Rapid growth of ASEAN B2B & B2C E-Commerce creates new problem; Lack of Digital Talent


For the past few years, when discussing ASEAN B2B or B2C e-commerce the focus would be on difficulties relating mostly to ASEAN market being too small to be taken seriously and critical infrastructure not in place. However, at a recent meeting, most of that is no longer the key issues, but the key issue is the lack of “Digital Talent.”

  • Econsultancy says:  We published a freely available trends briefing about digital trends in South-East Asia, based on its the second Digital Cream Singapore event for senior client-side digital marketers held in November 2012. Key issues for those attending were the lack of resources and skills, and the challenge of creating mobile-ready environments.

However, again, for many years, Japan, Korea and China got all the attention and ASEAN looked as an insignificant market, in comparison. But the e-commerce business in ASEAN has been witnessing steady growth of about 15% to 20% a year. Online shopping in ASEAN now appears poised for a breakthrough, as more international e-businesses enter the region. With a tremendous population, several highly developed countries, and a rapidly escalating Internet penetration, ASEAN is among the most promising regions for e-commerce development.

  • Thailand can serve as an example of that rapid growth. In 2011, Thailand e-commerce grew at very fast with the behavior of Thai users changing rapidly. Statistics from NECTEC show that the percentage of Thai users shopping online has risen from 47.8% in 2010 to 57.2% in 2011 which is a 9.4% increase from the previous year.

Many factors support e-commerce in Thailand, and perhaps Thailand can serve as a proxy for the ASEAN region. Thailand’s growing economy and a swelling middle class, many of whom now have credit cards, provide the fundamentals that have spured e-commerce. Computer and internet penetration is respectable, and logistics and distribution networks are greatly improved in many parts of Thailand’s 65  million people, are additional factors.

But ASEAN is integrating into a single market, and the ASEAN population will be about 600 million. And thus, ASEAN’s wise, B2B and B2C are getting a fresh push from the ASEAN Secretariat.

For the past few years, United Nations trade and development arm, UNTAD, have been collecting data and doing research on ASEAN e-commerce. Just a few months ago, in November of 2012, UNTAD held a fresh workshop.  The following is from UNTAD:

UNCTAD and ASEAN review harmonization of e-commerce laws

Senior South-east Asian policymakers will assess cyber-legislation and make recommendations to further the harmonization of e-commerce laws at a joint ASEAN/UNCTAD workshop in Cebu, the Philippines, on 10 and 11 November 2012.  The outcome will be reported to the twelfth ASEAN Telecommunications Senior Officials Meeting.

The rise of the Internet and other electronic systems is rapidly making e-commerce a core part of how enterprises, governments and citizens interact.  While Asia has some of the world’s fastest-growing e-commerce markets, the potential is still far from fully explored. Having adequate legal and regulatory frameworks in place is one key factor to spur a greater uptake of e-commerce.

A decade ago, the Association of South east Asian Nations (ASEAN) (1) was the first region in the developing world to adopt a harmonized legal framework for e-commerce. On 10-11 November 2012, a joint ASEAN/UNCTAD workshop will held in Cebu, the Philippines, to review and take stock of progress and challenges in implementing such laws in the region.

The workshop will bring together senior policymakers from the ten ASEAN countries to discuss and prepare recommendations on how to foster the enforcement of harmonized laws, with a view to boosting cross-border trade across Southeast Asia.  Delegates will consider new legal and regulatory issues arising from evolving technologies and applications, such as cloud computing and mobile commerce, as well as data protection, authentication, information security, cybercrime, and other priority areas.(2)

The discussions and the outcome of the workshop will be reported to the twelfth ASEAN Telecommunications Senior Officials Meeting (TELSOM), which begins in Cebu on 12 November. The recommendations will seek to support the implementation of the ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2015, and the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015.  They will also serve as an input to UNCTAD’s Review of E-Commerce Laws Harmonization in ASEAN scheduled for publication in 2013.

The findings of two recent ASEAN/UNCTAD surveys of both governments and the private sector in ASEAN countries, on the existing legal frameworks for e-commerce activities, will also be presented during the workshop.

The workshop is hosted and supported by the Government of the Philippines, and will include participation by key players in international e-commerce law, such as the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). 

