Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Twitter about Southeast Asia online retail

Amid fluctuating restrictions and social distancing measures, COVID-19 has entrenched a broad and irreversible shift to online lifestyles – and nowhere is this more apparent than retail.

But rather than a solitary activity, people are increasingly turning to platforms like Twitter to connect with the wider community and talk about their purchases. There have been a whopping 53 million shopping-related conversations on Twitter across Southeast Asia since the beginning of the pandemic, representing a 36 percent increase compared to pre-COVID – with #ShoppingDays in particular are responsible for significant spikes in the chatter.

While shoppers used to eagerly await Black Friday or Boxing Day, double-digit days have since doubled up as mega shopping days. The festive season has kicked off in Asia Pacific with the 9.9 sale last month. At least 1.8 million items were sold in a single minute across Southeast Asia during the 9.9 sale, said Shopee in a statement. 

Retail in Asia had the pleasure to interview Martyn U’ren, Head of Research APAC & Global Export, Twitter about the online retail scene in Southeast Asia as observed in Twitter.

SEE ALSO : 5 e-commerce marketplaces in Singapore, Malaysia to know right now

RiA: What is the customer profile of Twitter users in Southeast Asia? How would you classify online buyers on Twitter?

Martyn: While people of varied ages and from different demographic groups use Twitter in their own ways; across Southeast Asia in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Singapore, we have found that people on Twitter mainly skew younger, with our service appealing to individuals who are Millennials and Gen Z. Gender wise, the number of female and male users is largely balanced in the region.

Through our research, we have discovered that online buyers (those who have purchased online in the past 6 months) in Asia Pacific are very receptive to consumer reviews and comments on Twitter. In fact, they also regularly engage with the ads they come across on the service. In Singapore, 20 percent of people have reported visiting a website or taking another step to search for more information after they are exposed to an advertisement on Twitter.

Source: Twitter

RiA: Twitter conversations reveal the online shopping habits in Southeast Asia. What are shoppers buying and what drives them to buy online?

Martyn: Twitter has always been the place for #WhatsHappening, and as the region (and rest of the world) entered varying states of lockdown and restrictions, online chatter reflected how our priorities were changing. From people sharing tips, reviews and recommendations for goods and services to rallying the community and lifting spirits; the conversation on Twitter offered deep insights into how online shopping carts were evolving to match the zeitgeist.

With people staying indoors and minimising social gatherings, packaged food ended up being one of the most talked about categories on Twitter in Southeast Asia – with more than 59.6 million Tweets between January 2020 and May 2021. People went online to compare options for food deliveries and takeaways, and also to explore healthier food options such as new plant-based alternatives like oat milk.

In Singapore and Thailand, the convenience and ease of e-commerce also permeated buying habits when it came to essentials and fashion, 37% percent of Singaporeans have expressed the intention to shop more for groceries online, and 48 percent of online buyers on Twitter in Thailand are updating their wardrobes.

Meanwhile, as we shift to work and study from home arrangements for the foreseeable future, it is no wonder that people are naturally investing more into tech products and upgrading their homes. For instance, 46 percent of online buyers on Twitter in the Philippines are looking to buy more tech products online and a third of those in Thailand are searching for home appliances. With so much time now being spent indoors, conversation about homecare products have also risen by 30 percent in Singapore and 22 percent in Malaysia.

Source: Twitter

RiA: The pandemic has accelerated online shopping adoption. Do users miss shopping in-store? Do you see any changes in online shopping behaviours pre-and post-pandemic?

Martyn: Online shopping certainly is not a new phenomenon, but there is no denying it has taken on a far bigger chunk of the retail pie throughout the last 18 months. In fact, within the past week alone, 66 percent of Twitter users in Southeast Asia will have bought something online. And this transition, along with the new shopping habits we have formed along the way, looks set to stay.

For example, almost 27 percent say they now prefer shopping online, while 23 percent feel they have developed an online shopping habit since the pandemic began. Notably, 30 percent of consumers plan to stick to online shopping for good even when stores re-open.

While the spikes in online shopping may have initially been triggered by necessity, this continued behaviour even as restrictions are lifted is testament to how buying online has now evolved into a widely accepted, and also expected way to shop. With more online shoppers reporting higher spending as well, it appears that consumers no longer shy away from splurging on big-ticket items online. From work and study, to leisure activities like shopping, COVID-19 has entrenched what looks to be an irreversible shift to online lifestyles.

RiA: Reviews are a major online purchase driver. How are brands being part of the conversation and positively influenced consideration?

Martyn: Online conversation is, indeed, one of the biggest purchase drivers for brands. In Southeast Asia, more than half of people on Twitter have said that they are more likely to buy a product when there are reviews from other customers. Another 37 percent shared that they are more inclined to purchase if a brand enjoys a high number of likes or good comments on social media. But reading reviews is often the second step towards conversion – first, brands need to make sure they are on the radar at all.

