2 Steps to Mobile Commerce Success in Southeast Asia

As a region that’s mobile-first – and sometimes mobile-only – Southeast Asia is leading the way towards mobile commerce (mCommerce). In 2019, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines were among the top five countries globally by number of mCommerce users. The COVID-19 pandemic has done little to slow that trend, with 90% of Southeast Asia’s internet users having come online via their mobile phones.

Being late adopters of the internet, many households in Southeast Asia skipped over desktop computers and went straight to smartphones. The bulk of web searches today are done on mobile, while consumer spending on mCommerce has chipped away at the desktop. The visuals below give a sense of the growth potential for mCommerce in Southeast Asia, and offer clues as to how brands should build and optimise customer journeys for mobile.

Growth of mcommerce users
Source(s): Similarweb; Statista; We Are Social; Hootsuite

Although mobile users spent 60% to 70% less time on eCommerce platforms during online shopping events compared to desktop users, they are still the single largest source of shopping traffic in the region at 90%.

A graph of average time spent on ecommerce platforms
Source(s): Similarweb

A ranking of the top shopping apps for mobile users in 2020 puts Shopee at the top, followed by Lazada and direct-to-consumer fashion retailer Shein. The situation differs in Indonesia and Thailand, where locally-owned marketplaces are dominant. Tokopedia Bebas Ongkir, operated by the Indonesian shopping app Tokopedia, offers free shipping for select merchants. Indomaret Poinku is a membership program which allows customers to collect and exchange points through the network’s own digital payment platform i.saku. In Thailand, the Central Group owns an eponymous app that rewards users with discounts.

A picture of top 3 ecommerce platforms
Source(s): Similarweb

There are two ways for marketers to ride the mCommerce wave in 2021:

1. Data-Driven Personalisation

By leveraging on data, brands can offer a higher level of personalisation in the customer journey. But to a achieve the gold standard in personalisation of 1:1, marketers will need to work with tools such as a data management platform. One example is ADA’s XACT which combines online and offline data from 375 million consumers in South and Southeast Asia to provide marketers with data enrichment. The next step is to generate actionable insights out of data. ADA’s Consumer Insights Explorer (CIE), built on XACT, uses machine learning to build unique audience segments and customer personas for targeting. 

2. Mobile-First Touchpoints

Although mobile users spend less time on eCommerce platforms than desktop users, they are more goal-oriented and easier to convert. To leverage on nthe high purchase intent of mCommerce users, brands should offer a dedicated mobile site or app that aims to create a direct route to the conversion point. Call-to-action widgets should be scattered throughout the page, and visual cues should make it clear which elements are interactive. Any buttons or links should be large enough to see and click. In addition, the search box, filters, and chatbots should facilitate navigation. Mobile users are looking for something specific, so smart search functions can surface relevant results even if an incorrect phrase is used. 

Mobile-First is Customer First

With mobile taking the lead in eCommerce, marketers will need to continuously design and build around a smartphone-first world. Having the right MarTech tools is key – but marketers should avoid creating a “franken-stack” of tools that haphazardly link back into a stack. Beyond acquiring new technology, brands should focus on what they already have to increase the return on investment. To tie it all together, a strategy that combines data-driven marketing, MarTech and eCommerce will be essential.


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Simon Paterson

Chief of eCommerce Enablement

Simon Paterson

Simon is a visionary and skilled at cultivating leadership.

As the Chief of eCommerce Enablement, Simon’s foray into eCommerce started over a decade ago in SEA. One of his stints include a role as a Senior Vice President and Group Head on On-site Traffic Strategy, along with other C-level positions in Lazada.

Prior to eCommerce, Simon gained more than 10 years of sales and marketing experience in the FMCG industry with Colgate Palmolive and Reckitt Benckiser across Australia, Europe and Southeast Asia. His extensive experience living and working in multiple cities have brought about multiple perspectives and varying ways of thinking.

Before the merger with ADA, Simon was the CEO of Awake Asia and he was able to spearhead the geographical expansion of the company into multiple countries, including Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Now with ADA, he is dedicated to bring forth the same energy and commitment to provide brands with data-driven, AI-enabled eCommerce solutions today and into the future.

Over the weekends, Simon can be seen cycling or running around Singapore. His longest ride pre-covid involved a 200km round trip to Malaysia for a Laksa.