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Solutions to the biggest e-commerce headaches in Southeast Asia

Swiping to shop is second nature for Southeast Asia’s growing number of mobile-centric consumers. In fact, the lucrative market is projected to surpass US$25 billion in growth by 2020, according to eMarketer.ecommerce-challenges

Despite being slated as the new growth frontier for e-commerce, Southeast Asia faces challenges unseen in any other major region. In mature common markets like the United States and Northern Europe, you can log onto Amazon or search Google and instantly access 90% of the region. But in order to sell across Southeast Asia’s borders, retailers need to be converting product data and currency from Peso, Baht, Dong, and Rupiah, while translating Mandarin, Vietnamese, Bahasa or other languages. The challenge is incomparable to other markets.

Smooth scaling isn’t just a matter of moving a store online; it’s about being agile enough to move at the speed of the consumer and being reactive and proactive to every whim.

Here are some major roadblocks to conquering Southeast Asia and what you can do about them.

How do I get across borders?

Barrier: Customs clearance agents, taxes and duties, payment fraud, and export regulations are all setbacks that can arise when shipping internationally.

Solution: To get products smoothly over customs, work with global cross-border logistics pros like DHL, FedEx, and SPCommerce. To avoid further delays, partner with local players. A great example of a retail marketplace partner is in Indonesia.cross-border-trade


For international clothing brands who are looking to break into Indonesia, Bobobobo tackles the nitty gritty of payment fraud, syncs product data, converts currencies, taxes, fees, language and helps to localise marketing. In a market like Indonesia with 17,000 islands, last mile delivery partners are essential. Local logistics companies like aCommerce, JNE shipping, and Pos Indonesia can help get packages to the right places. A marketplace partner is also much more cost-effective than opening up an actual branch.

How do I keep track of my stock?

Barrier: Running out of stock after a customer has paid could end in a nasty review or the buyer going to a competitor. The root problem of poor stock tracking is a mismatch between offline inventory movement and online store numbers. Some e-tailers are still relying on spreadsheets, so merchants never know if they’re running low on stock.

Solution: Automate and sync stock from the front-end marketing channels to the backend systems with end-to-end solutions. Link Enterprise Resource Planning platforms to websites and warehouse management systems, making it easier to list on multiple marketplaces since stock is counted in real time. Warehouse staff will be able to move shipments without having to worry about being low on stock, since items are constantly being re-ordered before they’re depleted.

How do I scale customer service?customer-service

Barrier: Slow customer service turns off customers, but call centres are expensive and hard to manage.

Solution: Keeping existing customers happy is just as important as getting new customers. Look at what you can achieve with additional website information, such as FAQs or hosting a live web chat. It might even be worth investing in developing a chatbot.

How do I keep my shipping costs down?shipping-fee

Barrier: Customers appreciate low Minimum Order Quantities (MOQ), but small orders don’t cover high shipping costs. If shipping costs $35 to send a small package via DHL to another country, you can’t do that with a basket size of $10. High shipping costs will need to be absorbed by either the customer or the retailer.

Solution: Hold stock in the markets you deliver for to reduce separate individual shipping costs.

How do I utilise customer data?

Problem: Online retailers are sitting on a mountain of data, but they don’t realise it, and they don’t use it.customer-data

Solution: With eleven countries across the market, no two cultures nor individuals should be marketed in the same way. Stay relevant to each country and culture by keeping a retail editorial calendar for special dates in each market, such as Ramadan in Indonesia, Singles Day in Singapore, to boost sales.

Use data driven marketing to run targeted ad campaigns. Ensure you have your web analytics properly set-up to enable you to track conversion rates. Don’t forget about your existing customers use the data you have about them to personalise and enhance their shopping experience with you.

Burgeoning, yet fragmented, Southeast Asia has the world’s highest mobile penetration. The secret to keeping customers happy is to choose reliable logistics partners and automate services to ensure you wow your customers.

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Anna Trybocka