#Asia E-commerce opportunity: Tapping the next 600 million shoppers in Southeast Asia


With a diverse yet increasingly mobile population, e-commerce players can greatly benefit from knowing the nuances of this region’s markets

Southeast Asia is a group of diverse states between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. Since the total population in Southeast Asia is beyond 600 million, retailers should not ignore Southeast Asia in order to conquer Asia. Indeed,  retailers have to grab the opportunity due to the fast growing economies and and increasingly digitalised ecosystem.

However, this profoundly divided region is not without its problems, since it comes with a heap of assorted societies, languages, and regulations. Other than that, there has also been a gigantic inconsistency between developed nations such as Singapore and developing nations such as Thailand and the Philippines. A reasonable comprehension of the neighbourhood dynamics in this region will help you circumnavigate this differed yet encouraging business sectors. Eventually, this will help you reach a wide range of customers, from Bangkok to Makassar.

A market moving toward tipping-point

Southeast Asia’s total sales across e–commerce accounts today are less that 3 per cent compared to other countries. This is just the starting point for Southeast Asia, as the market is expected to grow by 25 per cent year-on-year.

Also Read: Effective e-commerce: 8 tips for achieving phenomenal growth

Southeast Asia, in fact, is a potential e-commerce wonderland. The region leads in smartphone usage. There are around 250 million people in Southeast Asia using a smartphone. 142 million of this population paid for a mobile broadband subscription by the end of past two years. However, this number will increase significantly and is predicted to reach 292 million by the year 2020. This shows big opportunities for retailers who want to expand or maintain their business especially for those with a stronger mobile offering.

A mixed payment background

Southeast Asia is one of the groups of diverse states that have a wide variance in terms of payment options and preferences.  For example, in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam or Thailand, cash payment dominates the method of payment compare to credit or debit card usage. However, in Singapore, the use of credit cards is leading the payment options by a level similar to European countries.

Some shoppers in Southeast Asia are unwilling to share their card information due to perceived lack of security in the region. They tend to use more offline payment methods such as making a payment by ATM, convenience stores, or through online banking. However, mobile payment methods such as e-wallets and prepaid card are rising in the region because of the increased usage of smartphones.

Indeed, mobile is turning into the main impetus behind internet business development in Malaysia and Thailand. Meanwhile, Filipinos sometimes have been among the most promising mobile users in the world, with smartphone penetration anticipated to reach 40 per cent before the current year is over. Retailers that are able to address these mobile shopping requirements will certainly benefit from the growth.

In order to get a better grasp of the environment in Southeast Asia, we should take a look at each market separately:

Singapore: the gateway into Southeast Asia

It is said that shopping is a national interest in Singapore, and its shopping centres are the stuff of legend. The good news for retailers is that this excitement develops in online as well. E–commerce become the most dynamic business in the region with 55 per cent of it is cross-border and the mobile payments method are common in Singapore with 30 per cent of their online shoppers buying products using mobile at least once a week. Singaporeans have a tendency to have various cards, with the high card infiltration that driving much of the online shopping experience since the credit card is the undisputed king.

Also Read: Is Thailand ready to be a cashless society? Here are e-commerce trends that suggest “soon”

As a mature market with English as the key language, it offers an incredibly business-friendly environment and a good launchpad for the rest of the region. This is the reason for Singapore to be considered as the gateway to Southeast Asia. The Singapore dollar is the common currency for merchants to set up a local account for taxation reasons. Likewise, this can influence local exchange rates, since the Singapore dollar is open to countries outside the nation for handling and settlement.

The key opportunities for mobile commerce in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and The Philippines


In Indonesia, many people prefer ATM payments (transferring of cash from one account to another account using thru ATM), convenience store payments (in-store cash payment by printing the receipt of an online purchase to make a payment), and online bank transfer as their methods of payments. Indonesia is much regulated and fairly closed to cross-border payments, and the local currency — which is the Indonesia rupiah — cannot be repatriated. A local unit is typically required to process payments.


Malaysia’s people prefer using cash and online banking transfers as their daily payment methods. One of the payment gateways in Southeast Asia has already succeed in offering cash-preferred payment for consumers, which is MOLPay. Malaysia is open to cross-border shopping, since it has a solid financial regulatory controls. This allows the worldwide acquirers and retailers to process cross-border payments without any international issuing charges. The merchants who use this type of method are not affected when processing Malaysian Ringgit cross-border since the currency is non-tradable currency. It is additionally worth noting that local acquirers help in handling misrepresentation with 3D secure.


Online bank transfers and cash are also the common option in Thailand. Nevertheless, the distinctive factor of this nation is that some online shoppers also like buying on social media, and it would be worth considering this choice while focusing on this nation. In Thailand, the regulations are minimal, which makes local and cross-border payments easy. Dissimilar to Indonesia or Malaysia, there are no monetary-related limitations on funds being settled outside of the nation. However, it is key to include local payments. For example, in-store payments are an extremely popular payment choice.

The Philippines

E-wallets, online transfers, over-the-counter transfers (OTCs) and convenience stores are the prominent alternatives for payments in the Philippines. Cards can be handled cross-border with no charges, yet local payment methods should also be an option for international merchants. Authorization rates and exchange rates have a tendency to be lower in the Philippines.

Also Read: Payment solutions key to e-commerce success in the Philippines


Southeast Asia is amazingly diverse, with a variety of controls and payment frameworks. Similarly, with any new market, it is important to get an on-the-ground understanding of how your potential new customers want to pay. By supporting local payments approaches, you will give a superior client experience and drive increased transactions. It is essential in this way that your payments accomplice has the aptitude, local presence to give fair-minded exhortation and capable of supporting an extensive variety of local methods.


The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

Featured Image Copyright: echiechi / 123RF Stock Photo

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