Scaling your eCommerce business in Southeast Asia: pitfalls to avoid & lessons learned


Unlock success for your online store by identifying potential pitfalls and considering the lessons when scaling your eCommerce business in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the fastest-growing eCommerce markets in the world. With a population of over 650 million people, the region presents a vast market opportunity for eCommerce businesses. However, scaling an eCommerce business in Southeast Asia comes with its own set of challenges. In this blog, we'll discuss some pitfalls to avoid, and lessons learned when scaling your eCommerce business in Southeast Asia. 


Pitfall #1: Lack of localisation 

To thrive in the diverse and culturally rich region of Southeast Asia, eCommerce businesses must be highly attuned to the unique and diverse cultural characteristics of each nation. Localisation and adaptation go beyond content translation. Businesses must be culturally sensitive and tailor their operations to each country's specific market. Key areas of consideration include language, packaging, and colour choices, as what may resonate with audiences in one country may not be effective in another.

The crucial factor in avoiding these pitfalls is developing a deep understanding and appreciation of the cultural differences and preferences of each country. This involves carefully selecting and utilising words, colours, social channels, numbers and figures, symbols, visuals, and more that are culturally relevant to the local audience.

For example, Indonesia is the largest eCommerce market in Southeast Asia, with a population of over 270 million people. However, Bahasa Indonesia is the official language, and only about 5% of the population speaks English fluently. As a result, eCommerce businesses targeting Indonesia need to ensure that their website and customer service are available in Bahasa Indonesia to cater to local language preferences. 

Similarly, in Thailand, social media is a key driver of eCommerce sales, with Facebook and Instagram being the most popular platforms. eCommerce businesses targeting Thailand should, therefore, prioritise social media marketing and tailor their messaging to the local audience. 


Pitfall #2: Poor payment infrastructure 

The payment infrastructure in Southeast Asia is still developing, and credit card penetration is low in many countries. This means that eCommerce businesses need to offer multiple payment options to cater to local preferences. 

For example, in Indonesia, cash on delivery (COD) is still the most popular payment method, accounting for over 70% of all eCommerce transactions. eCommerce businesses targeting Indonesia need to have a reliable cash on delivery system in place to cater to local payment preferences. 

In contrast, in Singapore, credit card penetration is high, and eWallets are gaining popularity. eCommerce businesses targeting Singapore should, therefore, prioritise offering e-wallets as a payment option to cater to local preferences.


Pitfall #3: Delivery challenges 

Southeast Asia's geography, with its thousands of islands and diverse landscapes, presents significant logistical challenges for eCommerce businesses when it comes to delivery. To overcome these challenges, eCommerce businesses need to have a robust delivery infrastructure in place. 

This can involve partnering with local logistics companies that have a deep understanding of the local market and can navigate the region's unique challenges. eCommerce businesses can also leverage technology such as GPS tracking to manage deliveries and provide customers with real-time updates on their orders' status. 

Moreover, eCommerce businesses can explore innovative delivery solutions, such as partnering with ride-hailing companies to provide on-demand deliveries or using drones or robots for last-mile deliveries. By investing in a robust delivery infrastructure, eCommerce businesses can ensure timely and efficient delivery of goods and gain a competitive advantage in the region. 


Pitfall #4: High competition 

Southeast Asia's eCommerce market is highly competitive, with both local and international players vying for market share. eCommerce businesses need to differentiate themselves and offer something unique to stand out from the competition. 

This could involve offering high-quality products at competitive prices, providing superior customer service, or leveraging innovative marketing campaigns to build brand awareness and drive sales. For example, eCommerce businesses can partner with local influencers or celebrities to promote their products or offer personalised shopping experiences that cater to individual preferences. 

To differentiate themselves, eCommerce businesses also need to stay up to date with the latest market trends and consumer preferences. By doing so, they can adapt their offerings and marketing strategies to remain relevant and competitive in the ever-changing eCommerce landscape. 


Pitfall #5: Regulatory challenges 

Each country in Southeast Asia has its own set of regulations and requirements when it comes to eCommerce. This can include rules around data privacy, taxes, and licensing requirements. eCommerce businesses need to ensure they comply with all relevant regulations to avoid legal issues and reputational damage. 

For example, in Singapore, eCommerce businesses need to register for a Goods and Services Tax (GST) license if their annual turnover exceeds SGD 1 million. In Indonesia, eCommerce businesses need to obtain a Business Identification Number (NIB) and comply with data privacy laws, such as the Personal Data Protection Law. 

To navigate the region's regulatory landscape, eCommerce businesses need to be aware of the latest regulations and seek professional advice when needed. By doing so, they can ensure compliance with all relevant regulations and avoid costly legal issues that could harm their business's reputation and bottom line. 


Lessons to bear in mind when scaling your eCommerce business in Southeast Asia 

To successfully scale your eCommerce business in Southeast Asia, there are several lessons businesses should keep in mind. Firstly, it's essential to invest in localising your operations to cater to the diverse range of cultures and preferences in the region. Secondly, businesses need to offer multiple payment options to cater to local payment preferences. Next, businesses need to have a robust delivery infrastructure in place to overcome logistical challenges. Differentiation is also critical to stand out in a highly competitive market. Finally, compliance with local regulations is essential to avoid legal issues. 

In conclusion, scaling an eCommerce business in Southeast Asia comes with its own set of challenges. However, by avoiding the pitfalls outlined in this blog and learning from the lessons shared, businesses can successfully navigate the region's complexities and tap into its vast market potential.





ADA Asia

ADA provides services that enable enterprises and brands to drive topline growth through digital marketing and sales transformation across Asia

Related insights

Browse our insights