Commerce in Southeast Asia is shifting to its third wave – consumers now require businesses to have even more flexibility in providing better shopping experiences, increased speed, and more variety.
“Commerce 3.0” in Southeast Asia diverges from its Western counterpart because small businesses in the region need more independence to operate digitally while requiring extra support and tailor-made features. This marks a significant shift from the beginnings of e-commerce in the region where only established businesses were able to sell their products on e-commerce platforms. This initial growth stage began with large retailers consigning their products or selling stocks wholesale to aggregated websites only to realize this format did not align with their long-term digitization goals. The second phase of e-commerce has been led by marketplaces, which allowed for online sales from smaller retailers with order fulfillment capabilities. It is this small business digitization that has led to Commerce 3.0, the rise of omnichannel retail for more agile small and medium enterprises (SMEs) today.
It is expected that for Commerce 3.0, SMEs who need speed and autonomy will run their businesses through easy-to-use tools that are synced in one application. Being well-equipped to address a wide range of customer expectations in their shopping experience and having integrations with best-in-class partners such as shipping, fulfillment, and messaging, are critical in helping small businesses reach their customers faster, without being impeded by arduous setup work.
SMEs need to invest in these tools to remain agile and flexible in delivering products, executing plans, and mapping out operations, while keeping in mind emerging trends that are expected to shape the year ahead:
- Omnichannel will help drive business flexibility
Online shopping offers tremendous potential, as it saw 88% adoption among local digital users, and more Filipinos express intent e-commerce platforms in the next 12 months. However, in-store or physical shopping has been making a comeback as pandemic restrictions ease further.
For SMEs, this spells the need to balance both online and offline commerce, understanding the diversity in shopping journeys. Some may opt to complete their search, decision, and purchase online, while others may kickstart their discovery phase on social, and eventually purchase in-store.
SMEs should be equipped with tools that enable them to drive online presence, be it through a web store or on a social media page, and complemented by offline tools such as point-of-sales (POS) systems to meet potential demand for in-store transactions.
- Diversity is king in payment options
The Philippines is not yet a cash-lite society. Majority of online orders still rely on cash-on-delivery (COD), reinforcing a cultural habit where goods need thorough inspection before payment. While use of e-wallets and bank transfers have become more commonplace, SME customers will still want a cash option to close a sale, especially for offline transactions.
Balancing both options enable SMEs to earn more easily, while granting more flexibility to their customers. This means tools that enable recording of cash-based transactions, and likewise, channels to accept digital, non-cash earnings are critical in getting ahead of this trend.
SMEs will need to weigh the pros and cons of each payment method, and assess where they can utilize both in their business. Non-cash transactions from e-wallets and banks are fast, can be monitored easily, and suit bulk orders. On the other hand, cash-based transactions offer security and finality for in-store and same-day delivery transactions.
- Premiumization of fulfillment services will drive customer retention
For SMEs, “premium delivery” will mean enhanced speed and secured fulfillment for their customer base, regardless of geographic location. Offering same day deliveries not only for essentials such as food, but also for non-essential goods convey to customers that merchants understand their varying needs.
Parcel receipt and product safety will be top priorities for customers willing to receive their packages through delivery providers. These mean that trusted logistics and courier services will be critical partners for SMEs. However, access to these partners are often fragmented, necessitating SMEs to shift from one app to another. Access to reliable partners within a unified platform will help SMEs focus on selling faster and more efficiently, and have more repeat customers.
Beyond offering different modes of payments, SMEs should have these partners on-board to offer same-day and standard delivery on top of pick-up services. Doing so helps them adjust to their customers’ preferences, and set them up to diversify their product or service offerings in the future.
- SME discovery on social media will continue to grow
The Philippines’ ranks second worldwide in daily social media usage, averaging 4 hours and 1 minute a day. This means that platforms such as Facebook and Instagram play a huge role in a customer’s discovery journey, necessitating the need for platforms that make these integrations easier.
Establishing online storefronts will help SMEs ensure they are within customers’ radar as SME-specific websites will help better capture customer attention, and facilitate two-way buyer-seller conversations, when compared to online marketplaces.
Leveraging these storefronts in multiple social media platforms, such as sharing them on posts or through the popular “link in bio” will be critical for SMEs to help drive traffic to their online stores, and capture customer interest from discovery to eventual purchase. A link in bio, complemented by an autonomous online storefront, will help address the lack of e-commerce features currently present on major social media sites.
“This year marks a unique time for small businesses as they become more digitally-savvy in a post-pandemic retail landscape. To stand out in an increasingly competitive and challenging market, SMEs need to tap into new tech and understand the latest trends to attract and engage with customers who now expect the lines between online and offline shopping to blur. At the heart of this transition to digital is an all-in-one platform that presents numerous opportunities for SMEs to scale-up and future-proof their businesses,” shares Macy Castillo, Co-founder and CEO of Enstack.
“That SMEs in the country require highly localized business solutions to help them face economic uncertainty in the new year is not only prudent, but necessary – Filipino SMEs require tools that provide easy to use features, flexibility on delivering various customer expectations, and best in class integrations, which is what our platform strives to be for SMEs. We will continue to help SMEs grow through our innovations that specifically tackle their pain points and issues, so they can move the needle in both their day-to-day and long-term operations.” she adds
 Source: Bain & Google e-Conomy 2022 Philippines Report
 Hootsuite and We Are Social report, https://www.hootsuite.com/resources/digital-trends-q2-update
Image credits: Enstack