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With the world’s fifth-largest economy, Southeast Asia is an appealing prospect for many exporters. Its eCommerce market is worth an estimated USD62 billion and set to reach USD172 billion by 2025—even allowing for the pandemic.
Like the rest of the world, the pandemic restricted travel in the region and saw stay-at-home lockdowns and social distancing measures put in place. As a result, online shopping flourished. So much so, that over a third of all online commerce in Southeast Asia during 2020 was generated by new shoppers. And 8 in 10 of them are planning to continue shopping online when normality returns.
However, with the pandemic affecting the region in different ways, it’s worth exploring its precise impact across three countries in particular: Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. These markets are significant because Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest economy, and the low barriers to entry into Malaysia and Singapore make them attractive starting points for potential exporters. These counties also have good English proficiency and fairly modern infrastructure.
With that in mind, let’s begin by looking at the broad economic profile of the Indonesian market, and explore how the country has weathered the pandemic so far—and the steps you can take to reach new customers there.
Over 270 million people live in Indonesia, making it the largest population in the whole Southeast Asia region. It also has the biggest economy, worth USD1.119 trillion in 2019.
eCommerce in Indonesia
Its rate of internet penetration is equally impressive: almost two-thirds (64%) of the population are online, and 96% are smartphone users. In fact, in 2019 alone, some 168 million Indonesians bought consumer goods online, and the total market for online consumer goods was USD18.76 billion.
According to iPrice, the top 10 eCommerce players in Indonesia are:
Most online purchases in Indonesia tend to come from the more urbanised Greater Jakarta region. Known locally as Jabodetabek, it also has a comparatively well-developed infrastructure—and comprises Indonesia’s capital Jakarta and the surrounding cities of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang, South Tangerang and Bekasi.
How has COVID-19 affected Indonesia?
Indonesia’s social restrictions started on 22 April 2020, and the population entered a transition phase just over a month later on 8 June. Smaller-scale social restrictions were then activated in the most severely impacted areas.
According to a consumer sentiment survey carried out in September 2020, over half (53%) of Indonesians felt their economy would rebound within 2-3 months, and be just as strong if not stronger than before the pandemic. However, 69% thought their finances would be affected for another 4 months or more by events—and 63% have seen drops in their income or savings.
As such, many people have become understandably more cautious with their money and are now opting for lower-priced brands. This could be a potential opportunity for newcomer international brands looking to gain a foothold in the market, so long as their price point is competitive.
One notable impact from the pandemic has been the shift by Indonesians towards online shopping. Comparing the first half of 2019 with the same period in 2020, the average online basket size increased by 17%. Furthermore, over half (57%) of Indonesians say they’re likely to continue shopping online even when life returns to normal.
What Indonesians are buying online
Let’s learn a bit more about what Indonesians are buying online, and how their shopping habits have been shaped by the pandemic.
According to Google Trends, interest in health supplements like Vitamin C spiked when the pandemic hit, and remained above 2019 levels for the rest of 2020.
Growth in search terms like ‘vitamin c untuk corona’ (vitamin c for coronavirus) and health supplement brands also show Indonesians are heading online to try and find ways to boost their immunity and keep the virus at bay. With the vaccination roll-out likely to take time, demand for these kinds of supplements will probably remain high for the foreseeable future.
While fashion-related searches dipped during the first month of the pandemic, interest returned in time for the holy month of Ramadan in April/May 2020. Specifically, according to Google Trends, ‘modest’ fashion attracted lots of interest—including queries such as ‘Fashion wanita hijab 2020’ (ladies’ hijab fashion 2020), ‘Fashion lebaran 2020’ (Hari Raya fashion 2020), and ‘Voucher zalora mei 2020’ (Zalora vouchers May 2020).
This search activity can again likely be linked to Ramadan preparations, and also Hari Raya—which celebrates the end of holy month. It also suggests that while friends and relatives were unable to visit or attend parties, Indonesian families were still interested in looking their best for the festivities.
One final fashion observation: following the Ramadan period, brands like Uniqlo have retained a high level of search interest, suggesting Indonesians are trading down and choosing lower-priced clothing options.
Mum and baby
The number of Indonesian households with children aged under 6 years of age grew by 3% in 2019—and this trend is leading to families increasing their spend on non-food goods for their little ones. Specifically, highly-connected mothers of these households are on the lookout for products with germ-killing properties, and also natural products.
Knowing the kinds of products your audiences are searching for online is a vital component of any eCommerce expansion plan. The next part is mastering the supply chain into the country, and ensuring your products arrive at their destination quickly, easily, and on time.
Shipping your eCommerce products to Indonesia
Imports that are valued below Indonesia’s de minimis rate of USD3 are not charged additional duties and taxes—which means that most imports into the country will not be exempt. In particular, garments, bags, and shoes attract higher levels of duty, while other goods have lower charges. One other point worth noting is that, with almost half the population still unbanked, ‘cash on delivery’ is an important payment type for eCommerce in Indonesia.
Cross-border shipping to Indonesia
Indonesia is an archipelago comprising 17,508 islands. That means a domestic transit flight to a closer airport may be needed when delivering products to some of your potentially more remote shoppers. The main delivery gateways into the country are via Soekarno-Hatta Airport (CGK) near Jakarta, or the Port of Tanjong Priok (IDTPP). If your customers are located in the Greater Jakarta area, a van or motorcycle can deliver your products right after the package passes through a sorting hub.
If you’re looking for a quicker time-to-market without the need for warehouses and fleets, consider shipping direct to consumers. This option also requires less paperwork and registrations compared to local distribution methods. What’s more, you won’t need to work with a local clearing agent to ensure your imported items comply with local laws and regulations—or be slowed down by having to apply for import licenses. Certain products need to be registered with relevant agencies before you can import them too, such as the BPOM (National Agency of Drug and Food Control) for food or cosmetics.
One option could be hiring a trading house that offers ‘an importer of record’ solution. This allows you to get your bulk B2B shipments to your Indonesian warehouse or distribution centre faster, and saves you time completing registrations that would otherwise be needed.
The travel restrictions and social distancing measures imposed by the pandemic have led to a rapid rise in cross-border eCommerce across the Southeast Asia region. While shoppers remain hopeful that the economy will improve, many are turning to lower priced brands—and this presents significant opportunities for exporters to enter the region with competitive pricing strategies.
If you are planning to trial demand for your products in this part of the world, the lower costs of direct-to-consumer cross-border shipping will help you test the water without a major financial commitment. But if you’re looking for a local solution able to cover multiple countries, you could consider setting up a regional distribution centre, or opting for a central hub like Singapore from which you can serve customers throughout the region.
Use the insights and information in this guide as a starting point to develop your Southeast Asia expansion strategy, and help ensure your business becomes an established player in this diverse, connected and exciting market.
Why not take a look at our other 2021 outlook guides to Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Malaysia.
Google’s Market Finder tool is also a good place to explore new global markets and develop your roadmap to international expansion. Simply enter your business URL to identify areas of high demand for your products or services around the world, and take the next step to reaching new customers abroad.