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The case for more women in e-commerce

Start-ups are big news and big business. Yet many of today’s biggest global starts-ups, for example, Uber or Airbnb, tend to be founded by men.

Yet in Southeast Asia, there is an encouraging and growing number of home-grown start-ups which are founded and run by women.

Take, for instance, Indonesia’s first and largest e-payment solution provider – DOKU.

DOKU was founded by a Singaporean woman, Nabilah Alsagoff, who first created the portal to help support Bali’s recovery after the 2002 terrorist attack and subsequently grew it into a bigger gesture that continues to help smaller businesses today.

Encouragingly, recent data from Carat’s Consumer Connection System (CCS), part of Dentsu Aegis Network, not only provides a more robust indicator of this previously anecdotal trend in the growing number of home grown female entrepreneurs but also indicates that it is not exclusive to the privileged few women either (Doku’s funding came from Alsagoff herself plus key partners)

CCS indicated that almost half (47%) of all online women in Southeast Asia, particularly in markets like Indonesia, have exhibited a similarly entrepreneurial mind-set by choosing to generate or supplement their incomes through online selling.

Whilst online selling may not be as innovative or disruptive as a home grown PayPal, for many of these women, from a personal point of view, this decision has been no less game changing.

In Indonesia for example, over half (55%) of online women sell online, equivalent to 18 million female sellers or 2.5 times that of Hong Kong’s total population.  In all, 33 million women across Southeast Asia are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and smashing through their own personal glass ceilings.

The online incomes generated and reported in this CCS study, hammer home the reasons why more and more women are choosing to make an income through online selling, e.g. in Indonesia some individuals report generating as much as US$4,600 a month – almost 7x the national average salary.

Beyond this, any physical barriers to online sales are low in a region with such a high mobile adoption rate. Additionally, most online traders prefer to sell within mass social platforms such as Facebook or Instagram, maximising the number of users and making the most of a highly social and sharable place which actively optimises their images.

So, little to no start-up costs plus a number of widely accessible apps which make setting up online stores as easy as possible, have accelerated this trend – one that will only continue to grow.

Moreover sellers are choosing to sell a variety of locally made products, e.g. customised hijabs in Indonesia.  This is just a natural evolution from selling local products in local stores in local communities – only now being played out in a global scene.

As one woman in Indonesia told us this: “I’m proud that someone I’ve never met is buying something I’ve made.”

This is not only a positive change but a change to be positively encouraged.

This growing movement towards online selling  – led by women – not only empowers women to have a voice and a say in how they run their lives, but ultimately makes a much more significant and positive impact on local economies and communities by generating incomes across borders and making locally produced goods more widely available across the world.

The write is Marie Gruy (pictured),regional director of Carat Asia Pacific.

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