How the e-commerce industry saved businesses in Asia during the global pandemic
Covid-19 has caused severe disruption to many businesses across the world, as many retail and F&B outlets, among others, were instructed by governments to stop their services in an attempt to curb the deadly virus. As a result, many companies within these industries were forced to shut down or declare themselves bankrupt. In Japan, Renown Inc., a popular apparel maker and brand, which had already been in financial difficulties prior to the pandemic, had to file for bankruptcy after lockdown meant there was zero footfall in its retail stores.
However, many businesses in Asia were quick to adapt by adopting an e-commerce platform and a multi-channel marketing approach during the pandemic. In Singapore, grocers, markets, retail outlets, and F&B outlets went online as the government called for its citizens to stay at home. The company Marketfresh, which offers products from the wet market, saw its daily orders surge threefold in the initial months of the lockdown.
The availability of e-commerce platforms and proper internet infrastructure in many parts of Asia allowed for the swift transition from brick-and-mortar shopping to online shopping, keeping many businesses from going bust. As it stood, Asia was already witnessing an exponential growth in the e-commerce industry, and Covid-19 boosted it further.
In 2019, research by Google, Temasek, and Bain and Company showed that Southeast Asia’s e-commerce industry was worth US$38 billion, with Asian countries such as India, the Philippines, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia making the top 10 fastest growing retail e-commerce countries. This figure represents growth of 600% compared to 2015, when the e-commerce industry was only generating US$5.5 billion, indicating that the e-commerce industry in the region was already on an upward trend prior to the pandemic. It is estimated that by 2025 the e-commerce industry could easily surpass US$150 billion.
Shopee, a popular Singapore-based e-commerce platform, saw its businesses growing across Asia during the pandemic, especially in Indonesia, where it achieved an increase in sales to the tune of 120% between January and April 2020, with over 185 million orders placed. Within the region, Shopee saw its orders more than double within the first quarter of the year, compared to the previous year, hitting 429.8 million orders.
Jumping on the bandwagon is Singapore’s asset management company CapitaLand, which manages a significant number of malls in the country. To ease the decline in business that its merchants faced due to low footfall in the malls, as the country eased its lockdown regulations, CapitaLand set up its own e-commerce platform featuring its merchants so that customers could shop and order food from its F&B outlets online. This essentially prevented businesses from closing down.
China, a leading player in the e-commerce industry, saw an overnight growth of US$2.2 billion as the country put together an online and offline shopping festival dubbed ‘The Double Five’, supported by e-commerce platforms such as Alibaba. Propelled by its online approach and incentives, the festival saw citizens splurging significantly on its e-commerce platforms and boosting the economy, which had been hit by the pandemic.
The move to e-commerce platforms was not just implemented by big brand names – smaller businesses joined in too, with many utilising social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as part of a multi-channel marketing strategy to gain customers and sustain their businesses. The fate of many of these businesses would have been bleak had it not been for the many e-commerce platforms available to them.
Moving forward, it is expected that this upward trend in the e-commerce industry will continue, even post-Covid-19. According to research by Asia House, a centre for trade, investment, and public policy, 80% of those who were purchasing online during the lockdown stated that this habit would carry on post-pandemic. As such, it won’t be long before Asia reaches its estimated e-commerce industry projected growth figures, as more consumers turn to online shopping, giving businesses a multi-channel marketing approach to boost their profits.