The term cross-border e-commerce generally defines international online trade when consumers buy online from merchants, located in other countries and jurisdictions.
Cross-border e-commerce can refer to online trade between a business (retailer or brand) and a consumer (B2C), between two businesses, often brands or wholesalers (B2B), or between two private persons (C2C), e.g. via marketplace platforms such as Amazon or eBay. Given its sharp increase of volumes and overall impact on the e-commerce industry, B2C cross-border e-commerce will be the main focus of our analysis.
B2C cross-border e-commerce varies country by country, with digital shoppers in Europe and America tend to shop domestically, while in Asia Pacific, consumers look abroad for bargains. In this article, we will give an overview of reasons why global consumers shop abroad; some B2C cross-border e-commerce market trends; challenges that customers & merchants face when it comes to buying products abroad. As a growing market with large population and developing economy, Southeast Asia (SEA) is an interesting region for our focus. Thus, we take a closer look at the overall cross-border e-commerce trends in each country and the key players which offer services and solutions in the region.
What consumers look for when shopping abroad
Consumers shop abroad for fundamental reasons: better product availability, attractive offerings and trusted brands/shops
A survey on consumers’ cross-border shopping behavior from DHL cross-border e-commerce report shows that consumers across markets are becoming more sophisticated in finding their preferred e-tailers and that they do not shop cross-border by chance, but rather consciously — for fundamental reasons. Having an attractive offering (including price) stands out as key to convincing international consumers to act. Better product availability appears to be a principal reason, especially in mature e-commerce markets such as Japan (45% of respondents), Germany (40%), and the UK (40%). What drives consumers in less mature e-commerce markets to shop cross-border is better quality of products (e.g., 54% in China, 45% in Nigeria, and 42% in India). Highlighting quality in comparison to that of domestic e-tailers and brick-and-mortar retailers appears to be a promising communication strategy especially relevant in these countries where low quality and counterfeited products are an issue.
B2C Cross-border e-commerce global trends
While B2C online transactions have been mainly domestic, modern consumers now tend to look outside their own country’s borders to get access to the best deals and services that are currently unavailable in their countries of residence. Hence, online merchants are not only selling domestically but also looking for ways sell and deliver merchandise across the world. This phenomena has made cross-border e-commerce become the key growth engine to B2C trade around the world.
According to a report by Accenture on cross-border e-commerce, in 2020, over 2 Billion e-shoppers, or 60% of target global population would be transacting 13.5% of their overall retail consumption online, equivalent to a market value of $3.4T (Global B2C Gross Merchandise Value (GMV), with compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.5% from 2014 to 2020)
Cross-border e-commerce is taking over as the key growth engine to B2C trade, with a CAGR of 29.3% from 2014 to 2020. Asia Pacific is taking the lead, not only in overall GMV, but also in volume growth of cross-border e-commerce, contributing 53.6% of the incremental trade volume over the period of 2014 to 2020.
In 2020, the cross-border e-commerce is expected to account for about $900B GMV, translating into a roughly 22% share of the global e-commerce market. In other words, 1 out of ~5 e-commerce dollars will be generated cross-border in 2020.
Cross-border e-commerce: challenges for customers and merchants
According to the report by Accenture, while selling cross-border, merchants are most concerned with barriers related to laws and regulations. Each destination country has its own set of regulatory measures in product returns, consumer right protection, labeling and discounting — costs of compliance for cross-border transactions add up quickly with uncertainty. Many merchants still could not provide full-landing costs (product net + shipping + duties and taxes) at the time of transaction — this in return discourages purchase. Barriers related to market-entry are mainly costs associated with building brand awareness in new markets, especially when demand is yet to be proven in initial stage.
For cross-border purchases, especially from long-haul offshore origins, transition time could be unpredictable with limited track-and-trace (e.g., postal network). In addition, the reverse logistics for return are costly and complicated — altogether dragging down overall customer experience. Merchants also need to consider complexity in translation (e.g., for listing and customs clearance) and after-sales services/ conflict resolution. Besides, payment needs to be localized to motivate purchases, and in some cultures where pre-payment is not preferred (e.g., Russia), effective COD option needs to be provided.
Cross-border e-commerce in Southeast Asia
With 600M people, a growing middle class and rising internet penetration, Southeast Asia is often considered as the next gold rush for e-commerce. The SEA B2C e-commerce market size is small but growing fast, with CAGR of the ASEAN 6 countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam) projected at 37.6% from 2013 to 2018, growing from $7B to $34.5B (Frost & Sullivan).
Singapore and Malaysia generate almost half of total online retail sales in the region, even though they count for 8% of the region’s population. Furthermore, a report by Payvision pointed out that an estimated 55% of all e-commerce in Singapore and 40% of all Malaysian e-commerce is cross-border, an extremely high percentage compared to cross-border e-commerce figures for 2 other Asian established economies: Japan (18%) and South Korea (25%).
