumers by a factor of 3: Facebook and Bain study

New study highlights ‘discovery’ as a key driver of growth for businesses looking to succeed in the world’s fastest-growing digital economy

Increasing choice, better internet access, and rising affluence will continue to drive more spend online in Southeast Asia, according to Facebook and Bain & Company who released a follow-up to the 2018 study on Emerging Middle Class in the region. The new study, titled ‘Riding the Digital Wave: Southeast Asia’s Discovery Generation,’ looks at how the behaviours of today’s digital consumer is reshaping online spend in the region.

The study surveyed 12,965 respondents across Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, and interviewed 30+ CEOs and venture capitalists in the region. It shows that the emerging middle class in Southeast Asia will account for 70-80 % of the growth in digital consumers by 2025.

According to Bain, from 90 million digital consumers in 2015, the region grew 2.8 times to 250 million digital consumers in 2018. By 2025, there will be 310 million digital consumers in Southeast Asia. By then, the study estimates, online spending will outpace the growth of digital consumers by a factor of three, with clothing and personal care emerging as two of the leading categories.

Discovery is all-important as 67% of respondents said they do not exactly know what they want to purchase before they shop online, with more than 50% of respondents saying they learn about new products and brands via social platforms. Southeast Asian shoppers showed a strong preference for omnichannel, with over 80% saying they compare prices across online discovery platforms and in-store before they make a purchase decision.

Over 40% have tried an online store they have never heard of in the past year. The top three reasons for making an online purchase were positive reviews from other users, good deals or promotions and interesting products.

“There is no longer just one way to shop and nobody shops the same way twice. The key takeaway is that designing for discovery is absolutely crucial, given that customers engage with a business through multiple channels at the same time. In Singapore alone, 75% of the respondents said that they are either open to other brands or will buy from multiple brands when shopping online. This means businesses of all sizes, including specialty players have a significant opportunity to compete on a larger scale in Southeast Asia,” said Sandhya Devanathan, Country Managing Director, Facebook Singapore.

Beyond discovery, the study shows the immense potential to build brand loyalty and growth as there is no dominant player in the e-commerce market. Southeast Asia’s savvy consumers shop-hop across 3.8 platforms on average before they make a purchase decision.

Creating customer rewards through loyalty programs, therefore, emerges as an imperative. In the study, respondents with a loyalty programme indicated they were 1.5x times more likely to be a promoter than those without a loyalty programme. Loyalty members were 45% more likely to make recommendations across categories, 25% more likely to have higher purchasing frequencies across categories and 20% more likely to have higher spending across categories.

“Brands need to be very savvy and re-imagine their marketing and trade spend to be in sync with the ever-evolving omnichannel consumer journey. They also need to build new muscles to ensure a positive online shopping experience to their digital consumer,” said Praneeth Yendamuri, Partner at Bain & Company.

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