In ASEAN, UNCTAD has been supporting the Governments of Cambodia and of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic to build capacity and prepare for their e-commerce laws. UNCTAD’s flagship Information Economy Report 2007/2008, highlighted the experience of the ASEAN region in establishing a regional framework for the harmonization of e-commerce laws.(3)

UNCTAD’s E-commerce and Law Reform work programme is housed in the ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics. It is funded by the Government of Finland.

For more information, please contact Cécile Barayre, Economic Affairs Officer, ICT Analysis Section, at the Science, Technology and ICT Branch of UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and Logistics; Cecile.barayre@unctad.org, tel. +41 22 917 53 69.

  • While the potential of e-commerce in ASEAN is growing with efforts such as with the assistance from UNTAD involvement to help ASEAN harmonize e-commerce regulations and laws, the following research from Econsultancy, says ASEAN is facing a lack of “Digital Talent” problem, and in “Creating” a mobile-ready environments.

The following is from Econsultancy:

Econsultancy has published a freely available trends briefing about digital trends in South-East Asia, based on its the second Digital Cream Singapore event for senior client-side digital marketers held in November 2012. 

Key issues for those attending were the lack of resources and skills, and the challenge of creating mobile-ready environments.

More than 100 B2B and B2C in-house marketers from around the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region and beyond met at Digital Cream Singapore 2012 to discuss best practice in digital marketing.

Brands are at very different stages of adoption and maturity when it comes to digital marketing across the region, but certain themes arose consistently throughout the event:

ASEAN brands see the benefits and are aware of the challenges posed by social media, but are fully behind social media marketing and are largely “learning on the job”.

Organizations in the region need to improve on ecommerce, content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO).

ASEAN companies are keen to capitalize on the potential of mobile, especially given advanced mobile economies in Asia, such as Singapore or China.

Therefore, syncing social, content, mobile and ecommerce programs in 2013 will be the main challenge and there is almost universal recognition of the need for a joined-up, omnichannel, omni-device approach to marketing.

Senior client-side marketers at the event spoke about struggling to find experienced digital marketing and ecommerce experts who could take their business to the next level, a common theme across all debating tables.

According to Econsultancy trainer and consultant Saleem Jumbhoy, this lack of skills could negatively impact morale and business success. He said:

Teams here feel that they are either ill-equipped to conceptualize, develop and execute their own email marketing efforts. If there is a shortfall on the available resources, would you not want to have teams with strong skills?

One area of great disparity was ecommerce, where influences outside of digital marketing – such as the lack of credit card penetration across ASEAN – are believed to restrict development. As Econsultancy trainer and consultant John Sinke put it:

A lack of digital talent, poor analytical tools and low credit card penetration are some of the barriers that organizations in Asia-Pacific are facing when implementing ecommerce best practices.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) remains an area of mystery that needs addressing urgently. Two key stand-out quotes include:

The overwhelming consensus among those attending this debate was that understanding about search marketing – how it works and how it can help achieve business objectives – is low in general.

Delegates agreed that analytics had become a business tool instead of a marketing tool for supporting critical business decision.

Despite the apparent skills shortage, organizations based in the ASEAN region remain positive about the opportunities posed by digital marketing, especially social media.

According to Ketan Samani, Senior Vice President, Regional eBusiness at DBS Bank, who moderated a table:

Excitement was mainly derived from possibilities and challenges from aspects of successfully commercializing social media space.

The feedback and commentary from both delegates and moderators has been used to create our South-East Asia Digital Marketing Trends Briefing, which provides an insight into the challenges faced by digital marketers in Southeast Asia.

The report, which is free to download, provides highlights from 10 different roundtables at Digital Cream. As Digital Cream is conducted according to Chatham House Rules, marketers have spoken candidly about their issues in the following areas:

Ecommerce and onsite conversion rate optimization.

Online advertising: strategy and maximizing returns.

Email marketing.

Cross-channel online marketing.

Search engine marketing optimization and data analytics.

Social media optimization – managing, marketing and measuring.

Customer experience management.

Mobile commerce marketing and apps.

Strategic content development, curation and marketing .

Social media tools and best practices.

Download a copy of the report to find out more. This trends briefing is free to download to all registered members. Registration takes only a few moments, and our Bronze membership level is free.


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