Singaporeans are the most active users in the region purchasing products online from overseas — two out of three people do it more than once a year. The absence of Goods and Services Tax on imported goods of S$400 or less is highly attractive to Singaporeans.They are followed by Thais and Malaysians of which nearly every second person buys something online from foreign countries. It is not a coincidence as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are the richest of the ASEAN 6 countries
For micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) in Southeast Asia, the era of cross-border e-commerce provides both opportunities and risks. A report bythe Marshall School of Business, California titled “Driving Economic Growth through Cross-Border E-Commerce in APEC: Empowering MSMEs and Eliminating Barriers” has assessed the impacts of cross-border e-commerce towards MSMEs in each country. Here are some analysis on key factors when dealing with cross-border e-commerce in the ASEAN 6 countries:
- E-commerce Operating Environment: The cross-border operating environments in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand are relatively strong, with high internet penetration, competitive e-commerce players and positive trends toward e-commerce culture. However, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam still have some issues with low internet speeds and unreliable; especially in remote and rural areas, making e-commerce a relatively new concept to the majority of MSMEs in these countries.
- Readiness: Technical skills are significant barriers for MSMEs in Indonesia when doing cross-border e-commerce. In Philippines, technical talents can be found, but it is difficult to find senior employees with experience in global trading and e-commerce. Financial availability continues to be an issue with Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. In Thailand and Vietnam, many MSMEs have successfully adapted e-commerce as an additional channel to sell their goods. Entrepreneurs are motivated, which is shown through the extensive use of social media to sell online. On the other hand, Singaporean and Malaysian MSMEs have the motivation, fundings, skills and capability to engage in cross-border e-commerce
- Customer Willingness: The lack of trust in payment systems is major factor that inhibits customer willingness to engage in e-commerce domestically and globally in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam. There is not yet a cultural acceptance of cross-border e-commerce in these countries; many customers are worried about fraud when purchasing online. Customers in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, however, are more tech-savvy and have shown more willingness to engage in cross-border e-commerce. There are still rooms for cross-border consumer protections to improve. Singapore also has high availability of convenient shopping malls with a culture of physical shopping, which reduces some advantages of e-commerce.
- Marketplace platforms: Major e-commerce platforms exist in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore with a number of local players moving into the space. Though some platforms trade across borders, cross-border e-commerce platforms still need improvement. In Indonesia, local marketplaces have strong presence but have yet to gain traction across borders. In both Indonesia and Philippines, social media is a very common form of cross-border e-commerce, but is still not mainstream.
- Payments: Security and reliability of payment is a major concern for most businesses and consumers in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. Cash On Delivery (COD) is still the preferred payment method most of these countries. In Indonesia, as an example, credit card penetration is less than 15%. In some countries, COD can be anywhere from 50–70% total orders shipped. In Malaysia, cross-border payments are getting more acceptances and the overall payment landscape is competitive. On the other hand, Singapore’s payment system is reliable and the overall credit card penetration is very high, which is attractive as a target market for cross-border e-commerce.
- Logistics: Singapore has strong, cost-effective logistics for cross-border e-commerce with a small geography and an efficient port. The cost and capability of logistics providers in Malaysia and Thailand are highly ranked, but there are last mile issues in the country that need to be addressed. For Philippines and Vietnam, there are networks of small logistics players in metro regions, but shipping to the rural areas can be challenging. Indonesia is comprised of more than 15K islands with only 53% of population living in cities, presenting massive logistical issues.
- Customs & Border Administration: In Indonesia, there are many different government agencies who claim jurisdiction over certain goods and complicate the custom processes. Corruption is a major barrier, with lack of standardization and low de minimis in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. In Malaysia, custom transparency, administrative corruption and predictability for cross-border shipments are all under-performed Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation standard and must be improved. Only Singapore has strong clarity and consistency of the customs and borders process
- Foreign Market Access: In Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, there are still challenges for international MSMEs to start selling products and services, since there are lacks of regulations tailor made for e-commerce and non-tariff barriers still apply over a broad range of products. Malaysia has a large numbers of free trade agreements that allow foreign business access, but there are still some minor hurdles when accessing the market. Only Singapore government recognizes the value of lowering barriers to trade and actively pursue an agenda of open trade borders.
- E-commerce Regulatory Environment: In Philippines and Vietnam there are creation of dedicated e-commerce offices and agencies which help to reshape the regulatory environment. However, the trustmark that e-commerce companies can acquire does not appear to be trusted by consumers. Indonesia and Thailand lack chapters supporting e-commerce and law support businesses going cross-border. Singapore has taken the lead across the region in adopting many forward-looking regulation that address e-commerce. Regulatory environment for cross-border e-commerce in Malaysia is relatively strong but enforcement of existing regulations should be improved.
Companies enabling cross-border e-commerce in SEA
Some players in the SEA region are trying to solve the cross-border challenges by either:
- Providing customers cross-border e-commerce shopping platforms:These online platforms help customers in the SEA region buy and sell a wide range of products from and to global marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Taobao, etc. These platforms usually purchase products from oversea e-commerce retailers, import and partner with logistics providers to deliver the goods to customers.
