Expert Eye - Nagesh Devata

Global Digital Commerce: Changing the game for SMBs in APAC

Nagesh Devata, SVP for APAC at global digital commerce company Payoneer, delves into the rapidly expanding APAC e-commerce market and details how businesses in the region are looking beyond borders   

Written by: Nagesh Devata, SVP for APAC, Payoneer


It’s fair to say that Southeast Asia has become synonymous with technology, with some of the most important tech companies on the planet starting their journey in the region. But it’s not just tech giants that are changing the game. The emergence and rapid expansion of e-commerce means that there is an opportunity for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), merchants and entrepreneurs to look beyond borders to a new world of global digital commerce.

In Southeast Asia alone, the online economy is set to double to $363 billion by 2025, so it is important that companies are equipped to serve new digitally minded consumers as well as navigate any challenges that arise. Online businesses looking to expand into the wider region need to be nimble and quickly adapt to new ways of operating.

A changing landscape
Ultimately the acceleration of digital in all aspects of our lives is creating new consumers, and that must result in new types of businesses. The COVID-19 pandemic created a further 60 million digital consumers across APAC, which means that businesses throughout the region are now surrounded by potential customers in different countries. The combination of improving digital infrastructure, digitally-savvy customers and increasing cross-border trade is creating opportunities for SMBs. It means that they need to move quickly but also focus their efforts in the right places both in terms of building the right infrastructure and ensuring a seamless customer experience.

The future of digital commerce in APAC is about worlds colliding. Traditional commerce and financial services have in the past existed separately to one another, but those days are over. Consumers want a seamless purchasing experience and that has resulted in the extension of financial services beyond traditional banks. There is a ‘Super App’ battle ongoing in the region, with players such as Grab and GoTo dominating the market and offering customers seamless experiences and breadth of choice. These ‘Super Apps’ have been focused on the transport sector but have digital wallets embedded into their platforms; they have also been cultivating a community of loyal customers across the region.

Another emerging trend is the growth in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) e-commerce with SMBs looking to provide their local products directly to customers across the region. This puts more power in the hands of sellers, avoiding the need to rely solely on online marketplaces, meaning larger potential profits and an approach that is more tailored to a company’s brand and customer needs. This is growing exponentially. In India, for example, the market is forecasted to multiply three-fold from 2020 to 2025, reaching a projected $100 billion in sales. These opportunities do not come without their challenges but for the businesses that get it right, rapid growth awaits.
 
Breaking down barriers
The transition from selling locally to selling digitally across borders requires a shift in mindset. The APAC region is so vast that there are countless behaviour changes and nuances that vary by country. Southeast Asia for example comprises of six markets which, whilst closely linked, are diverse in terms of market maturity, regulation, and culture. Educating yourself about new markets and utilising a network of partners with local knowledge is a key part of successful e-commerce strategy.  
 
There are also new challenges for SMBs to consider when looking to sell to customers across the APAC region. Those who are used to only selling domestically may be shocked by the perceived complexities of receiving payments in multiple foreign currencies with high transaction and FX fees. It’s also important to consider the maturity of each market, from established markets like Singapore and Japan through to those that are earlier on in their e-commerce journey, like Cambodia and Laos. The maturity of the specific market presents unique challenges across areas like logistics and delivery, and depending on how developed the banking and payments infrastructure is, it also impacts consumers’ ability to pay for goods.
 
With the right approach, these barriers are easily broken down; luckily for SMBs across the region, there is a growing e-commerce ecosystem where partnership is the name of the game. Getting all these things right will go far to creating a seamless experience for new customers across Southeast Asia and allow companies to develop strong relationships across borders, leveraging the huge e-commerce opportunity that is on offer across the region. 
 
Getting payments right is key 
The growth of e-commerce means that the payment experience of customers has never been more important for digital SMBs in APAC and indeed across the world. Digital forms of payment are taking over, and Southeast Asia has the fastest growing e-wallet market in the world. These alternative payment options are more attuned to consumers’ digital lives and therefore lots of the region is leaving physical cash behind. Innovation in payments is continuing at pace with alternative digital payments methods emerging and developing in line with customer needs. We’ll see this innovation continue and staying ahead of the game is vital. 
 
We are also seeing digital credit solutions like Buy-Now-Pay-Later (BNPL) take off in the region in a big way, with predictions stating that the industry could exceed US$133.7 billion by the end of 2022. This is again about merchants adapting to purchasing habits and giving them the power of choice. We will likely see the digital lending space continue to develop as online sellers and marketplaces compete on the best offerings. 
 
There are opportunities aplenty for digital SMBs across the entire APAC region, and those who take the right steps will be best placed to drive growth for their business.