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Digital Retail Customer Engagement Trends in Southeast Asia 2021

  • Updated: 09 September 2021
  • 6 min read

With 45% of consumers reducing offline purchases and 30% growing their online purchases—it is fair to say that COVID-19 is definitely changing Southeast Asia’s consumer shopping habits. The current pandemic is acting as a catalyst for changing buying patterns and shift to digital retail.

From Boomers to Gen Z, everyone is opting for this new culture of buying online in the region. The movement from offline to online will only grow in the future as most consumers have realized the benefits of convenient buying. This is however from a very consumer perspective. What about consumer shopping brands? How are they adapting to this change?

Changing consumer behavior leads to digital retail shift

The digital growth of Southeast Asia is currently outpacing Brazil, India, and China with 80% of consumer brands going digital by 2021. Leaving China behind in the race of digital retail is a definite win-win for the region. Many brands in the region are even working on growing their online gross merchandise value (GMV). If this shift to digital is offering new growth avenues for the brands on one hand. Then, on the other hand, this shift is pushing brands to do more in terms of experience and engagement.

Southeast Asia’s consumer brands are absorbing this shift with a pinch of salt because their end customers’ needs have changed. The expanding technology and channels are offering these customers more mean to get what they want. This is leading to an educated change in the overall customer buying patterns. So brands have solved their one big problem i.e., moving to the digital space. However, now brands are facing another challenge that is to review and revise their way of interacting with customers online.

Digital retail engagement trends from Southeast Asian brands

To understand the pulse of digital retail and enhancing experience and engagement, we reached out to some known Southeast Asian brands. We were able to find some top trends that retail cum e-commerce brands can focus on to do digital retail right. Here are our findings:

4-Digital Retail by Southeast Asia Brands

Focus on insights-led engagement

Guesswork when it comes to understanding and engaging with your customers is not only old-school but outdated. The new era of customers requires you to know them and communicate relevantly. That’s where using insights based on shopping and buying patterns, behavior, and preferences, and app/website actions is crucial. Brands like Fabelio agree to this approach and remark,

“Being relevant to the customer is the most important aspect of combating churn for your business. The road to relevancy comes from using insights left by customers while shopping.”

Arie Wisnu Pradono, CMO of Fabelio says, “If a customer bought a sofa, there is no way we can offer them to buy a sofa again. If we give irrelevant offers, customers will tend to churn. Identifying the patterns created by customers leaving or uninstalling our product can also prevent churn. Before these patterns repeat themselves with other customers, we must take the necessary precautions before it occurs. We can only do this by gathering app/website insights and analyzing them.”

Even Linda Valentin, General Marketing of Alfamart—one of the popular e-commerce brands conforms to this approach as well.

“Knowing your customer is the best way to have a great journey with them. One of the best ways to do this is to analyze their behavior across channels - app and website is a must. Also important is to understand conversion/drop-off with the help of user paths to get more insights. Once you know the gaps, you can easily personalize engagement. We utilize MoEngage platform to do this, which is helping us to increase our mobile app engagement. The platform simplifies many complications, enabling us to achieve our goal. We are able to improve our app's performance in the most effective way.”

SonKim Retail is another such brand that concedes this approach, “We can offer the best experience to our customers when we deeply understand them.” Binh Le, Head of eCommerce at SonKim then adds the importance of having a strong tool to execute such insights-led strategy. “A good tool will help you collect all customer behavior data and provide features that drive them to take right actions. A good tool not only helps you collect user behavior data but also provides features that list next course of actions eventually optimizing your business.”

2-Customer Engagement Trends

Ace it with personalization

The next best thing after obtaining insights is using them to offer a more personalized engagement. Personalization is everything when it comes to digital retailing. Your customers want you to be relevant, specific, and personal with them. There’s no room for being generic and expecting customers to stick around. Marcella Dewi, COO from Mitra Adiperkasa Club observes, “Seeing from the customer perspective, campaign personalization helps the campaign to be more personal and intimate, match the needs of the customer because it was personalized and unique for every customer. We don’t spam the user with irrelevant generic campaigns. That’s because we look at our customer data, and from that data, we could deliver a relevant campaign to our customer.”

Drive quality experience through product

Yes, offering insights-led engagement is crucial in the world we live in. But remember this, the one thing that’s retaining your customers and building loyalty is your product. Your customers want to you make your product more technology-driven, more intuitive, and more convenient. Be it your app and the website, your customers will only come back if your product UI/UX is seamless and consistent.

Here’s what Adi Purwanto, VP of Evermos Product had to say about this —

“We have seen that technology is touching more aspects of our lives, therefore the expectation of technology products is getting higher. What worked yesterday might not work as well today. The best thing to do is to always discover what is the motivation of our customers, why do they hire our product. Building the right engagement is always a game of increasing customer motivation and removing the friction of the product so that customer ability will no longer be an issue.”

He further explains, “As the industry grows, a lot of things have shifted for the customer from a 'delightful' feature a couple of years ago into a “must-have” feature today. For example, a lot of customers nowadays are expecting “free shipment” as a standard in e-commerce. It is not enough to have those kinds of features to win the game, we have those features just to not lose the e-commerce game. We believe that moving forwards whoever has a better understanding of their customer motivation and build a product that answers customer problem in the most frictionless way will win the battle. Therefore, it is paramount to always not just listen, but also empathize with the customer.”

We have Supisara Permsuk, Marketing Manager from Index Living Mall (ILM) who emphasizes the importance of website experience.

“During the pandemic, e-commerce has become the key pillar of the company. Therefore, customer experience on the website is so important. Not only desirable services, but the website quality and convenience must serve the customers well too.”

Invest in push notifications

Another important digital retail trend is to adopt push notification as a channel to drive customers to complete their action(s). Push notification as a channel is very effective when it comes to grabbing eyeballs and driving customers to complete an action promptly. This channel is also able to collect essential purchase journey data that will help you map your engagement efficiently. Fanky Mulia, VP Group Product of Blibli explains, “We rely on Push Notification in almost all aspects of our app. This is cause push notification allows us to convey exact information needed at an exact time, to a certain segment. Eventually giving us better visibility than any other notification channels like emails or in-app notifications. As we see this as a necessity to our app, having push notification increases the customer engagement and gives us more control on what content customer receives.”

3-Customer Engagement Trends

Overall, focusing on these trends will help you improve your overall digital strategy. Especially coming directly from the brands who utilized these trends and observed results is a testimony in itself. To create a more dynamic customer engagement, brands should keep an eye on current trends and make revisions to their strategy accordingly.

What to read next

1. Find out the current engagement benchmarks from Southeast Asia region by downloading our new Customer Engagement Benchmarks Report 2021.
2. Learn how consumer brands in Southeast Asia are winning with Insights-led Customer Engagement.
3. Read the success story of Livwell on monetizing health and wellness, and growing business during a pandemic.


About The Author
Ankita is a content marketer with a strong background in writing and editing. She has worked with various publishing media houses and product companies that helped her add more skills to her core subject - content. She is an avid reader, passionate book review blogger, and loves to share her interests with the web audience. She always yearns to learn new things to widen her knowledge. All her interests help her contribute more to her work.
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