n the face of it, Southeast Asia would seem like an e-commerce wonderland. No place on Earth matches this region in digital adoption. The people in the Philippines send more texts than any other country. Jakarta is the world’s No. 1 city for tweets. Indeed, Southeast Asia’s population of 620 million may be diverse, but its inhabitants have one important thing in common: an eagerness to use mobile technology. The region is home to more than 250 million smartphone users.
Then why is it that only one in four consumers over the age of 16 in the region has ever made an online purchase? And what will it take to help Southeast Asia reach its vast potential for digital commerce?
To get a clear picture of digital commerce in Southeast Asia, Bain & Company partnered with Google to survey more than 6,000 consumers in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. In this extensive study, we gained important insights for e-commerce retailers, consumer goods companies, banks and other service providers into a market in transition. Despite the region’s huge prospects, the online marketplace is still woefully small. Compare its 3% online retail penetration, representing only about $6 billion in sales, with the 14% penetration in both China and the US, where online sales total $293 billion and $270 billion, respectively.