Do you sell online and want to expand to Southeast Asian markets?
Southeast Asia is currently one of the fastest-growing regions, we will see more and more foreign merchants entering the market in the coming years.
That said, it’s still comparatively easy to start selling cross-border here. The competition is still low for foreign products, you can let an eCommerce partner manage your shop for a few hundreds of dollars each month.
That’s not the case in China where sellers have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get started.
Thus, the Southeast Asian is suitable for SMEs that want to try the Asian eCommerce markets first.
In this article, we review the following topics:
- Southeast Asia’s eCommerce Market
- Southeast Asia vs China eCommerce
- Top eCommerce Marketplaces in Southeast Asia
- How much does it cost to sell online in Southeast Asia?
- Shipping & Fulfillment
Southeast Asia’s eCommerce Market
Southeast Asia’s eCommerce market is one of the most promising and set to grow immensely in the coming years. In 2015, the value of the marketo was USD 5.5 billion but it’s predicted to exceed USD 150 billion by 2025.
That’s a 27-fold increase or an increase of 2627%.
What sets the eCommerce market apart from that of the US, for example, is that it’s still in its infancy. The population is set to grow much in the region, especially in countries like the Philippines and Vietnam that have young workforces that quickly urbanize.
The ASEAN Post has shared this chart where you get a good overview of how the eCommerce markets will grow in Southeast Asian countries until 2025. As you can see, Indonesia will see remarkable growth.
Worth mentioning is that mobile usage is comparably big, at around 90%, but credit card penetration is low. As such, Cash-On-Delivery (COD) has become important for online sellers as it can increase sales 1.5 – 3.5 fold on websites like Lazada.
Southeast Asia vs China eCommerce
China’s eCommerce market is the biggest in the world and around three times bigger than the US market.
The Chinese market is multiple times bigger than that of Southeast Asia and will continue to grow by double digits year-on-year. With that said, the Chinese eCommerce market is more mature and it’s generally more competitive to penetrate it.
Unless you have a well-established brand, a sales turnover in the tens of millions of US dollars, and a strong determination to enter China, I would look elsewhere.
The beauty of selling in Southeast Asia is that setup and running fees are significantly lower and it can be suitable for foreign brands to test the Asian market.
Competition isn’t as high and it can be worthwhile to set foot in the region and establish a strong brand presence early.
Top eCommerce Marketplaces in Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia comprises six countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Below I have listed some of the biggest eCommerce marketplaces available in Southeast Asia.
Lazada is owned by Alibaba, one of China’s biggest companies that launched Tmall in 2014. Back by companies like Kinnevik and J.P. Morgan, Lazada has seen rapid growth and is currently the biggest eCommerce website in Southeast Asia.
Compared to websites like Tokopedia that only operates in Indonesia, you can find Lazada in all ASEAN countries, excluding Cambodia, Brunei, and Laos:
- Vietnam (Lazada.vn)
- Singapore (Lazada.sg)
- Malaysia (Lazada.com.my)
- Thailand (Lazada.co.th)
- Philippines (Lazada.com.ph)
- Indonesia (Lazada.co.id)
Lazada is a perfect option for sellers who want to try the Asian markets. You don’t need to set up any overseas entities and you can ship your products directly to Lazada’s fulfillment center in Hong Kong.
The fulfillment service is called Fulfillment-By-Lazada (FBL), which brings some similarities to FBA on Amazon. They manage everything from pick-up at the port, inbound, storage, pick & pack, and shipping.
For more information about Lazada, I recommend you to read our separate article where we explain how you can sell on the platform.
Shopee was founded in 2015 and is the biggest competitor to Lazada. It started as a customer-to-customer (C2C) website and evolved into a hybrid between C2C and B2C.
Previously, they only made money from paid advertising and transaction fees that are around 1.5%. However, since 2019 they also claim a commission that stretches from 1% to 2%. This is needed for Shopee to maintain its business model.
