From experiment to necessity: How leading brands are leaning on eCommerce for growth

For several years now, eCommerce has seen slow and steady growth across Southeast Asia. But what the pandemic did last year was to catapult the growth so that eCommerce went from being an experiment for some brands to a necessity for most.

Today’s eCommerce platforms such as Shopee are fast becoming the platforms of choice when it comes to product search, whereas traditionally the crown would be worn by the likes of Google, said panellists at the recent Shopee Brands Summit held on 25 January 2021 at Andaz Hotel.  Hence brands need to rethink their omnichannel strategies to be where the consumers are.

This article is written by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in collaboration with Shopee.

eCommerce is not just another sales channel

Adding on to the conversation around eCommerce platforms now becoming a vital part of the marketing ecosystem was Alexandra Vogler, senior director, e-business, Asia, Middle East and Africa, Procter and Gamble, who said that today, P&G is rethinking and relabelling “eCommerce” as “eBusiness” as it sees the area as one where sales, marketing and supply chain all come together in a “unique confluence”.

“We need to rethink the model. One of the areas we are focusing on is in trying to sustainably win consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets,” she said.

“We don’t think of eCommerce as a segregated channel, but rather an all-in-one business channel,” Vogler explained.  She added that while it is easy to think of eCommerce as a transaction-based platform, having the right strategy goes a long way in building presence in the minds of consumers, aiding in overall brand building.

Explaining further, she added that eCommerce platforms such as Shopee are able to help companies such as P&G win the “hearts” of consumers by providing marketing tools and solutions for advertising messages and hyperlocalised campaigns that resonate with audiences.

alexandra vogler
Alexandra Vogler, senior director, e-business, Asia, Middle East and Africa, Procter and Gamble

Marketplaces also allow for brands to win minds by driving “superior products'' using tools such as live streaming for product demonstrations, and have two-way communications with the audience to deepen engagement. When it comes to wallets, this is where targeting tools, mega shopping festivals and always-on promotions give the added push to drive conversions.

At the summit’s opening, Chris Feng, CEO of Shopee, said: “Shopee Mall is an integral part of our business, and we have a strong track record of helping brands to transit, grow and succeed online.”

Today, Shopee Mall, the platform’s dedicated space for more than 20,000 international and local brands, has seen a four-fold increase from when it was first launched in 2017. As opportunities in Southeast Asia’s digital economy continue to flourish, Feng said the team remains “committed to strengthening support for brands to boost their online presence, drive sales and serve consumers better”.

In fact, seeing the success of its previous mega shopping events, Shopee, for one, said it would be scaling up on these in the new year launching 4.4 campaign, the biggest for it in the first half of the year, to boost its partner brands’ online visibility and capture new consumers.

Another benefit of having a well thought out eBusiness strategy is the ability to listen to the consumer as brands are always aware of which phase of the journey the consumer is at. This then allows them to tailor their messages.

“That’s what we call agile marketing: understanding where our customers are, and leveraging the unique ability to test and learn,” she said, explaining that on eCommerce platforms you can put multiple pieces of content to see what best works for your audience, allowing for AB testing.

Combining the offline and online experience

While Unilever has also seen an acceleration of its eCommerce business in Southeast Asia over the past year, Rohit Bhasin, global brand VP of POND’S, explained this is still much smaller as a channel compared with China, where eCommerce makes up 65% of its revenue. But the shift is happening.

When asked what he thought the future of retail would be, he questioned the existence of offline channels in the future. He added that today, retail is largely experiential and if eCommerce platforms are able to replicate a more experiential feel, in a world where travel has been curbed, the need for retail spaces would be minimal.

For example, POND’S integrated its Skin Advisor Live AI-driven chatbot exclusively on Shopee as part of its campaign last year, to help consumers get personalised skincare advice like they would experience offline when visiting a beauty counter or store.

rohit bhasin
  Rohit Bhasin, global brand VP of POND’S

Ng Tian Chong, managing director, Greater Asia, HP added that while in the past brick and mortar stores were great at providing the touch-and-feel element to consumers for large purchases above a certain threshold (say for example SG$1000), today the likes of Shopee Live are fast filling this space with live-streaming and interaction capabilities.

“When we [executed a campaign using Shopee Live] in Singapore, we saw our followers increase three to four times for that campaign,” Ng said. 

