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E-Commerce in Southeast Asia: Brands Need to Create Localized Content to Boost Sales

Southeast Asia is among the fastest-growing regions in the world in terms of e-commerce. More people go online as they access the internet through low-cost smartphones, and it is facilitating the boost of shopping via apps and websites. In 2019 alone, the industry generated US$26 billion in transactions. The growth of e-commerce is only expected to ramp up in the coming years.

The growth of the e-commerce landscape has been further fueled, instead hampered, by the pandemic. In the Philippines, where one of the longest and strictest lockdowns were imposed, online shopping became the primary way for citizens to acquire their daily needs such as grocery items and food. While essential businesses remained open, buying online and having it delivered by a door-to-door courier service was safer and more convenient. Similar preferences for e-commerce over traditional retail during the pandemic were seen across the region.

Most recent estimates believe that, by 2025, the e-commerce market in Southeast Asia will reach $172 billion.

The Southeast Asian e-commerce market has so much potential right now, and brands tapped into it have a lot to gain. However, the region is very different from the United States.

Brands should adjust and tailor their content specifically for Southeast Asian consumers. Here are ways how.

Go Big on Mobile

The primary way consumers in Southeast Asia access the internet is through a smartphone. They browse the web, use social media platforms, order food, and, of course, shop for goods and services through the screen of a smartphone.

Nowadays, it is necessary to optimize their web content to be adaptable to changing screen sizes. Even in the United States, where consumers have more electronic devices at home, adaptable websites have become integral as people access the internet through the screens of their smartwatches, smart refrigerators, and digital assistants.

For Southeast Asia’s mobile-first consumers, it is even more integral. Mobile traffic accounts for two-thirds of all web traffic in the region. Needless to say, a website not optimized for different sizes of smartphone screens cannot survive.

A website optimized for mobile use is easy to navigate despite the smaller screen. The user can easily locate what they are looking for via visible links and buttons, progress bars, pop-up windows, and others.

Invest on Social Media

Southeast Asians are also big social media users. In fact, the region has one of the highest penetration of social media usage around the world.

As of 2021, social media penetration in six countries reached over 60 percent, with Malaysia and Singapore on the lead with 86 percent and 84.4 percent of their respective populations using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms.

Marketing through social media should therefore be a priority for all brands that want to break into the region’s e-commerce market. Recent research revealed that social media influences the purchasing decision of Asian consumers about 90 percent of the time. They value the input of celebrities and social media influencers as well as reviews of other consumers in choosing products to buy.

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Join Local Celebrations

Southeast Asia is a vibrant region where religious and cultural celebrations happen all throughout the year. Every country has its own set of special days, but the biggest happens in November.

Single’s Day, which takes place in November every year, is the most popular shopping holiday in the region. It is comparable to Black Friday in the U.S. and Boxing Day in the UK. It is originally a holiday in China meant to celebrate singletons but, in the past decade, it has spread across much of the continent.

Single’s Day is a 24-hour online shopping event with most brands participating and offering big discounts.

Be a Local

Another challenge for brands that want to enter the e-commerce market in Southeast Asia: language. Each country in the region has its own local language and, although there are populations that can understand and speak English, most do not. In order for brands to sell products to consumers, they need to create content specifically tailored to each of the major languages spoken in the region.

No, Google Translate would not be enough. Content that is not tailored for local consumers has no power to influence purchasing decisions and brand loyalty.

Moreover, there are cultural differences and preferences to consider. Southeast Asians are very diverse. What works in one country might not work in the other. Brands should do their homework and get to know the populations that they hope to sell to.

Southeast Asia is a very promising market for e-retailers. However, brands will have to work hard in order to enter and dominate the diverse region.

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