Looking at payment options, buyers have plenty of payment options available:
- Online banking
- ATM transfer
- Credit card payment
- Debit card payment
- Over-the-counter payments
- Cash on Delivery (COD)
The website is available in many Asian countries, including:
- Singapore (Shopee.sg)
- Malaysia (Shopee.com.my)
- Thailand (Shopee.co.th)
- Vietnam (Shopee.vn)
- Indonesia (Shopee.co.id)
- Philippines (Shopee.ph)
- Taiwan (Shopee.tw)
- Korea (Shopee.kr)
The same as it goes with Lazada, you cannot use Shopee in Cambodia, Laos, or Brunei.
Tokopedia is older than the above-mentioned website as was launched in 2009.
What sets the website apart from many other marketplaces is that it’s only used in Tokopedia. Besides, they don’t allow cross-border sales.
Companies such as Alibaba and Softbank have invested much money in Tokopedia as they bet that the Indonesian eCommerce market will see great growth.
With that said, the website primarily caters to C2C sellers and you won’t find as many foreign brands there. This will most likely change in the coming years with increased cross-border sales and when the Indonesians show a greater appetite for foreign products.
How much does it cost to sell online in Southeast Asia?
It’s significantly cheaper to start selling online in Southeast Asia. On the contrary to China, you won’t have to hire Tmall Partners that charge hefty setup fees, running fees, and pocket commissions on sales.
Besides, you won’t be subject to refundable deposits like in China that sometimes reach up to USD 25,000.
Lazada Seller Fees
Lazada claims commissions on sales that range from 1% to 4%. Besides, you have to pay transaction fees that typically range from 1% – 2%.
You don’t have to pay any initial deposits or service fees for using the platform.
I also recommend you to read my separate article that explains how much it costs to sell on Lazada.
Shopee Seller Fees
As mentioned, since 2019, sellers have to pay commissions of 1% – 2%. Previously, Shopee only made money from paid advertising and transaction fees.
Shopee has reported losses in the past years and has been forced to raise fees to maintain its business.
If you want to learn more about how you can ship products with Shopee and how much it costs, I recommend you to read my separate article.
Shipping & Fulfillment
Lazada is one of a few cross-border eCommerce platforms that strongly promotes its in-house fulfillment and shipping solutions.
The fulfillment solution is called Fulfillment-By-Lazada (FBL) and where Timeslogistics takes care of the storage assortment of products. The logistics solution, on the other hand, is called Lazada Global Shipping (LGS) and where Kobron acts as Lazada’s service provider.
The rates are competitive and Lazada recommends cross-border sellers to use the service as its an end-to-end solution where you can manage payments and returns swiftly.
Shopee is different in the sense that it doesn’t have as mature logistics infrastructure for cross-border sellers. Here, sellers primarily use 3PL companies that manage the inbound, storage, pick & pack, and deliveries.
Sellers who are capable of using Shopee’s fulfillment solution, Fulfilled-By-Shopee (FBS), often see it as a great alternative to third-party logistics companies.
Below I have included some commonly asked questions and my replies.
What are the benefits to sell cross-border in Southeast Asia?
Compared to the Japanese and Chinese eCommerce markets, it’s generally cheaper to start selling in Southeast Asia. The eCommerce market still has plenty of room for growth and the competition low.
With around 600 million people and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, selling in Southeast Asia can be a great option to try out the Asian market.
What are the biggest eCommerce markets in Southeast Asia?
Indonesia is predicted to see the biggest growth with a gross merchandise value of USD 1.7 billion in 2015 and USD 82 billion in 2025. Vietnam, on the other hand, will see a growth from USD 0.4 billion to USD 23 billion.
Thailand will reach a gross merchandise value of around USD 18 billion by 2025 while the Philippines’ will reach USD 12 billion.
Do I have to work with an eCommerce partner to sell in Southeast Asia?
You don’t have to work with eCommerce partners to set up and run stores on platforms like Lazada and Shopee. But, it can make sense as the fees are significantly lower compared to Tmall Partners in China.
Navigating in a foreign market can be challenging and where you don’t speak the local language. The eCommerce partners can help you to get things right from start and avoid common pitfalls.