In the sea of potential choices a consumer could make about any given product or service, we know that it is not just about what we are buying, but who we are buying from. Does the brand align with my values? Do they truly listen and care about their consumers? By actively listening in and responding to the chatter online, brands have the opportunity to demonstrate that they are genuinely engaged in what their communities care about, building that all-important credibility and trust. In fact, on average, those that can drive a 10 percent rise in conversations on Twitter typically enjoy a 3 percent increase in overall sales.

Post-reviews, brands can also leverage their online presence to offer incentives and gifts to their communities as a token of appreciation. Our research has found that more than 60 percent of people in Southeast Asia on Twitter are more likely to use coupons or discount codes after being exposed to reviews or online campaigns.

RiA: The year-end shopping season kicked off earlier this month with the popular 9.9 sale. Was this #ShoppingDay popular on Twitter and what is the key takeaway of the 9.9 Tweets?

Martyn: Despite the impact of Wave 3 of the pandemic, our research found an increase in optimism amongst people on Twitter across Southeast Asia towards global economic recovery and personal financial situation. In Singapore, for example, this has led to a more frequent online shopping, where 84 percent of people on Twitter in Singapore have made a purchase online in the past 6 months, and 33 percent making more than 10 purchases in the same period. Meanwhile, 66 percent of users based in Southeast Asia will have shopped online in the past week alone.

Source: Twitter

RiA: There are 2 major #ShoppingDays coming up starting with the 10.10 shopping festival. When do e-tailers and marketplaces start the conversation about their campaigns?

Martyn: To a certain degree, the answer is ‘yesterday’. On average, we find conversations about individual shopping days typically start to rise weeks before the event itself, but in reality, the brands that are most successful in their campaigns are the ones that have consistently been engaging with their audiences, so it does not feel like the conversation suddenly spikes around sales days.

Brands need to remember that conversation is key. It drives attention and likelihood of purchase among online shoppers on Twitter. Good conversations on Twitter can also help impact lower brand metrics. Sample of these conversations is bringing up the intent to search more product info, spending more time looking for the best deals, and using discount codes or coupons. Conversations on Twitter play a key role in sparking consumer action. Tweets with good reviews, plenty of Likes, and good engagements are powerful in driving awareness and growth.

As the prevalence of shopping days creates increasing noise and clutter, it can be all the more challenging to stand out. However; when discerning customers can identify sincerity, brands that have forged these strong connections with their audience can ensure that they will always be heard.

RiA: Livestream events, collaborations with KOLs are becoming mainstream. Do they generate a lot of interest among your users? If so, what is the trend in how brands are leveraging it on Twitter?

Martyn:  Collaborations with KOLs and celebrities can definitely generate a lot of excitement among the Southeast Asia audience – in fact, some of our biggest shopping-related spikes in conversations and engagement over the past year were related to tie-ups with famous acts and artists through various livestream events. For example, @tokopedia indulged BTS fans across Indonesia with an exclusive concert and interviews as part of their #TokopediaWIB show. Meanwhile, @ShopeeSG recently worked with TWICE for a ShopeeLive event, using Twitter to generate excitement and engagement in the lead-up.

But while Korean celebrities remain the big heavyweights, we have also seen e-commerce giants working closely with local and regional celebrities. For example, @ShopeePH is currently partnering with Filipino singer Jose Mari Chan in the lead-up to their Christmas shopping event, while @ShopeeSG selected Jackie Chan as its 9.9 ambassador this year.

Beyond direct promotion of their products, retailers are also borrowing star power to connect with their customers. From giveaway opportunities to interviews about upcoming films, e-commerce companies are effectively using these collaborations to appear relevant and in-tune with their target audience.

SEE ALSO : 5 Indonesian e-commerce marketplaces you need to know right now

RiA: How are brands leveraging Twitter as a platform to connect with their target customers?

Martyn: Beyond advertising, Twitter is the best place to have conversations and connect with an engaged and highly receptive audience. 77 percent of users rate Twitter as very well/extremely well at showing what is happening in the world (more than any other platform).

Conversation is key – It drives attention and likelihood of purchase among online shoppers across the region. Good conversations on Twitter can also help impact lower brand metrics. Sample of these conversations is bringing up the intent to search more product info, spending more time looking for the best deals, and using discount codes or coupons. Conversations on Twitter play a key role in sparking consumer action. Tweets with good reviews, plenty of Likes, and good engagements are powerful in driving awareness and growth.

We also know that cultural relevance is key when it comes to consumer purchasing decisions and we have seen how societal passion and concerns can affect what people end up buying. For brands who wish to connect with their target audience and ensure their products, services and messages complement the mood and mindset of these individuals, they must engage with the community in real-time to monitor and understand sentiment, and identify how best to support their consumers. Ultimately, the brands that win are often those that have nurtured loyal relationships through all the highs and lows.