For me, this year was all about Asia. That’s thanks to multiple trends, events, meetings and new clients coming from Asian destinations who shaped my view on the future of eCommerce.

My intensified interest in Asia started when we formulated our new business strategy for the coming years. The goal is to become a top-of-mind eCommerce software house. We see Asia as a clear leader of eCommerce technologies. In the past 12 months, mobile in south-east Asia has grown on average 19% and now accounts for 72% of overall eCommerce web traffic. They have already set trends from mobile commerce to self-service stores, and working with clients in Asia can teach us a lot about the future of Commerce.

So I started my trips by visiting China, thanks to some help from the Bank of China. Then I traveled to South Asian countries (Indonesia and Singapore among them) and I finished my tour with a recent trip to Dubai. Now I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned about the future of Commerce from Asian clients, consultants, and vendors.

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Lessons learned about Asian eCommerce

Mobile is reshaping the commerce experience

When you buy mostly by mobile phone, it’s not about “I forgot my laptop” any longer. In the majority of countries I’ve visited, mobile is the main channel for shopping. You will see that people are buying in an entirely different way.

Using your phone is very natural. Shoppers can easily chat with the consultant, send him a picture or just take a picture and find a similar product in the catalog. In other situations, they could scan a QR code in the physical store to check the product details in the app. Mobile-first commerce is not about making desktop eCommerce sites smaller (just like RWD does). It’s about understanding mobile and building an entirely new user journey.

Mobile-first apps vs websites

In Europe and U.S., consumers usually use native apps for eCommerce. A growing problem is that users don’t want to install the new apps. If you are the new kid on the block, and you have just started your business, this is a huge problem. A very good response to this is Progressive Web Apps. Asian companies have been experimenting with them for more than a year and a half now, and they have produced some really cool case studies.

What’s more, the majority of Asian companies are mobile-first already – but they’re not stopping there. Now they are re-building the technology stack from native to PWA. Their main goal is to acquire more users seamlessly.

An experience similar to the one offered by native apps is something Asian customers are looking for. That’s why solutions like Vue Storefront are garnering an amazing amount of interest there. One of our clients from Singapore used it to decrease the loading time of their online store from 7s to 1s.

Marketplaces and platforms

For Asian consumers, eCommerce equals marketplaces – Taobao, Lazada or any other, it doesn’t matter. The user starts his search with marketplaces – and this is where his buyer journey ends. For brands, it means that they need to build their presence primarily on on marketplaces. For retailers, it means that the competition is really tough.

eShops are just getting started

The model of “Brand Shop” – typical for the U.S. or Europe – is just starting in Asia. It’s not so popular yet but gives huge opportunities. Brands understand more and more that they need to build their own presence in the urban space to make clients loyal. Love, Bonito gave us an excellent example by setting their flagship store in Singapore to engage customers.

Rising brands build the whole ecosystem from scratch (websites, catalogs, loyalty programs, shops, etc.) and it’s a great chance for the whole eCommerce vendor ecosystem. We already see that in the increased sales of Open Loyalty licenses in Vietnam, Indonesia, China, etc.

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Manual work is cheaper

Manual work in Asia is still quite cheap and people are hard-working. That’s why, surprisingly, many eCommerce processes are not yet automated and are done fully manually. Even quite large organizations stick to manual processes. This is extremely important for B2B eCommerce, where convincing B2B clients to use new channels might be very hard.

Payment methods

Payments look very different in every country I’ve visited. Usually, the social trust in Asia is quite low so clients prefer payments on delivery. This, unfortunately, makes things quite hard for sellers.

On the other hand, consumers use very innovative mobile wallets (WeChat, AliPay) to pay for stuff they buy off-line.

Logistics and infrastructure

I’m not a logistics expert, but seeing a Go-Jek same-hour delivery in Jakarta blew my mind. Indonesia’s first “unicorn” startup specializes in ride-hailing offered via mobile apps. These guys just reached a fleet of 1 million drivers and went live in Vietnam, its first office outside Indonesia. There are several very strong and very innovative logistics players in Asia.

Entrepreneurial mind

People in Asia are extremely entrepreneurial and ambitious. For example, in Indonesia, many people just start a small business after hours and then try to scale it up. There are many interesting startups, and if a startup has product-market fit, it usually scales up really fast. I wrote about the Love, Bonito case already.

Places worth visiting

If you are thinking about Asia and eCommerce, I would strongly recommend visiting Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. You can also focus on some cities that are regional hubs for any kind of business – Dubai, Singapore, Hong-Kong, etc.

Many would start in China or India but I would advise against it. These markets are very different from any other Asian countries. Companies planning to enter those two countries will have to take a different approach and prepare themselves thoroughly.

Tomasz Karwatka

Supervisory Board Member at Divante. Leading industry voice who believes eCommerce can improve our world. Co-founder of Vue Storefront and Open Loyalty, angel investor, and founder of Tech To The Rescue. CEO at Divante eCommerce Technology Company | LinkedIn | Twitter

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