I’d Tap That

Tam Le is the regional strategy senior manager for Carat APAC.

5 – 7 minute read

“Southeast Asia is the new frontier for e-commerce.”
The Wall Street Journal

Today commerce (I hesitate to even say e-commerce because in a few years there will no longer be a distinction) is moving so fast that the Amazon Dash button, launched last March, is already old news. Every day we’re seeing more and more brands innovating ways to remove friction from the buying process.

For example, utilising their plane’s new Wi-Fi service, Cathay Pacific partnered with NET-A-PORTER to let travellers shop from their seats and have their purchases delivered straight to their hotel room [1]. Meanwhile, on a less glamorous front, Papa John’s launched a new app for Apple TV which allows you to order a pizza and pay from your TV [2].

And if things are moving fast globally, they’re moving at lightning speed in Southeast Asia. To quote a report by Bain & Company “No place on Earth matches this region in digital adoption.” Filipinos text more and the citizens of Jakarta tweet more than anyone in the world [3].

From these stats we can see that, as with many emerging markets, consumers here are leapfrogging technology. Many have bypassed PCs for internet via their phones. A StatCounter report estimated that in 2015, more than 70% of Indonesia’s internet traffic originated from mobile devices [4]. But what does this really mean for brands?


Among digital consumers, over 80% use social media to research products or connect with sellers. It’s to the point that such social sales make up to 30% of all transactions [3]. Understandably, social media companies and messaging apps are rapidly expanding their services to attract consumers.

For example, LINE (a popular mobile messaging app in Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Taiwan), building off its corporate mission of “Closing the Distance”, aims to “close the distance” between consumers and businesses through its business platform, which launched this past March.  It provides businesses with the ability to create an online store, loyalty reward cards, and coupons, all housed within the messaging app. LINE has also expanded its ad distribution platform to allow for targeting by demographics based on consumers’ “activity in LINE family apps, such as LINE NEWS, LINE MUSIC, and LINE Manga, their engagement with brand and celebrity official accounts, and their sticker purchase history” [5]. And in Thailand, its second-largest market outside of Japan, LINE has expanded its payment options and started free next-day delivery of groceries [3].


But these mobile commerce adaptations are not just limited to social media. One of Indonesia’s hottest start-ups, Go-Jek, started as a mobile app that allows consumers to hire a motorcycle taxi (ojek in Indonesian) without the stress of haggling. Today Go-Jek’s mission has grown to solving the problems of everyday life. To date, it has become a transport, courier, shopping, massage, and beauty service, all rolled into one. To have groceries, concert tickets, or a manicurist arrive at their door within an hour, all consumers have to do is tap [6].

gojek system.png

In the past, CPG brands have participated with Go-Jek’s Go-Mart in different ways. The brands Sprite and Oreo have both made an appearance in a Go-Jek’s blog post about recipes for International Ice Cream Day. This past August, Suntory’s MYTEA launched a 2-month pop-up store within Go-Mart. The pop-up store features discounted packages of MYTEA and free delivery to entice new customers.  Currently Unilever Indonesia is offering a Go-Pay cashback balance of Rp 10,000 for spending over Rp 50,000 on Unilever products such as Buavita juice or TRESemme shampoo. From content integration to PR-worthy price promotions, there are many ways to work with mobile apps and have your brand stand out.

By partnering with popular local apps, such as LINE and Go-Jek, brands can place themselves right where consumers already are spending their time and money.



Given the high rate of smartphone adoption, brands that want to develop their own e-commerce portal need to develop truly mobile-first platforms that specifically target the mobile user and consider the mobile interface instead of simply shrinking a desktop platform.

taplens-68316677.gifThe interface should be informed entirely by phones and engineered to reflect how we actually use them. Taking a step away from e-commerce, consider Pokémon Go and Snapchat. Mobile-first platforms like them keep scrolling to a minimum because it isn’t perfectly suited to mobile use. Scrolling is an inheritance from desktop, and it’s not always ideal for smartphone technology. In another way, Pokémon Go and Snapchat are also excellent examples of native experiences because they’ve taken full advantage of the smartphone’s camera. Today, your phone’s camera does more than just take pictures: it detects our friends’ faces, records the location of each photo, reads our credit card information and uses the information to save us time on filling out forms. Snapchat’s Lenses and  Pokémon Go’s augmented reality takes advantage of the smartphone camera’s multifunctionality and as a result, have won over consumers’ fingers [7].  Additionally, their vertical displays reflect how consumers actually use their phones. By genuinely putting the device first, native experiences are intuitive because they are designed to be—and that’s why consumers take to them.