- Offering merchants e-commerce solutions: These are companies which provide logistics (fulfillment, last-mile delivery) services; marketing & sales services; localized customer services; payment solutions; regulations services and warehouse management solutions for merchants in SEA region to help them providing goods to customers quickly and efficiently.
A list of more prominent players in these categories is provided below.
Cross-border e-commerce shopping platforms
Total funding: Undisclosed (series A), $20M (series B)
Year founded: 2010
Founded in 2010, ezbuy is a dedicated provider of professional online shopping services. It has quickly rose to become Singapore’s first and largest overseas shopping platform. The website allows users to shop for items available in overseas online stores, which are cheaper or easier to find than domestic stores. Acting as a middleman between overseas e-commerce retailers and consumers, ezbuytakes care of everything from purchasing the items to shipping and importing them. As of today, the platform has provided shopping service from China, Taiwan, USA for more than 500K Singaporeans, 50K Malaysians, Australians and Thai people.
Total funding: Undisclosed
Year founded: 2014
Fado.vn is a member of Miczonecorporation. As a cross-border e-commerce platform in Vietnam, Fado.vn has become the pioneer in helping Vietnamese consumers trade goods with the world easily and without distance. All the product information from Amazon (US, Germany, Japan) is fully updated on Fado.vn in real time to help customers fully experience all the promotions abroad. The system automatically calculates shipping costs and import tariffs to help customers know the whole package cost instantly. Not only providing international quality products from Amazon, Fado.vn also expanded its activities by creating a support network of high-quality products of Vietnam entered the US market through Amazon, opened the roads for Vietnamese exporters worldwide.
Total funding: Undisclosed
Year founded: 2014
Founded in 2011, SGshop is an online e-commerce platform that helps customers buy and ship a wide range of products when shopping internationally. SGshop specifically provides services for consumers in Malaysia and Singapore purchasing from Chinese and US largest online marketplaces (Taobao, Amazon…) and partnering with the logistics and express companies for consumers to receive their purchases.
Total funding: Undisclosed (7-digit)
Year founded: 2014
WeShop is the premier cross-border retail import-buying facilitation brand in Southeast Asia. Unlike other cross-border shipping facilitation only services, WeShop provides a full-cycle (from A to Z) cross-border retail shopping experience: Global sourcing, local marketing, local payment, global logistics, local logistics and customer supports to end-buyers with a comprehensive and innovative import-buying facilitation process. Currently the company has subsidiaries and joint ventures in SEA countries operating local portals in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand. In October 2016, Vietnam-based tech group NextTech Group of Technopreneursand Malaysia’s Haspro Holdings have jointly provided a US seven-digit funding for WeShop Indonesia and an undisclosed amount for its parent firm WeShop Global Group to bring the cross-border e-commerce platform into Vietnam and Malaysia. After this investment, WeShop has become a unit under the NextTech’s ecosystem of digitized platforms.
Cross border e-commerce merchant solutions
Total funding: $28.8M
Year Founded: 2013
aCommerce is a Thailand-headquartered startup that provides logistics, fulfillment and last-mile delivery services to online retailers. Founded in June 2013, the company powers e-commerce in SEA as a one stop shop for e-retail services including channel management, cross-border management, marketing solutions, tech development, warehousing and fulfillment, last-mile delivery, localized customer service and more. aCommerce has offices and distribution centers in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Its 140 clients include both e-commerce firms and companies whose business includes online shopping, such as L’Oreal, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Nestle, Lazada, MatahariMall, Line, and more.
Total funding: Undisclosed
Year founded: 2011
Found in 2011, Anchantoplatform uses technology and integrates with ecosystem players to help businesses, brands and retailers to build enterprise grade web stores and provides fulfillment technology platform coupled with inventory warehousing, picking, packing, forward logistics and reverse logistics in SEA. Retailers and brands can pick and choose different modules of Anchanto technology, either to get full 360-degree platform including Web store or use only Fulfillment by Anchanto (FBA) for managing inventory and processing orders.
A product by Anchanto, SelluSeller is designed and built for cross-border shopping and shipping. The platform offers e-commerce sellers a one-stop solution to manage thousands of products, inventory, promotions, kits, invoicing & orders on various local and cross-border online marketplaces
Total funding: Undisclosed
Year founded: 2016
BoxMe Logistics Service is a startup backed by Vietnam-based tech group NextTech Group of Technopreneurs. The company tied up with logistics partners to launch an Amazon-like e-commerce fulfillment infrastructure in the country. As the first of its kind in the country, the platform supports online businesses with warehousing and order fulfillment services through warehouses in SEA, US and China. Their services and solutions include fulfillment services, cross-border services with drop-ship and private label, domestic shipping and international shipping.
Total funding: Undisclosed
Year founded: 2014
SP Commerce is a commerce solutions provider powering the launch and acceleration of online businesses across the globe, including in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.
Their solutions include e-commerce technology, website development and integration, order management, fulfillment and logistics, digital marketing, creative services and customer care. SP Commerce is part of the Singapore Post Group of Companies.