With 254 million e-commerce users in 2021, the online retail market in Southeast Asia is set to overtake its neighbours in the coming years, projected to increase by 75% to 443.7 million users by 2026, according to an IDC Infobrief commissioned by 2C2P and MRC.
By that time, Southeast Asia’s digital economy is expected to grow by 17.1% from 2021 figures, outpacing the United States, China, and Europe. However, are businesses from the region ready to capitalise on this development?
To unlock the potential of e-commerce businesses in Southeast Asia, Frontier Enterprise sat down with Vaibhav Dabhade, Founder and CEO of e-commerce automation and logistics SaaS provider Anchanto.
As Dabhade had observed, 2022 saw a sudden market shift despite the e-commerce boom during the pandemic, with e-commerce sales dipping significantly, even during the sales seasons.
“We can expect a complete reset in 2023, and this time, it will be even more vibrant with trends like chat commerce, live commerce, social commerce, omnichannel, quick commerce, and above all the AI revolution,” the CEO said.
Because digitisation has radically changed the face of retail — whether through e-commerce channels such as online marketplaces and webstores, or via offline avenues, such as live commerce — end consumers are expecting not only seamless interactions, but transparency and personalisation as well, according to the Anchanto CEO.
“From understanding unique expectations and handling large order quantities across channels, to tracking and measuring business and consumer metrics, these are key touchpoints that pose a challenge to retailers. As a result, retailers will have to govern a gold mine of consumer signals at their fingertips,” Dabhade said.
Aside from these, tracking competitor performance is only going to become more complex, as retailers conduct their business on multiple e-commerce platforms.
Moreover, with the variety of carriers attached to each sales channel, another challenge for businesses is monitoring parcels in transit.
“Without management processes, retailers will most likely strain their day-to-day operations to keep up,” the Chief Executive stressed.
On another note, although the existence of multiple payment platforms has enticed consumers to spend more time shopping online, retailers are facing challenges reconciling data from many sources.
“As all digital sales channels offer different payment options, managing them appropriately for revenue assessment, accounting, and tax purposes becomes tedious,” Dabhade remarked.
As with any other digital business, online retailers also face a persistent concern over cyberthreats. In fact, hackers are capitalising on the popularity of online shopping platforms to carry out their exploits.
“To ensure tighter and stronger security when it comes to data, retailers should consider centralising their e-commerce and logistics operations with robust and secure infrastructure. This is a smarter approach to online retail, as retailers will have to deal with a single platform instead of multiple sales channels such as marketplaces, webstores, and social media sales for data management and security,” the CEO continued.
Prior to establishing Anchanto in 2011, Dabhade was part of an organisation called Welcome Real-time, which provided global loyalty solutions for banks, as well as other retailers.
Throughout his eight-year tenure with the company, Dabhade acquired extensive knowledge and skills in product management and customer experience.
“To create customer-oriented products, you need to know what they want and how they feel about the system they are or were using. Communicating with customers and assessing their feedback leads to great products that several others will enjoy using as well,” he said.
The Anchanto CEO added that determining how technology can solve an existing problem before creating it is vital.
Dabhade also shared the need for coming up with new ideas, which helped prepare him in leading his future business.
“Innovation can happen across the company. Leaders need to provide opportunities to their team members to innovate, try new things, and think differently. At Anchanto, we give a lot of autonomy to each and every team member,” he recalled.
Shortly after leaving Welcome Real-time in 2011, which then closed down shop three years later, Dabhade established Anchanto, along with co-founders Abhimanyu Kashikar and Julien Juttet.
The Singapore-based SaaS company currently offers the following suite of products: Order Management, Warehouse Management, Digital Shelf, Operations Experience, Control Tower, and Parcel Tracking.
Anchanto’s tech stack includes Ruby on Rails, Node, Python, Java, MySQL, Amazon Redshift, and PostgreSQL, with its entire cloud server hosted on AWS.
The entire tech stack enables Anchanto’s products to be AI and ML-ready, Dabhade said.
“We conduct thorough research to understand the challenges faced by our customers and how their operations can improve with automation and innovation. We work closely with our customers to develop solutions that meet their unique needs for better performance. We also understand that every business is different, so we ensure our technology is flexible enough to work for all our customers without compromising quality,” the CEO noted.
In the immediate future, Southeast Asian retailers will begin incorporating international e-commerce strategies to keep up with cross-border expansion trends.
Four major areas of focus, according to Dabhade, will be: pricing, payment, shipping, and logistics.
“We’re aware of the demand for cross-border retail and are constantly researching customer requirements to provide support for local e-commerce businesses. With a presence across the SEA region and market insights from different countries, we understand the challenges and have the technology infrastructure to sustain businesses looking to sell in locations where we have a strong presence,” he said.
Anchanto currently has offices in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Australia, Thailand, South Korea, and India, and has recently expanded operations in the United Kingdom, France, and the Middle East.
“Our goal is to keep innovating in line with our customers’ expectations. We also plan on using our local presence to get to know our audience better, and develop more solutions for their future challenges. Today, all commerce is e-commerce, and we want to ensure that our technology serves every business in this retail and logistics segment,” the CEO continued.
Besides cross-border growth, the CEO identified new areas of opportunities for retailers, like social commerce, omnichannel expansion, live commerce, and chat commerce.
Meanwhile, data gathering and assessment will always be crucial to any business, most importantly retail.
“Data is a priceless resource that can really enhance the shopping experience delivered to end consumers. The more data retailers can acquire, the better their engagement with customers will be. We not only recognise this, but have developed technology to help our customers collect and process relevant data on their customers, competitors, partners, platforms, and themselves for comparison, tracking, and improvements,” Dabhade concluded.