In order to win over the Southeast Asian consumer, mobile must sit at the heart of the commerce strategy.

 “No place on Earth matches this region in digital adoption.”
Bain & Company



Despite the rate of high mobile commerce in some markets like Indonesia, the entire Southeast Asian region only has 3% online retail penetration (China and the U.S. sit at 14% penetration). Only one in four consumers over the age of 16 has ever made a purchase online [3].

However, although online retail penetration is currently low, consumers are already highly influenced by digital content. For example, penetration is only 1.2% in the Philippines, but 34% of those online consumers reported that they were influenced by online content prior to making their purchase [3]. This is why social media and messaging apps, as mentioned earlier, are so critical in building the consumer journey and converting potential purchases to actual sales.

Regarding digital content, Southeast Asia’s digital consumers are increasingly turning to videos to learn about products, particularly how-to videos such as cooking recipes and make-up tutorials. This has proven implications for a brand’s content strategy. For example, one major FMCG company created two different videos to promote a hair styling product in Indonesia. One was a typical ad featuring a celebrity, similar to a television commercial, and the other was a how-to video by a vlogger, lasting nearly six-times-longer. In the end, the tutorial garnered about 40% more smartphone views than the usual celebrity promotion. These results validated the company’s engagement strategy for beauty content [3].

YouTube Tutorial.PNG

When building a commerce strategy, it is important not only to consider the actual purchase phase, but to also engage consumers every step of the way.


The growing ubiquity of the internet, thanks to the rise of smartphones, brings the market to places previously not physically accessible by companies.

In Thailand, 85% of consumers not living in large cities use mobile devices for online purchases [3]. In Indonesia, over a third of the popular, local online retailer BliBli’s customers live in rural areas where smartphones often provide the only source of internet and orders are made almost exclusively off mobile platforms [4].

Technology has given many in rural and semi-rural areas access to CPGs previously unavailable due to a lack of infrastructure supporting retail construction.



Every day the lines between the digital and physical world cross over and become more blurred. Friction is continuously being removed from the buying process and that presents advertisers with new opportunities to decrease the gap between consumers and brands.

Opportunities such as partnering with locally popular mobile apps that already know our consumers and their interests and behaviours. However, if brands are to build their own commerce platform, it should be approached with a mobile-first strategy to address the needs of those whose sole access to the internet is through a smartphone. But the work shouldn’t stop there, even if consumers aren’t making purchases online yet, many of them are researching brands through online content (especially videos) on social media apps.

This will not be an easy process by any means. Southeast Asia is filled with many challenges, such as a lack of infrastructure; however, instead of seeing these challenges as problems, agencies and their clients should reframe them as opportunities to reach new audiences and address their ecosystem’s unique needs.



[1] http://www.lifestyleasia.com/477202/net-a-porter-and-mr-porter-partner-with-cathay-pacific-for-in-flight-shopping
[2] https://techcrunch.com/2016/08/30/you-can-now-order-pizza-from-your-apple-tv
[3] http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/can-se-asia-live-up-to-its-ecommerce-potential.aspx
[4] https://techcrunch.com/2016/07/29/indonesia-will-be-asias-next-biggest-e-commerce-market
[5] https://linecorp.com/en/pr/news/en/2016/1294
[6] http://www.demystifyasia.com/what-is-a-gojek
[7] http://www.psfk.com/2016/09/digital-design-expert-mobile-first-is-dead-think-mobile-native.html

LINE screenshots courtesy of https://linecorp.com.
Go-Jek image courtesy of https://www.go-jek.com.
Snapchat Lens gif courtesy of https://support.snapchat.com.
YouTube image courtesy of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPynMoOO47g.


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