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5 ecommerce milestones to look out for in Southeast Asia (Startup Asia preview)

Oliver is the founder and CEO of AVA Online Group, an ecommerce company in Southeast Asia, and a principal of Metroheart Properties, a property investment company.

Asia online shopping spending 2014 and 2015

In 2014, consumer spending in ecommerce will hit $525 billion in Asia – half of the global total. As ecommerce continues to be a top investment destination for angels and VCs, expect to see more acceleration in this space. Next month at the Startup Asia Singapore event, I will be sitting down with leaders from Rocket Internet, Rakuten, Taobao, and Qoo10 to discuss the state of the online shopping industry.

Focusing on the topic of Southeast Asia, the panel discussion will feature Hyun Wook Cho, country manager at Qoo10 Singapore; Kelvin Lee, business development director for Southeast Asia at Taobao; Magnus Grimeland, managing director and founder of Zalora Group; and Shin Hasegawa, vice chief marketing officer at Rakuten. I’ll be the moderator.

Here are five stories that are grabbing the spotlight in 2014, and which will likely be explored in our discussion:

1. Alibaba’s IPO

Alibaba runs the Taobao and Tmall estores in China. In the past year, Taobao has been venturing into Southeast Asia.

Alibaba’s IPO is expected to be the second biggest to hit the market in recent years after Facebook. With the Chinese giant posting close to 70 percent top-line growth in 2013, a successful listing will beg two important questions: what’s the game plan for Alibaba’s Asian expansion (we’ve already seen it invest in department stores), and will Yahoo spend its windfall in more investments or acquisitions in Asia?

2. Platform wars accelerate

As new entrants crowd bigger markets like Indonesia and India, expect to see feature acceleration and more consolidation in this space. Eccommerce platforms will begin to move from pure customer acquisition to brand-building campaigns to differentiate their offering in the minds of consumers. Bigger players will start leveraging on the user scale by investing in the supply-side, such as Rocket’s marketplace launches.

WeChat, Line, and KakaoTalk will beef up their online sales offerings, led by digital goods like stickers. How Rakuten will integrate Viber into its platform is a story to watch.

3. Infrastructure development

Building a payments and logistics network that can span across the region will obviously take time. But what if ecommerce infrastructure can be delivered as a service? That’s the essentially the thesis of an emerging cohort of companies such as aCommerce.

4. A surge of first-time shoppers

All eyes are on the big markets of India and Indonesia as growing internet penetration, primarily driven by mobile phones, widen the base of potential shoppers in the region. Across the region, we’re seeing sites reporting increased mobile usage in 2014. How will a whole generation of mobile-first internet users shop online?

5. Big retailers jump in

It’s fair to argue that the region’s top local retailers aren’t that bullish on ecommerce relative to the investment that Rocket Internet has been making in the region. Could this change in 2014? The Philippines’ largest retailer, the SM Group, recently announced that it would be investing in ecommerce as well. In what form that will take remains to be seen.


We want your participation. If you have a question for the panel, please send it our way via this form. Or just before the discussion, which starts on May 7 at 11:45 am Singapore time, we welcome questions via Twitter using the #startupasia hashtag.

If you haven’t got your Startup Asia Singapore tickets yet (it’s on May 7 and 8), you can still get them now. There’s a 10 percent early-bird discount available for just two more days – until April 24 – with the EarlyBirdApril code.

Editing by Steven Millward

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