BERLIN and SAN FRANCISCO, April 19, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- To the untrained observer, smaller Asian markets might seem indistinguishable, but many of these countries are experiencing a period of growth and development. These Tiger Cub Economies are on an upward trajectory, so it's worth taking a closer look at them in order to understand the hidden potential in Southeast Asia (SEA). Before we examine the trends that will shape the year ahead, let's review how these countries have evolved in the last year, and how innovative companies have adapted their product offerings to suit local markets.
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Adapting products to local markets
Over the past year, these Southeast Asian economies have started to modify their offerings to address local challenges and technological innovations. In many cases, they learned key lessons from regional neighbors like China and India, who have been making rapid inroads within the digital world for several years. In 2015, the top digital and mobile players in the SEA region took major steps to adapt and repurpose their products to the needs of their consumers:
- Back to offline – Many Southeast Asian countries have an informal address system in which many streets are unnamed. To solve the postal delivery issues of goods purchased online, some players had to think outside the box. For example Matahari, the biggest online/offline shopping portal allows its customers to pick up their online delivery in physical stores or from specially designed lockers.
- Adapting payment methods – Due to low levels of credit card use, the most common payment methods in Indonesia are bank transfers and cash on delivery (COD). Bukalapak, a C2C marketplace in Indonesia, partnered with supermarket chain Indomart to enable its customers to pay for their order in-store, using traditional payment methods.
- One stop shop - Personal assistant apps like Diana and Yess Boss, which help users do everything from finding movie schedules to booking flights, are becoming increasingly popular. In order to adapt to local habits, both apps also allow access via SMS.
Why SEA is the next digital frontier
The Southeast Asian region as a whole is changing fast. Incomes are rising, barriers to internet access (such as smartphone prices) are falling, consumer behavior is changing — and the numbers point to an exciting transition, in which these demographic shifts are facilitating a huge opportunity for technology companies.
- Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, at 252 million inhabitants, and eMarketer predicts 2016 mobile ad spend to rise 150% from 2015's figures.
- Singapore is the leading economy in the region, with a GDP per capita of around US$56,000, placing it in the top ten globally.
- Smartphone penetration is expected to rise heavily in the region in the next four years, with increases of 50% expected for Vietnam and 33% for the Philippines.
The region's states belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization that aims to accelerate economic growth for its members. One of the benefits of ASEAN is that wealthier, more developed countries like Singapore have more freedom to invest in promising markets like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines. For example,Shopee, an m-commerce company based in Singapore, is now opening its doors to other customers throughout the region. Travel app Traveloka has expanded from its native Indonesia to launch a Thai-language version of the app in Thailand.
Government initiatives in the region are also encouraging the growth of local digital enterprises through tax breaks and subsidies that support startups. The governments of Malaysia and Singapore are investing heavily in fintech companies in a region in which remittances from abroad still play a significant role. While the market has done exceptionally well in terms of catching up and overcoming the various challenges that local conditions have presented, conditions are changing, and the region is now poised to become a mobile powerhouse.
What 2016 has in store for Southeast Asia's mobile economy
This year will see a number of different external, international factors taking hold in the region. These factors will give local mobile economies a much-needed boost, bringing more people into the market, with more cash, and higher likelihoods of making purchases via mobile.
Falling mobile device prices lead to increased smartphone penetration
While companies like Apple and Google continue to dominate with expensive phones in developed countries, they have also tried their hand at releasing cheaper phones in emerging economies, such as Google's $105 smartphone, which has had limited success. Local players have had more luck: Indonesian company Evercross, the second-largest in the region after Samsung, offers an entry-level smartphone for just US$27. These increased rates of smartphone penetration are starting to present lucrative opportunities in the region as more people gain easy access to m-commerce.
A growing middle class leads to rising levels of purchasing power
According to estimates from Nielsen, Southeast Asia will experience a significant rise in its middle class population. This demographic will represent the majority of the region's population by 2020, at 55%, compared to just 28% in 2012. This means that by 2020, an estimated 400 million people in Southeast Asia will have enough disposable income to become attractive targets on mobile. To put this into perspective, by 2020 the US middle class market will consist of 125 million people.
Improved internet infrastructure leads to higher rates of m-commerce
Increasing smartphone penetration in the region has been accompanied by improved internet infrastructure. Southeast Asia was quite late in building proper infrastructure for its mobile internet users in comparison to other regions, but it's working hard to catch up. Certain areas now offer data packages which outstrip those in established markets. In one extreme case in Singapore, consumers can purchase a 100GB mobile data package, to be used within 5 days, for just US$10. Many Southeast Asian nations offer cheaper data rates than more established and larger economies like India and China. Other players like Opera Max provide an app which helps users save their data usage, with Indonesia being their second largest market after India.
Together, these three factors are helping fuel mobile adoption and driving the mobile economy in Southeast Asia, a truly mobile-first region which has been underrated for too long. Coupled with the demographic change being brought about in the area, now is the opportune time to enter this burgeoning market and invest in the mobile future of Southeast Asia.
About the authors:
Mikaela Gilabert has been at glispa for 3.5 years, and is currently Senior Manager of Client Services, with a special focus on the regions of Southeast Asia and Korea.
Julie Huang has been at glispa for 2 years, and is currently Business Development Manager, with a key focus on the Southeast Asia region.
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