South-East Asia's love of social media to drive e-commerce boom

15 October 2018

E-commerce in South-East Asia is poised to grow rapidly as businesses capitalise on the region's embrace of social media.

In 2017, e-commerce in the ASEAN-6 accounted for just 2.2 per cent of retail sales, compared to around 20 per cent in China, according to Macquarie research.

But Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to experience a period of accelerated e-commerce adoption, with compound annual growth of 31 per cent between 2017 and 2022, taking the market to $US73 billion.

Macquarie's Head of ASEAN Research, Conrad Werner, expects Indonesia will be at the forefront of this change.

“Indonesia has the world's fourth largest population, a fast expanding middle and affluent class and a median age of only 30," he says.

“At the same time, penetration rates are low in areas like offline retail and traditional banking, which lend themselves to digital solutions."

A key factor in the region's anticipated e-commerce growth is social media, of which South-East Asians are among the world's most prolific users.

Forty-two per cent of South-East Asia's population - approximately 270 million people - are classed as active social media users, according to a study by Hootsuite and We Are Social.

The same research found people in the ASEAN-6 countries spend more than three hours a day on social media on average, about 65 per cent more than in the US or China.

Werner says the region's social media uptake has been closely linked to the rise of mobile, which is becoming increasingly cheap and accessible.

“4G coverage in the ASEAN-6 is now greater than 80 per cent on average and the price per gigabyte of mobile data has fallen by two-thirds since 2015," he says.

“This has led to an almost 300 per cent increase in usage over the same period."

Werner expects mobile penetration in the region will reach more than 90 per cent by 2021, providing a solid platform for e-commerce growth, given that mobile is becoming the main vehicle for internet-based transactions globally.

In addition, South-East Asia's e-commerce sector is attracting unprecedented levels of new capital.

A joint Google/Temasek report revealed South-East Asian internet companies raised $US8 billion in the nine months to September 2017, compared to $US1 billion in 2015.

In addition to e-commerce, Werner also expects other areas of e-commerce to benefit from this capital expansion.

“We identify payments as one area for potential growth, especially given the region's weak financial inclusion metrics," he says. “Outside Singapore, bank account penetration is just 55 per cent."

Werner says a number of businesses are looking to maximise the benefits of social media in developing e-commerce opportunities.

He cites Sea Ltd's Shopee e-commerce platform, as an example of this. The platform, which incorporates social media and is optimized for mobile, saw its gross merchandise Value (GMV) grow by 171% over the third quarter of 2018, annualising at US$8.9b.

Werner also notes the activities of Mynt - a business jointly owned by Ayala, Globe and Ant Financial - which is developing a social media-based e-wallet.

Finally, Werner flags the emergence of online-to-offline as an avenue that will enable small businesses to compete with more established brands by utilising social media.

For more information on the reports 'Digital ASEAN E-Commerce set for accelerated adoption' (26 June 2018), please contact Macquarie Research.