eCommerce in South East Asia part 1: market entry and consumer connections

In our recent webinar with GTM Global, a panel of exporting experts shared valuable insights for expanding into the lucrative markets of South East Asia.

valuable insights for expanding into Southeast Asian markets.

To help our members achieve growth beyond borders, GS1 UK has partnered with GTM Global, a unique online ecosystem that engages with ambitious tech and digital scale-up companies to help them expand internationally.

The first in our series of "growth beyond borders" webinars saw a panel of six Asia Pacific experts share top tips for developing marketing, sales, logistics, compliance and funding strategies, covering the essential first steps that businesses need to consider. 

Read part 1 of our summary for the top tips from Fiona Thai, director of business development Asia at TMX, and Chriag Kotak, Co-founder and COO of

Entering the market

The first panellist to share their insights was Fiona Thai from TMX, a digital and supply chain consultancy that helps brands from Europe and America expand into Asia.

Fiona explained that the best place to start is to conduct in-depth market research, as having a strong understanding of your target region is essential for developing an effective go-to-market strategy

Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines represent the six largest markets in South East Asia and all can offer huge opportunities to ecommerce businesses in search of growth overseas.

 having a strong understanding of your target region is essential for developing an effective go-to-market strategy

However, to avoid overreaching, Fiona advises choosing one country to focus on first. This will enable you to focus your efforts more effectively and experiment to see what works and what doesn't. 

To choose the right point of entry for your brand, Fiona recommends making an informed decision based on your products and pricing.

Different countries have different levels of purchasing power so you need to understand how your target audience is spread across these countries and where the majority live.

If your competitors already have presence in the region, find out where they have focused and how they have tailored their approach.

Once know where you want to sell, you then need to decide how by determining which of the following channels will work best for you:

  • Brand website: find out the level of investment required to launch an Asian domain for your site. This will require marketing spend as you won’t be established. You need to invest in raising brand visibility and driving traffic early on.
  • Platforms: many brands start selling on apps and online marketplaces to take advantage of their huge reach. While this can be a great first step, remember there will be a lot of competition. Don’t just look at the leading regional marketplaces, also consider the smaller local heroes and vertical marketplaces. Vertical marketplaces are specific to certain categories as opposed to horizontal marketplaces that sell everything. While marketplaces can be an easy route into new markets, you also need to consider commission costs and will still need marketing spend to make your brand stand out from the competition. 
  • Emerging channels: such as social networks and quick commerce options can also drive great results but remember, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Coordinating across multiple channels can be a real challenge so, start with one, see what works and focus your resources accordingly.

Once you have started to drive traffic to your channels, you will need to find ways to keep it flowing. Fiona says seeking out partners or agencies to manage channels for you can really help you get established. These partners can also work directly with local marketplaces to set your strategy and targets.

you will also need to develop a strategy for order fulfillment

As well as setting a go-to-market strategy, you will also need to develop a strategy for order fulfillment. Consider what type of storage your products will need, the categories they fall in, the best locations for stocking them and the best “last mile” partners who can support you with distribution.

When selecting a partner for deliveries and returns, remember that customer expectations are in South East Asia are high so you want to ensure that your products can be delivered safely and on time. Select a provider you know can handle the volume of deliveries and returns you expect. Some platforms have already started building cross-border operations so look out for ones that have their own logistics and fulfilment options.

Connecting with consumers

Next up was Chirag Kotak, Co-founder and COO of Now owned by Vonage, creates AI-powered omnichannel experiences that boost sales, increase customer satisfaction, and return buyer behavior intelligence.

Chirag believes that social media and establishing conversations with consumers is the future of commerce in South East Asia. He says the way consumers interact with brands has changed, especially following COVID, and that the days of desktop first are over. Asian consumers increasingly favour a mobile-first economy and, as a result, now mainly interreact with images, videos, stories and through one-on-one messaging. This trend continues to grow and livestreaming product demos has also proven to be highly effective, attracting high intent users who can be converted at the moment of inspiration.

Chirag says that connecting with consumers is the key to driving sales in Asia Pacific.

The first step towards conversational commerce is just being ready and able to speak to your audience. When businesses make themselves available on these channels, users become more open to connecting. They begin communicating directly with brands to learn about their products and even transact. 57% of consumers in the Asia Pacific region now find direct messaging more personal than phone calls and 75% of adults say they want to message businesses in the same way they do with friends and family.

Chirag says that connecting with consumers is the key to driving sales in Asia Pacific. South East Asian consumers often like to be spoon-fed information on products and pricing, regardless of how well it has been communicated across other channels such as advertising or on-site. Giving them want they need at the point of contact will go a long way towards building trust and driving repeat sales. 

However he urged viewers to remember that, as Fiona stated earlier, customer expectations in the region are high. Consumers usually expect instant responses so, the faster you get to them, the more likely they are to convert and if left waiting you may risk losing them.

To prevent this, Chirag recommends combining automation with human agents. Chatbots can ensure rapid response times but human interaction is still essential for delivering a personalized experience that cannot be delivered through eCommerce alone.

Chirag Kotak

Conversational commerce combines the personal touch of offline retail with the convenience of digital”

Chirag Kotak

Co-founder and COO of

Having well-run social channels in place is essential for building these connections and are one of the most effective ways of reaching large audiences. Social platforms can also be an easy way to establish your business in the region with some merchants in Asia Pacific use them almost exclusively, selling entirely via social media without even having a website.

Chirag concluded by describing conversational commerce as “the personal touch of offline retail combined with the convenience of digital”. “Don’t just talk to your customers” he says. “Talk with them. That is where the real opportunity lies”.


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