Through its upgraded capabilities, Shopee Live has now morphed to allow consumers to speak directly to experts. Along with co-streaming capabilities, Shopee Live also allows brands to engage and reward consumers through initiatives such as lucky draws amongst others. The new features also allow brands to invite viewers to join the stream, opening up room for creative ways to engage customers and introduce products. Brands can also co-stream with KOLs and brand ambassadors to enrich the content and bring a new level of consumer-seller interaction on Shopee Live.

Ng added that eCommerce is now a big priority for the brand as it looks to be where its customers are, with omni-channel as a strategy now a priority. “We spent quite some time to evolve HP which in the past was very channel-centric. Today a lot of our resources go into bringing our [offline] partners online to help drive traffic to marketplaces,” he added.

ng tian chong
  Ng Tian Chong, managing director, Greater Asia, HP

Moreover, consumers today want information supplemented with entertainment and this change in habit cuts across many demographics, Nicholas Lee, Philips’ personal health leader for ASEAN Pacific said. He explained that live streaming for the Philips brand has opened doors beyond its tier one cities.  “People are seeing the rise of online shopping [festivals] as forms of entertainment and live shopping is taking TV home shopping into a new format. Consumers are drawn to it because seeing is believing,” Lee said.

Philips, which saw its strategic road map “positively” accelerated in 2020 as eCommerce sales spiked, also found that its customers were turning to marketplaces such as Shopee because the platforms earned the trust of consumers as “a safe place to shop”.

Meanwhile, to ensure that the instant gratification factor retail provides is also met online, Shopee said this year it  will provide brands with an extensive range of warehouse and fulfilment support, allowing it to fulfil orders quickly and reliably all year round. This, it says, will help translate to a more seamless shopping experience for consumers, and in turn, increased consumer satisfaction and likelihood of repurchase.

nicholas lee philips
  Nicholas Lee, Philips’ personal health leader for ASEAN Pacific

How should eCommerce marketplaces position themselves to aid brand partners?

Over the years, eCommerce marketplaces such as Shopee have also been upping their marketing tools and offerings to keep in line with the changing customer demands. Orders on Shopee Mall have grown by 10 times since launch, indicative of a growing consumer demand. Similarly, the ongoing impact of the pandemic on retail traffic has also driven more brands to expand their online businesses, with the number of official stores on Shopee Mall doubling in the past year.

chris feng shopee
 Chris Feng, CEO of Shopee giving the welcome remarks at the Shopee Brands Summit 2021

Shopee also announced the launch of several new initiatives that aim to help top performing brands maximise their online growth potential. To help fast-moving consumer (FMCG) brands capture a growing segment of online grocery shoppers, Shopee will be ramping up on Shopee Mart, a one-stop shop that allows consumers to conveniently purchase a wide variety of groceries and personal care products.

Meanwhile, last October Shopee also officially launched Shopee Premium and is now set on adding more new premium brands and products, as well as further differentiating the premium experience to help brands acquire more new consumers.   

These new assets will also be complemented with the Brand Membership programme for brands to increase consumer retention by rewarding shoppers with loyalty points when they shop from brands’ official stores on Shopee Mall. This encourages more frequent purchases and deepens brands’ understanding of their consumers’ purchasing habits and preferences.

Another new initiative was its Regional Champion Brands Programme, which is a by-invite only programme comprising 17 brands (Abbott, Adidas, Amorepacific, Danone, HP, Huawei, Kimberly-Clark, L’Oreal, Nestle, OPPO, Procter and Gamble, Philips, Realme, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever, Vivo and Xiaomi), who will receive priority support from Shopee in the areas of marketing, innovation and insights. These brands will receive exclusive access to Shopee’s campaigns and new feature launches, as well as dedicated support to further grow their business.

Adding on to its roster of initiatives, Shopee is also launching the “100 Million Dollar Club”, which challenges brands to achieve US$100 million in gross merchandise value within the year. The first 10 brands to unlock this milestone will be rewarded with special perks, including privileged access to exclusive business insights, increased campaign exposure, media support, and more.

Related Articles:
Sulwhasoo's parent firm and Shopee tie up to push growth of K-beauty in SEA
Shopee amasses most visitors among eCommerce firms in Indonesia
CapitaLand and Shopee turn IMM into virtual mall amidst plan to help retailers digitalise