WFA – Physical retail has certainly made a comeback since 2022. E-commerce, however, remains an area of growth for categories like CPG, Beauty, Apparel, and Consumer Electronics. The continued strength of e-commerce in the APAC region is reflected in the high level of digital uptake, with e-commerce sales forecasted to make up more than 65%1 of the global market by 2024.
Many brands have already started a retail journey online, in response to changes in customer and merchant behaviour, though not all have progressed at the same pace and to the same extent. Each brand has a unique e-commerce strategy. This strategy depends on the brand’s product category, level of investment, and overall vision. This leads to varied requirements when it comes to engaging agency partners in this space. Such partners are also known as e-commerce enablers.
To help marketers better understand the partnership options available, R3, supported by WFA, conducted a survey on ‘Working with e-commerce enablers in APAC’. The survey was based on assessments of 47 enablers in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.
The e-commerce enabler ecosystem in APAC
Overall, the survey revealed that the e-commerce enabler landscape in APAC is still developing, with new services being added as agencies mature.
Singapore is home to the greatest number of e-commerce enablers in APAC. However, 38% of enablers are locally based, without additional offices outside their home country. This suggests the spectrum of providers is split between mature, well-funded agencies and smaller, early-stage operators.
Most agencies offer E-Commerce Management & Analytics capabilities, while Content Creation (82%) is the most popular form of marketing-specific service available.
The most common enabler management capability in APAC is Marketplace Store Management (82%), followed by Promotions & Campaign Planning Execution (62%) and Marketplace Store Development (60%).
Among holding groups, Omnicom and WPP offer the widest range of e-commerce enabler capabilities.
Identifying a future-fit partner
There are three key factors to consider:
1. Define your e-commerce organisation archetype
There are generally four archetypes of e-commerce organisational structures in the APAC region. Identifying which e-commerce archetype a brand best aligns with will inform the type of agency best suited to lend support. It will also be useful in defining scope of work.
The four archetypes can be described as:
Marketplace: A brand views e-commerce as adding incremental revenue. Products are sold on third-party marketplaces like Amazon or Lazada. Marketers control messaging and pricing but do not control distribution.
Bolt-on Brand: A company offers a suite of online-only products through an e-commerce website and fulfils both marketing and distribution functions. This is separate and complementary to offline retail. The marketing focus is on enhancing relationships with customers and collecting first-party data.
Omni-channel Retailer: A company sells products both offline and online, to provide retail and delivery options to existing customers. E-commerce platforms are brand-owned and customers are able to order online and pick up their purchases in-store.
E-Commerce Pure Play: This is best illustrated by pure e-commerce DTC companies. Products are sold online, and the entire marketing strategy is based on online business only.
2. Decide on high integration or high specialisation
The landscape of e-commerce enablers includes agencies belonging to holding companies and networks, as well as independents. Brands with mature e-commerce capability in-house are likely to be looking for enablers who offer a high degree of specialisation, while a company without a dedicated in-house team will probably consider partnering with an agency that offers high levels of integration with other marketing functions (i.e. data, CRM, shopper).
3. Decide if the support needed is at a regional or local level
Brands deciding on engaging e-commerce enablers can narrow the selection of potential partners by aligning selection KPIs to their market penetration strategies.
Localisation, geography and unbanked populations in APAC make regional specialism a challenge for non-holding companies and non-networked e-commerce enablers. Independent agencies are more likely to operate in one market, or in multiple markets with the same platform. (i.e. Shopee).
The type of capabilities needed will also indicate whether a holding company or independent provider is suitable. E-commerce business analysis as a function, for instance, can be done effectively regardless of location, while inventory management requires on-the-ground capability.
Overall, as marketers look to accelerate e-commerce growth, a good understanding of e-commerce enablers, based on up-to-date analysis of the market, can foster company growth and development for key sectors in the new digital APAC landscape.